"For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God."
Ephesians 2: 18,19
King James Version
"No Longer Strangers"
"Teach me to feel another's woe;
To hide the fault I see;
That mercy I to others show,
That mercy show to me."
Have I been in a situation where I was made to feel like a stranger?
How did I react?
What can I do to make others feel "included?"
"Exclusion is always dangerous. Inclusion is the only safety if we are to have a peaceful world."
Pearl S. Buck
"Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him or (her): for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt."
Exodus 22: 21
King James Version
The year was 1965. It was a time of great social unrest here in the United States. On August 11, 1965, what has now been called the WATT's Riots, began in Los Angeles.
Just a few weeks after this tragic event, my father, who was a wonderful speaker, was invited by a dear friend, a respected African-American Pastor, to come to South Central Los Angeles to speak. Prior to the riots, our family had always gone with my dad on his speaking appointments so it was natural for us to continue with our family's practice despite the fact that some people thought it unwise for us, at this racially charged time, to go into a community where we didn't "fit in."
I'll never forget arriving at this beautiful church. We were met by a greeting committee of women dressed in matching royal blue suits, all wearing white gloves. (Please remember, this was in 1965!) To say the least, as a young girl, I was impressed! My sister wanted to stay with my mom but daring Dorothy was gently led by the kindest lady to a room filled with nine and ten-year-old children. When the door opened, I think those kids got the shock of their lives. I was the only "white" child in the room. I felt 40 eyes staring at me, and there I stood. I had been in situations where people of other races were in the minority but now the tables were turned.
As I looked around the room, I noticed all the chairs formed a semi-circle. There were 12 boys on one side and 8 girls on the other and one vacant seat. I bet you can guess where that chair was. It was right between the boys and girls. Nine and ten-year-old boys and girls back then wanted nothing to do with each other. The thought of sitting beside a boy made your hair stand on end!
The lady who brought me to the room leaned over and said, "Great, there's a chair just for you," and then she left, closing the door behind her. The leader, who was up front teaching the Bible class stopped, asked me to tell everyone my name, and then pointing to the empty chair invited me to come take a seat.
Slowly I made my way up to the front toward the vacant chair. But something amazingly wonderful happened! (Even today tears are rolling down my cheeks as I write about this experience!)
Just as I got to the empty chair that separated the boys and girls like a chasm, the girl next to the chair slid over and patted her newly vacated spot and said, "Here, Dorothy, you sit between us," and she pointed at the chair that made it possible for me to sit between two girls. You see, my skin color didn't matter to her. What she understood was, that as girls, we had so much more in common than we had different. And no matter what color we were on the outside or where we lived, sitting by boys was something that united us with a bond stronger than anything that separated us.
All through the morning class, we sat side by side, holding hands as tightly as we could. While the skin on my hand was white and hers was dark, our hearts beat in unison. I was her new friend, and nothing could change that.
I'll never forget that day in 1965 when I entered a room a stranger and left – a friend.
In Divers Laws and Ordinances, our 'inclusive" God, who created a beautiful multi-colored rainbow of children, instructs us not to: "vex a stranger or oppress a stranger," (Exodus 22: 21). But if we continue our study into Exodus 23: 9, God gives two specific reasons why "strangers" are to be treated with compassion: "…for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt." I love the phrase, "ye know the heart," for when I read these words, I am immediately taken back to 1965 when a beautiful young girl read my heart. I was the stranger, yet she made me feel as though I belonged. I became part of the family by her act of kindness. But God doesn't just stop with reminding us that we should "know the heart." He also wants us to never forget that we were strangers, too!
As estranged children from our Heavenly Father, God did everything He could to try to make us feel included. And finally, in the grandest gesture ever conceived, God's Son, Jesus, came to earth to show us how much the Father loves us and to let us know the lengths our Father will go to bring His estranged children back to the His home again.
This is why, over and over, throughout the Old Testament, we find God telling His children to treat the "stranger" with compassion or as the Hebrew word says, "Treat the sojourner or guest with kindness."
And I want to add one more thing. Several weeks ago a friend told me how she visited a church for the first time. I asked her if she would return and this was her response, "No, Dorothy. I felt like I had walked into a tightly knit club where I wasn't part of the group. I just didn't feel like I belonged." Gertrude Atherton in her book Sleeping Fires made this statement, "No loose fish enters our bay." How sad that because of denominational walls or cultural differences or social status, we sometimes turn God's Kingdom on earth into an exclusive social club where only our "own kind" are made to feel welcome in "our bay." I love the words of the Apostle Paul to the newly converted Christians in Ephesus: "Ye are no more strangers and foreigners but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God." Ephesians 2: 19(K.J.V.).
Isn't that fabulous! While you and I may be separated by the distance between us on planet earth, as daughters of God, we are sisters with the same Dad! A Father who has assured us we are all part of His household. This includes all God's girls around the world in Transformation Garden. And it includes nine and ten year old girls who don't want to sit by boys!
"Blessed are the inclusive for they shall be included."
"O Lord, baptize our hearts into a sense of the conditions and needs of all men."
"Open my eyes that they may see
the deepest needs of people;
move my hands that they may feed the hungry;
touch my heart that it may bring warmth to the despairing;
teach me the generosity that welcomes strangers;
let me share my possessions to clothe the naked;
give me the care that strengthens the sick;
make me share in the quest to set the prisoner free.
In sharing our anxieties and our love,
our poverty and our prosperity,
we partake of your divine presence.
Dorothy Valcárcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus