Like most weeks, I arrived this past Sunday morning just before seven and entered the building down by the parish hall. One does need coffee, after all. And when I did, I was greeted by an amazing smell. Mind you, I’d already had breakfast, so I wasn’t even hungry. But, oh my, I was ready to eat whatever was on offer right then and there. It smelled incredible! The trouble was, no one was around. No food either. This, of course, made me sad. Then I remembered we had rented the parish hall the previous evening to an Indian family. It seems there was a birthday to be celebrated. And then I realized it. What I was enjoying was the smell of welcoming and serving our neighbors. And it was that much more delicious.
The two most quickly-growing demographic groups in Carmel are Indian and Chinese. Ten years from now, Carmel is going to look browner, sound different, and have some amazing cross-cultural facets thanks to our immigrant neighbors.
About a year ago, I had lunch with Ms. Lalita Haran. Ms. Haran is an immigration lawyer here in town, and I wanted to spend time with her listening. I was curious to know the needs of immigrants in Carmel. I was assuming they aren’t food, clothing and shelter, and I was right. The vast majority of immigrants who come to Carmel are highly educated professionals. With really great jobs. And nice cars. So what do they need? Ms. Haran’s answer surprised me.
“They need friends.”
As someone who has lived as an expatriate, I knew right away what she meant. Frankly, it was something of a forehead-slap moment. No matter how smart or rich you are, moving to a new country strips you of all kinds of competencies and securities – things you otherwise take for granted. Fortunate is the foreigner in any land who has a friend to show her the ropes, to explain the seemingly random and senseless cultural rules in this new place (no, it isn’t polite to ask someone how much they weigh or how much money they make, fine as that might be back home). What is a “library card”? Why are there so many kinds of salad dressing in the store? How does my child get to do American Baseball?
“They need friends.”
St. Christopher’s is a very friendly place. We even identify that friendliness as a gift of ours. Theologian Frederick Buechner famously wrote, “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” He was speaking of individuals, but couldn’t that also apply to a congregation? We are friendly. Our neighbors need friends. Hmm.
There are other intersections like this one. We just don't know what they are yet. What if we created some opportunities to listen to our neighbors – listen specifically for what they need and how we can give to them? What if we listened without any preconceived idea of what the answers should be? I am so curious to know what we might hear. Whether is it a place to celebrate a birthday, a friend and interpreter of our culture, or anything else, we are here to serve. How will we do that?