"When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.
The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.
Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God."
The first day of our mission trip was spent getting to know the city of San Diego. Experiencing the place around us was easy. With the many cultures that dwell in the area, most of the people were pretty open to talking to us new comers. Walking the streets of City Heights Monday morning, we traveled store to store in hopes of starting conversations and relationships with the people that owned those businesses.
Split up into teams of three or four, we made our way around town. Some of the teams ventured into temples to talk with the Monks, and others into Vietnamese markets. Although we went to different areas and met very different people, our goal of starting conversations and experiencing the area of San Diego was the same across the board. And after hours of walking around the city, we were all able to come back to lunch that first day with a story or two about what we experienced.
But before I explain one of those stories, I'd like to talk about why we did this.
In the Bible, James 1:19 prompts us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. So many times when we have the opportunity to share about our religion and what we believe in, we are quick to talk about ourselves without taking into account the other persons story. In doing this, we aren't able to have genuine conversations because it's mainly one-sided. But by walking around and experiencing the city while exercising our listening skills in conversations, we were able to develop expertise in building relationships with complete strangers (despite their religion or culture). And with this, the purpose of us going out was also to respond to God's call to love the foreigners in our country (Leviticus 19:33-34). The large population of refugees in the area is significant, and by listening to them and their story with compassion, we can love people even if we had just met them.
In the team I was in, much of our time spent Monday morning was on a conversation with a older man named Ussani; A muslim man who was visiting from Nebraska. We had just been through our fifth market place (with no luck of starting up any sort of conversation) when we saw him sitting alone at a bus stop ahead. Feeling the urge to want to talk to this man (not knowing whether he'd speak English or not) we said hello and introduced ourselves.
Conversation felt natural with our new friend Ussani, and within minutes of talking to him we were able to steer it into a spiritual direction. Talking more about him, we learned about his beliefs as a Muslim, and what his life looked like because of his beliefs. Trying to keep our talk a discussion, instead of a debate, we went back and forth asking questions and respectfully challenging each others faith. Good deeds, Adam and Eve, Heaven, Jesus, profits- Every question Ussani had in his mind was laid out for us, and at times, glances between me and my teammates became more frequent as we struggled to answer those questions.
Our talk with Ussani was deep and very challenging. But all in all, I know I can say that every moment was spent well. And although our discussion ended, I know that he is still wrestling with some of the ideas that we brought forward.
As we go into our next day of missions work, we go in with the memories and experiences that we had today; Knowing that through us, God has made an impact, and will continue to make an impact on the people of San Diego as the week progresses.