by Sadiri Joy Tira
Who is the stranger next door? There are diachronic and synchronic strangers; cultural, tribal, linguistic, and religious strangers; social, and economic strangers; and of course, relational strangers. Host nations see new immigrants or foreigners as strangers, but these people also see their hosts as strangers. Perhaps the answer is that we are all strangers to one another. Strangers are simply people who are not in our ‘inner circle.’ They are people who are outsiders.
This post is actually inspired by the important question, “Who is the stranger next door?” posed by Mark Overstreet. His question deserves a candid reflection from a stranger.
To my neighbours, I am the stranger next door. But to me, they are strangers next door.
My wife and I have been residents of a southeast community of Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) since 1984. However, we immigrated to Canada from the Philippines in 1981. We have now lived in Canada longer than we have lived in our native land. Our first child arrived with us as an immigrant when she was only 3 years old, while our next child was born in Regina, Saskatchewan. All of us, except our youngest, are naturalized Canadians, and the four of us take great pride in our ‘blue passport.’ We are grandparents to four ‘Canadian’, but Filipino-looking children. Are we still the strangers next door?
In 2003, after our children moved out to have their own respective homes, we moved into a bungalow house from a townhouse. It did not take a long to discover that we had moved into a diverse neighbourhood. Our next-door neighbours, then, were from the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. They were not refugees, but instead were highly educated and moneyed immigrants who were homeowners and drove BMW sedans, Cobra sport-cars, and Honda utility vehicles. They were doctors, bankers, and educators, but in a quick glance, they were in the same ‘boat’ as us—Canadians by law, but visible strangers.
Our stay in this community was short lived as we decided to move to Toronto. Our Edmonton house was rented out until last year. Today, we are back in our bungalow after our sojourn in Toronto—the most diverse city in the world.
Since moving back ten months ago, I have discovered that our neighbourhood has demographically changed. My neighbours are now different. Many young families of European descent have moved in. They bought the houses of the older immigrants. A few well-established business people, some of African and Filipino descent, are now my neighbours. In just a few years, my wife and I have become the strangers next door! We are the new outsiders.
Since moving back, I am slowly getting to know these neighbours who are strangers to me. Last fall, I met our next-door neighbours. This couple has three small children. They asked if we are willing to replace our common fence and split the cost. At first I hesitated, but my daughter said, “If you want to be a good neighbour and become their friends, split the cost!” I am glad I listened to her counsel. While I travelled last winter, these neighbours shoveled the snow around our house.
Another day last year, while working on my yard and garage, a man approached me and asked, “Would you like to throw away your junk at the junkyard for $200? I assume you are Filipino. My wife is Filipina. So, if you pay me $150, then I will do this job for you.” It was a done deal! We went out for coffee a couple of times and we plan to watch our NHL hockey team this coming winter.
I had another neighbour who to me was a strange young man. We met for the first time at our neighbourhood Starbucks. I was taken aback when this man became aggressive and extremely talkative. He asked, “Is that your car? What is your name? Here’s my cell phone number. What is yours? I live with my grandmother three houses from yours. I saw you several times walking in the neighbourhood. What do you do for living?” I did not know how to react, and I remember telling my parishioners while pastoring, “If you don’t know what to say to people, then pray and ask for wisdom. Ask yourself, ‘What would Jesus do in your situation?’”
The next time I saw him, he asked, “What is your profession?” I answered, “I used to be a church pastor. My job is talking to people like you. I introduce the most important person, the most caring friend. He offers to be the Bread of Life, the Living Water. He alone can quench our thirst and satisfy our deepest need.” He replied, “Tell me more. I was a young boy when my parents separated and divorced. My grandmother raised me up. She took me to her community church, but I didn’t like their liturgy.”
“So, would you like to come with me to my church?” I asked.
“Surely, this Sunday,” he replied.
My wife and I picked him up. According to him, our congregation was friendly, even if he found the sermon ‘boring’. “Let’s just talk about God at Starbucks!” he suggested. That is what we do now whenever I am in town.
In recent weeks, I met my neighbour across the street from our house. He is a successful builder. Today, he is helping me fix my leaking basement. From my recent trip to Asia, I came home with a small gift for him and his wife. Recently, he suggested that we have BBQ in his yard. They do not go to church, but they are gracious and decent people and we like each other.
Another neighbour adjacent to our house is a Christian family from Africa. They own a landscaping business. Two weeks ago, he offered to landscape my backyard for minimum fees. We decided to have African and Filipino meals and invite our common neighbour—“the builder”.
Who is the stranger next door? Who is your neighbour? Do you know and relate as Christ’s follower among your neighbours? Let’s go beyond rhetoric and stereotypes. The truth is that we are all strangers in our borderless world, in our multiracial cities, multicultural, pluralistic neighbourhoods. Surely, we are all alienated from one another. On a deeper level, when we don’t belong to the “family of God,” we are not “brothers or sisters.” We are not comrades in kingdom. We are not citizens of heaven and co-heirs of Jesus Christ. We are aliens and strangers to each other.
What would Jesus do with these strangers next door? What is Jesus telling you to do with the immigrants, unchurched, young families, older couples, seniors, children, divorce couples, etc. in your community? You and I can easily become the alienated neighbour or the stranger if we do not translate our words into action.
Sadiri Joy Tira is senior associate for diasporas with Lausanne and diaspora missiology specialist with the Jaffray Centre for Global Initiativesat Ambrose University and Seminary (Calgary, AB, Canada).