We met Palash, Dawa and their family through Lutheran Social Services in November of 2014. They came to the US after having lived in a Nepali refugee camp for over 20 years. Their son Gopal was born there and Dawa had only seen life outside the camp for 1 year. They spoke no English and had no idea what I meant when I told them (demonstrated to them) that the winters in Sioux Falls would be very cold!!!
The family is of Bhutanese decent but had been relocated for several reasons as refugees in neighboring Nepal. With little physical resources but big hearts the family arrived to Sioux Falls in November and started their new life here as American citizens.
As a family we had no idea what spending time with our new friends from Bhutan/Nepal would mean. We had never done this before but we were excited to welcome our new friends to our country. Many questions remained but we quickly jumped in and started to get to know them.
Our goal in befriending Palash and his family was to simply love them. To show them God’s love and pray that they would come to know Jesus and the life he intends for them. We weren’t sure what to say or how to say it but we prayed that our time/investment/encouragement and words to them would show them God’s love.
It’s been 9 months since we started this journey in cross-cultural evangelism; let me share with you where we’ve been.
One of the first times we met our new friends was at their apartment for snack. What we thought would be a “snack” at 6:30pm would actually become a 5-course meal. Dawa had cooked, soup, rice, chicken, beans and some other potato mixture and served each of us a heaping plate. Now my 7 and 3-year-old daughters are not adventurous eaters so needless to say I (dad) had about 10 courses of food that night. But our time with them was great. We saw pictures of their family, visited their prayer room (We soon realized that Palash is a Buddhist monk) and had a chance to experience a little bit of their culture. A friendship was starting, and even in our broken communication a few laughs were shared.
As our time has passed we have had many more laughs. One time I received an out of the blue phone call from Palash. Now you have to know that communication by phone is nearly impossible. So anytime my phone rings and I see his name I have to make sure I am in a quiet place in order to attempt to translate his English in my English. Plus, he always seems to end conversations abruptly. I never know why.
Palash called and had a question. I didn’t fully understand what he needed and when we hung up (the first time) I told my wife that Palash needed some kind of help, maybe with a car, but I didn’t know what. We were planning on talking later after he had a chance to look up some words in the dictionary.
The second time he called I “heard” that his wife Dawa was sick and that maybe they needed help with a doctor. (Ok, we can help them with that I thought. So, since that sounded important I decided to call him back right away)
The third time we talked I realized that Dawa wasn’t sick but in fact they needed to get groceries. (Ok that wasn’t what I heard the second time but OK, I can help with that. We planned to talk the next day)
The fourth time we talked I left knowing I was driving to their house the following day to help them with…something. I didn’t know what. I told my wife before I left that I would be back sometime today but I have no idea what I was going to do.
Come to find out when I arrived they actually just needed me to take them to Sam’s Club to buy some groceries for a wedding they were hosting in a few weeks. They had met a few other Bhutanese friends in town and since Palash was a monk he would be officiating and they needed to provide food. Sam’s club sold in bulk and Palash bought in bulk. In fact, he bought exactly 10 thirty pound bags of rice! (More rice than he could carry on the city transit!) So, all of that communication was simply for rice.
Another time he called and said he bought a car. Oh, ok I thought!?! That is interesting how did you manage to do that speaking Nepalese?? However, he was calling because had some sort of problem with his car that he needed help with. So I met him at his house and he showed me the temporary tags and the fact that they expired tomorrow and it was a Saturday at 3pm. (Long after the DMV closed.) He wondered what he needed to do and how he would get to work on Monday. The short story is I spend several hours that week securing a title for his car and helping him navigate the DMV office for a new title. Not to mention I become his taxi service for a few days.
In all, our time with our new friends has been very fun, and very challenging. From visiting parks to shopping at the mall (oh that was interesting when he tried to walk out of the store (unintentionally) with a security tag attached to a piece of clothing) to taking the kids to a gymnastics jump around time we have some great memories.
What real change has been made?
It’s a question I ask myself often. What real change has been made? There are nights that I wonder if we have really done enough for them. Have we showed them and told them enough about Jesus?? To be honest, we have had great success helping them adapt to the US but not so much in the evangelism/conversion side of things. I can only imagine Palash praying each morning about the same time I am. Yet, it is very hard, because I realize we are praying to very different Gods.
As I think upon our experience I am reminded of Gal. 6:9:
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
I don’t know if Palash will ever surrender his life to Jesus, but I can be sure that God loves him and has a plan for his life far beyond what I can imagine. I have already seen the “benefits” of my relationship with Palash through laughter, humility and the joy of carrying hundreds of pounds of rice up 3 flights of stairs. But I also know that cross-cultural evangelism takes time, lots and lots of time, patience and relational investment. There are no quick results and there are certainly no short cuts.
As Christians we cannot allow our weariness to stop us. Let us not grow weary of awkward phone calls and out of control circumstances. Let us not grow tired of confusing questions and dead end conversations. I know God is at work through our acts of love and in due season we will reap the joys that come from loving others.
Cross-cultural evangelism is tough, long and takes sometimes years of investment. But the joy my family has experienced on the journey is priceless. And for that we will not give up.Image courtesy of tommaync / Flickr.com