From Strangers to Neighbors

Guest blogger Reinie Thomas, one of seven students in this summer’s Community Health Immersion, writes…

Low-income neighborhood they told me. I thought we would rarely be outside in our neighborhood. How I was wrong. Within the first few days of arriving at the Highlands, I have interacted with some of the most generous, good-hearted people I have ever met.

Watching out for suspicious people that hang around our apartment was implied, but once again that was not the case. Every single time I walk back to my room, an old Nepali couple is sitting outside the entrance to our flat.

“…we meet our hands together and bow in return with a ‘Namaste,’…” 

We all know the male Nepali around here for wearing an orange t-shirt and hat. What it signifies, I’ll probably never know. He greets us first the American way with a handshake, then we meet our hands together and bow in return with a ‘Namaste,’ which is the appropriate greeting for those from Nepali. Even from two completely different cultures, we both try to relate with one another which is honestly such an amazing experience.

Reinie with two young friends

Reinie Thomas, a rising sophomore at Hope College, enjoys building relationships with two young neighbor friends.

We have found that many of our neighbors have children as well, and those children now know exactly where we live. Many Nepali, Burmese, Hispanic among other local children visit us daily so we can come play soccer with them, give them a glass of water, have them play with our hair, play on the playground or simply to talk.

Within a few days we built a genuine relationship through these activities. Soon, the children’s demand for us to play with them occurred during our (the CHI students) work, meal and nap times. In extreme cases, we began having to slowly close the glass door to our house with children grasping on to it, with their faces pressed against the glass and locking it so we could have a meal (we all felt so awful for doing this!).

One time, this led to a mini child-march outside the glass window by our table during dinner so that we would re-open the door and play with them. There were kids from ages 2 to 11, arms crossed, and one-by-one walking by the glass door with pouty faces. Once the children had gone back to their apartments and we had finished our meal, we found written on the sidewalk outside our door an “I love you Laurin” from one of the girls as a final plea for us to finish our meal and play.

This living environment originally had me worried, thinking that we would have to keep to ourselves most of the time, but as I have described, it’s the complete opposite. Very few things have made me feel unsafe in this community, rather, I feel comfortable and am eager to meet more people. It’s a great feeling when every time I walk through our neighborhood I know someone, child or adult, and am able to share a common greeting with them!

As a CHI team we each bring something different to the table when it comes to meeting new people, which I could not be more thankful for. As mentioned in Romans 12:6-8 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

This has allowed me to meet many people that I would have never interacted with before solely due to the gifts of my team members. Through these first few weeks, it is evident that we are growing as individuals, a team and a community.

I am sure the best is yet to come.

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