When my wife and I and our four children stepped off the plane in your country, with our 12 carry-on bags—and all our plans, enthusiasm, expectations . . . and naiveté—you welcomed us. In fact, the customs agent greeted us with a smile. And during the following years that we lived among you, we lost count of your kindnesses.
We weren’t refugees, we didn’t arrive on your shores having been forced out of our homes, we weren’t stranded. We had chosen to come. You didn’t find us naked and bloodied at the side of a road, but still you were often good Samaritans to us. When you saw us sitting on the curb, so to speak, facing roadblocks or not sure where we were headed, so many of you did not simply walk by on the other side.
For this we thank you.
To our language teachers who patiently, ever so patiently, led us through vocabulary lessons and guided us on the nuances of your culture, laughing with us but not at us, thank you.
To the food-cart vendors who listened to us practice the names of what they were selling and cheerfully rewarded us with wonderful tasting snacks and meals, sometimes putting something extra in with our order, thank you.
To the policeman who loaded up our family in his patrol car and took us home after we got lost on a walk, even though we ended up being only three blocks away from our apartment building, thank you.
And to the people near our home who didn’t think the worst of a family, who, for some reason, was riding in a police car, thank you.
To the young workers at Subway who bravely came forward to serve the foreigners wanting a turkey sandwich with “that” and “that” (no, not “that,” “that“) and some of “that” and “that” and “that,” thank you.
To the cab drivers who regaled us with their political insights while taking us where we wanted to go, and to the one who found my son’s billfold on the sidewalk and drove up and down the street until he saw another of our sons and gave it to him, thank you.
To the man on the street begging for spare coins who accepted our friendship and allowed us to pray with him, thank you.
To the hairdresser who loved to trim my daughter’s hair and then proudly styled it as if she were a Hollywood starlet, thank you.
To the university professors who partnered with us, introducing us to their students, and to those students, who listened to our stories and served us many, many cups of tea, thank you.
To dear friends who let us join them in celebrating the birth of a child and mourning the death of a parent, and who shared in our joys and struggles as well, thank you.
To the produce seller at the day market who told my wife when fresh strawberries would be coming in soon, thank you.
To fellow passengers who confirmed that Yes, we’d gotten on the right train, thank you.
To the young professionals who let me join their Bible study in a cafe, sharing my hope that it could someday become a house church, who read the Bible with me in their heart language even though it would have been much easier for us all to speak English, thank you.
To the lady who collected our recyclables twice a week and to her young daughter who taught us what they could take and what was simply trash, thank you.
To the Christians in the church plant who let us worship with them when we first arrived, helped us find an apartment, and blessed us in so many other ways, thank you.
To those who made all of our visitors from overseas their honored guests, thank you.
To our family doctor who treated those visitors when they got sick, at no charge, thank you.
To the surgeons who skillfully operated on our son’s heart for eight hours, thank you.
To more doctors, and nurses, who cared for another son when he severely burned his hand and spent 42 days in the hospital, to the specialists who performed the skin grafts, and to the therapists who guided us in his care, thank you.
And to the lady who saw me at a store on the day of your biggest holiday and asked me if I had plans—I told her No and she invited me to her house for a celebration with her mother and brothers and their wives and children and didn’t retract the offer when she found out how big my family was, saying that she wanted to show us hospitality because that’s what someone had done for her years before when she was an international student at a university in Texas, with no plans for Christmas—thank you.
We thank you all for so many acts of grace, large and small, for seeing us as neighbors, for making us feel at home.
Your grateful friend
If you have your own neighbors to thank, please join in in the comments below.