We have been in Argentina for almost 6 months now, and have been progressing in our Spanish. But there is more to learn in the areas of language and culture, and it feels like we are on the bottom half of a huge flight of stairs…
I can imagine that you have or will have “foreigners” in your life as well who might be climbing a similar mountain. In Matthew 25:35, Jesus encourages his disciples to love saying “35 For… I was a stranger and you welcomed me..”
Having reflected on my own experience of being ministered to here in Argentina as a “foreigner/extranjero,” I’d like to pass along some overall tips for welcoming those such as these in your life:
1. Speak SLOWER!
If you encounter people learning your language, SPEAK S-l-o-w-l-y…. speaking clearly and deliberately. Then REPEAT REPEAT yourself using different words and phrases. Often times, I may not understand initially, but with repetition, I do.
Sometimes we language learners look like we understand …but we don’t always. But I don’t always stop the speaker because I want to get the gist of the conversation. If I stop to ask questions, I miss the elaboration I depend on to understand. So don’t be surprised if you hear the same questions later. Sorry, I know, it can be tedious.
2. LISTEN and sometimes…WITH MORE THAN YOUR EARS
I say things in Spanish with a limited vocabulary. These leads to several frustations.
First, I’m not able to fully express thoughts. For example, I might want to say “How was your day yesterday?” But it might come out “Saturday was fun?” It doesn’t come out the way I want it to. This is kind of discouraging.
Second, I feel embarrassed when I can’t speak in basic sentences. Sometimes I feel like a toddler in Spanish. Don’t assume the intelligence of the person based on their language level. These do not match up.
Third, limited language can lead to feelings of loneliness. Don’t assume a person is shy because they aren’t talking. This can be amplified when in a large group social situation like a birthday party. One of the first times I came home from a birthday party, I broke down when telling Eric about it, not because the people were rude or unkind to me, but because I felt very isolated.
It is good to remember there is probably more to what the person is trying to say. Be aware of your facial expression when listening- make sure your face communicates patience and understanding, not confusion or impatience. Listen to their emotions. It is very helpful to ask questions to further clarify. Use Google translate if you need. And understand that personality is sometimes masked by the language barrier.
3. SHOW THEM “LIFE”
Because our “normal” is somewhat different than those around us, we need to be shown the day-to-day stuff. For example, our friend sent us a national calendar. I know almost intuitively that on Thanksgiving Day in the States everything is closed and everyone eats turkey. I didn’t know that May 1 is a national Argentine holiday where everyone eats Locro (an Argentine stew).
Here are some other practical ways to show them “life”:
Ask them if you can help. And do this multiple times. They will need reassurance that you’re not bugging them.
Explain your area to them. Offer them rides if they don’t have a car.
Have them over to your home. It may seem normal to you, but it won’t be to them.
Help them to find food and household products. Oftentimes products are found in different places than I am used to. Who knew that I would find chocolate chips in health food stores in Argentina?
4. ASK, ASK, and KEEP ASKING!
Asking questions is a huge part of relating to a foreigner. There are several friends here, who continually ask me questions. I’m sure by now they are tired of hearing “En Estados Unidos…In the United States…” But they keeps listening to me talking in broken Spanish about life. And their simple service of asking questions has ministered to me love and care.
5. HUG THEIR KIDS
Many times foreigners like us don’t have family around. We miss our friends and family greatly. We are immensely grateful for our new church family here, who have shown us such kindness. With your “foreign” friends with kids, treat their kids with kindness and teach your kids to do the same. Our kids have similar challenges, but on a different level. A welcome of our kids means a welcome to us as well.
So, my heart is this: Take the time to minister to a foreigner. By doing so, you will be ministering in such a simple yet profound way!