When I moved to a new country, one of my first experiences left me feeling unwelcome. After finding a seat in the little church where my husband was preaching that day, a gruff older gentleman startled me when he said, “Move along down.” His wife apologized as she explained that I was sitting in the pew they always occupied. Years later I learned that congregations used to rent out pews, which raised money for the church and also ensured no one could take another person’s seat. Apparently some of that mentality carried on through the decades.
Later, I reflected on how God instructed the Israelites to welcome foreigners, in contrast to cultural practices such as I encountered. In setting out the laws that would allow His people to flourish, He reminded them to welcome foreigners because they themselves were once foreigners (Leviticus 19:34). Not only were they to treat strangers with kindness (v. 33), but they were also to “love them as [themselves]” (v. 34). God had rescued them from oppression in Egypt, giving them a home in a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:17). He expected His people to love others who also made their home there.
As you encounter strangers in your midst, ask God to reveal any cultural practices that might keep you from sharing His love with them.