I struggled to eavesdrop on a conversation between two women standing in the produce section at the grocery store. Musing over my plastic carton of strawberries, I listened intently but could not make out a single word! Their strong accents hid the meaning of their chatter, but based on their friendly smiles and children swirling around their carts, they were probably discussing their family’s favorite recipes and wondering if the sale would last until next week just like the other mothers.
Their children’s clothes were plain and sturdy, little black pants and woven shirts. Bonnets topped the women’s simple dresses. This isn’t a strange sight in my community. I live in Lancaster, Ohio—not to be confused with Dutch Country in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; however, we are surrounded by many Amish farms and families. Buggies regularly clip-clop into town and park behind the local Aldi while the women shop. The northern Ohio areas of Holmes County, Millersburg, Walnut Creek, Berlin, Charm and Sugar Creek are tourist destinations for those longing to experience the pristine Amish lifestyle – but in Lancaster, they are our neighbors and often our friends.
It’s hard to know how to begin a conversation, let alone a relationship, with someone who is different from us. These women spoke a different language than me (Pennsylvania German). Their clothing was different from mine. They would take a different form of transportation to a house that looked different than mine. Their marriages had different dynamics, their parenting style was different. They worshipped differently.
But you know what we have in common? We all need Jesus.
That’s why it’s important that we get over our differences with our neighbors—whether they’re Amish or Muslim, straight or gay, partiers or prudes.
Rockie Naser serves refugees from different countries and faiths including Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus. Her advice can help us erase cultural barriers as we apply it to relationships with any neighbor who is different from us. Rockie recommends these questions you can ask a neighbor who is different from you, and a few you should avoid:
- “What a lovely accent! Where is your accent from?” Do not ask, “Where are you from?”
- “Your scarf/dress/head covering is beautiful (intricate, colorful, etc.)! What country is it from?” Don’t say, “What an unusual outfit!” or imply your neighbor looks weird.
- “Will you tell me what you believe about Jesus? The Bible? Christians?” Seek to understand their beliefs before you share yours.
Here are some practical do’s and don’ts when getting to know your neighbors from other cultures—
- DO offer hospitality.
- DO invite them into your home.
- DO receive their hospitality.
- DON’T dress immodestly.
- DON’T be offended if your gestures are not accepted or reciprocated.
Here’s one last piece of advice: DON’T be afraid. A spirit of fear is not from God. Don’t be afraid to reach out and love your neighbor, even if—no, especially if—they are different than you.
Amy Lively is a speaker and the author of How to Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird (Bethany House, May 2015). She provides tips and tools for Christ’s #2 command drawing from her own experience knocking on her neighbors’ doors and leading a women’s neighborhood Bible study called The Neighborhood Cafe. Amy lives in Lancaster, Ohio with her husband, their daughter, a holy dog and an unsaintly cat.
Purchase Amy’s book here.