Four years ago, CBF of Missouri provided me with the excellent ministry gift of a sabbatical. One of the components of my sabbatical was to experience “being a stranger in a strange land.” I chose to do this by visiting Bucharest, Romania.
The plan was that I would meet up with a guy I had never met before (other than via the internet). “Gio” would rent an apartment for me, he would show me around Bucharest, we would travel to Transylvania and visit the Peles Castle and Bran Castle (where “Dracula” lived), and he would take me to visit the Ruth School for Roma kids in the Ferentari sector of Bucharest.
I deliberately made no Plan B for lodging, transportation, etc. in case no one was at the airport. As the plane descended into the Bucharest airport a sense of panic and fear struck me like a fist in the gut. Like I said, there was no Plan B!
Fortunately for me, Gio showed up and we had a superb time.
That week I was in Bucharest in 2008 was the same week the whole world financial system imploded. On the small TV in my apartment the only English language channel was CNN International. Every 30 minutes I saw again and again how badly the stock market dropped each day. I would hear about banks in Poland, England, Ireland, and Iceland (of all places) that were being propped up. Of all the weeks to be stuck in a “who knows where” apartment with no phone, no internet cafes, CNN International droning its same bad news over and over, and a new friend who did not really seem to realize my retirement plans might be going up in smoke.
In that one week I experienced:
- a new life-experience of being in a totally foreign place on my own
- knowing no one except this one stranger who I hoped/trusted to arrive the next day to show me the sights of Bucharest and the mountains of Transylvania
- a significant global crisis (with consequences we are still recovering from)
- being isolated much of the time to the apartment and the area immediately surrounding me (due to an unknown language and incredibly chaotic city planning)
Going to a place like Bucharest is not a requirement to experience being a stranger in a strange land. There are settings even in my hometown where I can feel a stranger.
I found myself profoundly grateful to this one new friend who kept me from making stupid foreigner mistakes and faithfully showed up for the next day’s adventures. Gio modeled for me how to welcome the stranger.
Now it is my turn to welcome the stranger who is in his/her own strange land – the land where all to me is familiar and home.