Have you ever been “the ugly American?” I have. It happened in Paris. The $600 luggage charges for our flight from Paris to West Africa seemed exorbitant. So in my best high school French I told the counter agent what I thought. I accomplished nothing but to make my high school French teacher look really bad. Worse yet, I embarrassed myself and my country. I paid the $600. Nothing was saved. Much was lost.
Here in northwest Iowa, in an insulated corner of an insulated state we may not think we have much opportunity to represent our country to the world. Oh sure, we travel. And even a short trip to Worthington, Estherville, or Storm Lake can put us in touch with people from many nations. But we think Dickinson County, the Okoboji Lakes region, is different. It isn’t, especially in the summer.
Students from around the world come to our shining lakes for summer employment. I bumped into Bulgaria, noticed China, became friends with Jamaica, and enjoyed conversation with Russia. I’m still hanging with Turkmenistan. I’m told there were more than 70 internationals working here. We had opportunity to welcome and at least in some small way influence the planet, perhaps for decades to come.
Most of these global guests have now departed. What impressions did they take home? Will they love America? Or will they remember ugly Americans? Will they never forget the kindness of strangers? Or were they mistreated, misunderstood or ignored?
In 1 Samuel 30, there’s a great little story of the Poet-Warrior David before he became Israel’s king. David’s then hometown, Ziklag, had been attacked. Innocents were captured and belongings plundered. David and his soldiers pursued the vandals, the Amalekites. In their pursuit they came across a foreigner, an Egyptian. He had served the enemy, but had now been left for dead. David cares for him, giving food and water. The Egyptian proceeds to help David by revealing the enemy’s location so justice can be done.
It would be easy to conclude that the moral of the story is that we should help foreigners because they just might be useful. That fits with why we would show kindness to internationals serving the tourist trade each summer. It’s good business. But that really misses the point. David helped the foreigner before he knew that the foreigner could help him. David missed perfect by a mile but he was “a man after God’s heart.” God’s heart is to care for the abandoned and the foreigner for His own sake, for pure love’s sake, without expectation of return.
So how did we do this summer? How did I do? I didn’t do much. But I came late to the fact that these young friends were here. I’m already thinking about next summer. I can do better. In loving foreigners with no strings attached we’ll show them the heart of God and just maybe, we’ll change the world.