For weeks now—months, really—I’ve been seeing these beautiful, smiling refugees from Nepal in the hallways of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. I’ve learned how to press my palms together and say “Namaste” in greeting. I’ve welcomed three new members and dedicated the child of a Christian couple. I’ve even sung “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in English with three of the older adults (where did they learn that song?). But on Sunday night I spent an hour having tea with some of the young people from this group, and I started with a game I learned when I was a youth minister.
I took a pen from my pocket, turned to the young man on the right, and said, “My name is Jim and this is my friend Lucy,” and then I handed the pen to him. He turned to the girl on his right and said, “My name is Rom, and Jim told me to tell you that this is Lucy.” She took the pen and turned to the boy on her right: “My name is Bimela, and Jim told Rom to tell me to tell you that this is Lucy.” And so on around the room until all of us had been introduced to Lucy, but by repeating the names each time we also began to learn them: Rom, Bimela, Indra, Rupa, and Bhola (I’m guessing at the spelling).
And then we just started talking.
These kids spoke excellent English, which helped. They told me that back in Nepal all their classes were in English except one. They also watched American television and movies to help them learn the language. I sang some songs for them in English; they sang some for me in Nepali. We talked about the kinds of food we liked. We talked about family relationships, and that’s where it got interesting.
Rom told me that Bimela and Rupa were his sisters. Indra told me that Bhola was his brother. I told them that Dot Smith (who had served us tea and pie) was my sister. They didn’t believe me. I said, “Dot and I are Christians. Christians are part of God’s family. We call each other brother and sister.” And then their eyes lit up with understanding. Ah, yes. They had heard this before. “My Uncle is a Christian,” Rom said. “I used to go to church with him in Nepal.” They all made it clear how much they enjoy coming to First Baptist Church, and some of them even began to hint that they would like to join. But then Bhola said that in their culture Christians were shunned, and that if they became Christians they might be rejected by their community.
“Did that happen to your uncle?” I asked Rom. “Did he get ‘put out’ of the community?” Rom nodded thoughtfully. “He must be very brave,” I said. “Yes,” Rom answered. “Very brave.”
I didn’t have to say another word. I could see that they were counting the cost of discipleship, and wondering if it would be worth it to become Christians. I hope they will decide that it is worth it, but it will take at least one more cup of tea to have that conversation, and maybe another one after that. Maybe Greg Mortenson is right, that it takes “Three Cups of Tea” to forge life-giving and life-changing relationships with people from other cultures.
I’m looking forward to my next one.