Lost in a sea of faces at a church in New York State, the feeling of belonging evaded me.
Newlyweds floated past hand-in-hand. Not far behind, seasoned parents lined up their children like ducklings, waddling down the familiar aisle. Shushing and prodding, the parents persist until all six of their children file into in the family pew and the husband scurries off to the sound booth. After a moment, a guy in blue jeans and a hooded sweatshirt wandered in looking for his comrades who stood giggling and chattering. Once in a while, a hi-five or pat on the back would interrupt conversation and bring in another college student.
Looking downward, I wore neither diamond nor gold on the ring finger my toddler yanked and pulled on. I looked around for a bulletin, hoping to see how long I’d need to keep my boy silent. Unsure whether this was the service or an adult Sunday School class, I did not want to embarrass myself. I stood up to leave.
“Meestress?” A voice said, “Oh, excuse me. Meess?” Her accent seemed thick but I began to understand as she spotted my finger and looked back up with a questioning smile.
“It’s Becky. I’m a single mom.” I took a deep breath expecting a lecture. None ensued.
“Oh, very pleessed to meet jew, Meese Becky. My nem is Shante. Wood jew like to seet with me?”
Taken aback but glad, I replied, “Certainly.”
She hardly fit in with this setting but seemed right at home. I followed her.
Shante leaned over toward the floor, rustling her rich turquoise sari covering neck to toe. Being raised in New England, the closest I’d seen prior was ceremonial costumes in a Native American POW WOW.
Fascinated, I watched her pull out a plastic box full of crayons and Bible coloring pages for my son. Oh, no! He’s gonna draw rainbows on the back of the pew!
Noticing my concern, she whispered. “They’re washable, Meess Becky.”
From that moment on, Shante took me under her wing.
“We are going to Sundee School after the sermon, wood jew like to come with us? My husbund is in the classroom right now.” She explained that classes ran between the traditional and contemporary services. I stayed for Sunday School and feeling comfortable with the nursery, I sampled the contemporary service as well. After the service, I felt at home.
Shante and her husband invited me for dinner. With nothing better to do than to over-clean my empty apartment, I accepted the offer.
“We have young keeds, too,” She said.
My son might enjoy playing with them.
Following Shante home, I entered a whole new world. Souvenirs from a recent trip to her family in India were displayed on maze-colored walls.
Rice and black beans accompanied spiced beef tips on gold and orange plates like fine restaurant cuisine. Something resembling a cracker or corn chip partnered with chutney made my mouth and eyes water. I asked Shante about the ingredients.
“Spleet peas and lentils,” she replied.
I almost spit them out from the surprise but managed to stop. I was happy. The flavor kept me curious. I sat in their little eat-in kitchen for two or three hours in fellowship over steamed black tea and curried fruit. Time froze in my mind. For the moment, I fancied myself in India.
A stranger from another country reached out to a stranger in her church and bridged the gap. Although not, perhaps, best friends forever, we connected, making the difference between whether I would visit that church again or not. Her acts of kindness opened the door to welcome me in an unforgettable way.
Now, whenever I see visitors at my place of worship, I make an extra effort to follow Shante’s example, hoping that even one who feels out of place will become a welcome part of the Body of Christ.
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