By Norris Burkes
Posted Jul 30, 2017

As Becky and I transition into life in a non-English-speaking country, we are testing the boundaries of the timeworn admonition — don’t judge another until you’ve walked in their shoes.

In just the first week of cheek-kissing and rich foods, I’ve gained a little insight, if not a little weight, into life as a refugee.

For instance, I search the grocery store for milk, but without language skills, I can only hope I’m not pouring dairy creamer on my oatmeal the next morning.

Becky and I board a downtown bus, but decide to recheck our navigation on the transit map posted inside. We wonder aloud whether we’re going the wrong direction. Three riders take note of our concern. Without English, they gesticulate their assurances that we’re OK.

The whole thing has me wondering about what refugees go through. Of course, I’m not really an refugee. I’m a poser with a credit card. In comparison, I have few challenges. I have a retirement income that supports a standard of living nearly identical to home, and I enjoy ready-made friends in the local church.

To really know the refugee life is to know fear. Not just the fear of being on the wrong bus or buying the wrong kind of milk.

To experience the life of a refugee, you must assume the life of a nonperson, someone without the proper paperwork. To really know it, you must be in such fear that you’d uproot your family, desert your house and leave all your belongings to search for food and safety.

Jesus’ family struggled in much the same way.

I know that not all my readers buy the Jesus story, but at the very least, you can imagine the part of it where he’s born into a family that crosses the border to escape a maniacal ruler who’s killing all the Jewish toddlers.

The biblical narrative claims that Jesus is a guy from a whole different plane of existence. I mean, he’s supposed to be God, right? Yet Christian Scripture says he relinquishes all his god-like attributes to become one of us.

Not to get overly theological in a newspaper column, but Jesus purportedly laid aside his power, his omniscience and his omnipresence, to become the ultimate émigré, deportee or outcast. Scriptures say his own people, meaning the religious people of his day, rejected him.

Then he was crucified between two common thieves. Today, church folks call this celestial immigrant their savior.

My point is that in modern times, we still discount the refugee for fear he might be a terrorist. But if you accept Jesus’ story, you must consider the chance that today’s immigrant might also be a savior.

No, not the born-of-a-virgin type, but perhaps a savior with a small s. Meaning, we must consider what this immigrant might contribute to our future if he is allowed an equal status. Perhaps he or she will lead, invent, create, produce or save the pieces of the world that need saving.

A stretch? Maybe. But I know one thing. The faith I follow teaches me to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. Now that I’m a pseudo-immigrant, I know more of what that means. I will depend on others to help me in the same way I should help them if they were in my country.

For instance, last week I had a wonderful dinner with a Belgium family. The meal was heavy with garlic and onions. Later, inside their guest bathroom, I considered using the breath spray I found on the counter.

Good thing I checked with my host. It was room deodorizer. I think I’m going to need a lot of help while I’m here.

Read Norris’ past columns at Write him at Twitter @chaplain or call 843-608-9715.