by Adam Borgas

I never thought that I was strange.

Perhaps the reason it seems so risky to welcome a stranger is that we fail to see that we are one ourselves.

Would those people you think are odd or strange think the same thoughts about you? Are there some peculiarities about you? Are you too young, too old, fair-skinned, black, red, yellow, just-too-similar but all too different? That’s because you are different – you are a stranger. There is no-one like you in the world. You are alone when it comes to being you.

Take me for example. Born and bred Australian. I took a test the other day and found I was a Prussian, Russian, Welsh, Scottish, Danish Australian. I own my own home and the land it’s on but know it belongs to the Meru nations. I have been a Victorian and loved it, I’m a native South Australian but when visiting Queensland, I thought ‘I could make my home here’.

Are you starting to see that the more we live life, the more we don’t fit and are different? That’s when it becomes easy to see Jesus and know him for who he is. ‘Come to me, all who are weary, and I will give him rest’ (Matthew 11:28). When you know you are different, life is tough, and you start drinking from that life-giving well that is Jesus.

Think about your differences from those closest to you. I know I married my best friend, but I didn’t know best friends can have major disagreements. I carry the same surname as my siblings and parents, but we’ve had our differences.

Being a stranger and seeing others as strangers it becomes easier to welcome the stranger. We see ourselves in the reflection of even the most different-looking individuals. We can see through to people’s hearts and know that they hurt as we hurt and cry the same salty tears as we do.

When you know you are a stranger, you can experience down-to-earth comfort with saying hello to others.

My hometown of Waikerie is a little country town of about 2700 residents, situated on the banks of the Murray River in South Australia, about two hours’ drive east of Adelaide. Waikerie Lutheran Primary School is a small community of about 85 primary school-aged students and their staff. We specialise in being co-educators with parents of more than 60 local families. Most recently, five Indian families, predominantly of the Sikh religion, have joined us.

As a school principal, you are always thinking about ways of improving the education you provide. As a school of the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO), our little rural school generates some big ideas. The IBO has a term that is one of the essences of its programs called international-mindedness: ‘International-mindedness is the acceptance, respect and acknowledgement of diversity in culture, background, values and beliefs. It recognises differences and celebrates diversity in all human beings and attempts to promote respect and understanding in all of these components.’

After my first trips overseas and many discussions with colleagues, it hit me – international-mindedness starts at home!

We set about accepting all our families for who they are. We endeavoured to meet them where they were, and offer non-judgmental love, care and support.

So, when an opportunity existed to re-evaluate our language program, I investigated and implemented a language program with a difference. On reflection, I think it was a bold move, but I never look back and question the past, as I know it is the way God meant it to be.

As far as I know, we have always learned a language other than English in our Australian education system. But I acknowledge that, as a youngster, I thought learning a second language was a waste of time, so I knew there was room for improvement. I wanted language lessons to count and be valued!

I decided I needed a native speaker to teach the students, combined with the classroom experience of a seasoned teacher. So, the plan was hatched in the summer of 2018: Operation Approach Stranger!

That summer if you were out at the shops in Waikerie and you had an accent, I would walk up, say hello and introduce myself. I then asked native speakers of other languages whether they would like to help ‘teach’ the children with me as my primary language resource. I approached between 20 and 25 people and came close to having the school continue its Indonesian program or change to a dialect of Pilipino or Malay. The obvious one I had missed was Punjabi.

I was almost at my wits’ end when I remembered that I had played cricket with an Indian man nicknamed ‘Lucky’. I decided to ring Lucky and ask him whether he knew anyone in the Punjabi community who would teach with me. He said his wife Sharry might consider meeting me about the opportunity.

I signed Sharry up as my primary resource, and through having a 50-minute lesson each week to plan together, we not only worked on language, but we also found out the differences and similarities between the Sikh and Christian religions. These are best summed up by the Sikh greeting which doubles as a farewell: ‘sut shri akal’, which means ‘true Mr God’. Each time Sikh people meet each other, they remind each other of their one and true God!

Sharry and I discovered that the patterns in our faith are almost identical. Our hope mirrors the hope of the other and our love for people is congruent.

Our school just celebrated Holi festival for the first time! Holi is the festival of colour, celebrated all over India around one week before Easter. Holi celebrates love, forgiveness, peace and respect and so, as a school, we thought this was a tradition within our community we should appreciate.

For our staff and students, this learning with each other sharpens how we live our faith every day. Our worship and Christian studies have been energised through these relationships as we continue to grow in love towards one another.

Adam Borgas is Principal of Waikerie Lutheran Primary School in South Australia’s Riverland.

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