Loving the sojourner

“He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19 ESV).

What is a “sojourner?” The dictionary defines it as “one who resides temporarily in a place.” Other Bible versions translate it as “stranger, alien, or foreigner.” Or as they would say in the South, “You ain’t from around here, are ya?”

Over 15 years ago, my wife and I were having dinner at a local Chinese restaurant when we met a waitress named, Lily. We discovered that she was actually from Indonesia, a country that I had previously visited. Of course, I had to practice my few Indonesian phrases on her every time we visited the restaurant.

“Selamat sore, Lily! Apa kabar?” (“Good afternoon, Lily! How are you?”) I would shout out to her when I entered the restaurant.

“Baik, baik, terima kasih! Apa kabar?” (“Fine, fine, thank you! How are you?”) She’d answer, with a huge smile on her face. Obviously happy to have someone speak to her in her heart language.

After a time, we became very connected to Lily. We had her over to our house for meals. We helped her navigate some things like going to the dentist and hearing her struggles as a “sojourner” in America. She became like family to us.

One day when we visited the Chinese restaurant, Lily ran over to us very excited and said, “Good, good. I’m glad you’re here. I want you to meet someone new. His name is Yuhan and he is here from Indonesia too!”

Gary & Yuhan - Christmas 2001 in Wilson, NC

So, we started including this young man named Yuhan in the invitations to our home too. He depended on Lily like a mother and it wasn’t long before he started referring to me as his “American father.”

One Christmas, we had Lily and Yuhan over for Christmas dinner. We hung stockings on our fireplace with their names. We ate, and sang Christmas songs, and gave out gifts. Lily and Yuhan were part of our family.

A few months later, Yuhan announced that he was returning home. We hugged and shared an emotional goodbye. We exchanged email addresses and wrote to one another a few times, but soon lost contact.

We continued to be close to Lily. She started attending our church. Her oldest daughter came to live in the States for a while and attended our youth group. Lily became an American citizen and recently started traveling back and forth to Indonesia to visit family.

Earlier this April, I led a small team to visit a missionary family our church had sent to work in Indonesia. Before we left, I contacted Lily to see if there was any way to get together with her while we were there. Unfortunately, her schedule and ours didn’t align. She was leaving Indonesia just as we were planning to arrive.

But as we were leaving the States, I got another email from Lily saying that she was extending her stay and wanted to meet with us in Jakarta the last two days before we planned to return. She would have to stay two extra weeks, buy a ticket to fly from Surabaya to Jakarta, and rent a hotel room there, but she was going to make it happen just to see us! We were surprised and humbled by her desire to be reunited with us. But the surprise didn’t end there.

As we were riding a taxi from the Jakarta airport to our hotel, I phoned Lily to see about planning dinner that evening with her. She was so excited. She said we would need two taxis to travel together to dinner. I told her we had room in our taxi for her, but she insisted that she already had two lined up because she had her daughter and some friends with her that wanted to go too.

Imagine my surprise when we arrived at the hotel and there stood Lily, her daughter, Amanda, another friend, and this smiling young man, nearly bursting with emotion at our arrival.

“Yuhan?!?” I shouted. Not meaning to ignore the others, but so surprised to see this older version of the young man from 15 years earlier.

“Yes, yes! You do remember me. I have waited 15 long years for this. I am so happy to see you again, my American father!” He exclaimed, as he ran towards me to embrace me in a hug.

“Where? Hmm… how did you know I was here?” I stuttered.

“Lily called me. So, I caught a flight from Singapore where I was working and booked a room here for the night. I wouldn’t miss seeing you and Mrs. Robin for the world!” He explained.

As we rode to dinner together, Yuhan told me that I was the only one in America who had ever invited him to their home while he worked in the States. Then, he pulled out his phone and showed us a photo he had of us together at my dining room table at Christmas in 2001 (photo above).

“See, I never forgot you!” He said, while pointing at the photo with tears welling up in his eyes.

GaryYuhan2“Now, I’m going to take you to dinner.” He announced. He insisted on paying for everyone’s meal. He even made sure that the restaurant that was closed when we arrived, remained open for us.

At the end of our time together, I told him, “I love you, Yuhan.” And he replied, “I love you, too.”

In the book of Deuteronomy, God told the Israelites to remember the time that they were “sojourners” in Egypt and how He had loved and cared for them. God commanded them to “love the sojourner,” just as He did.

After all, we are all just sojourners in this world. Yet, God has loved us so much that He sent Jesus to make a way for us to become citizens of heaven. It is the love of Christ that urges us to love the sojourner in our land. It was Christ’s love that moved us to love Lily and Yuhan when they were living in the States.

And I believe that it was God’s love that moved them to surprise us when we were sojourners in their land too.


6 Responses to “Loving the sojourner”

  1. Robin

    This was a beautiful reunion with Lily and wonderful surprise to see Yuhan. I couldn’t help but have tears, as well, as I saw Gary and Yuhan hug. It was such a perfect picture of God’s love. I will never forget the looks on both of your faces….priceless. Lily held my arm, a symbol of friendship, wherever we went for those two days and it was so sweet to me; and to think our friendship started in a small Chinese restaurant in our hometown.

  2. Sabra

    What an amazing story. You never know how an act of kindness..sometimes not easy but not hard either, can affect the life of another. I had tears too as I thought about how that simple act of caring stayed with that young man all these years and how he saw what God’s love is like because you all took the time to show him. I know that Lily too was blessed in knowing you as well. I am also blessed to be a part of your family. Love you.

  3. Barry

    I wonder Brother, if you here Uncle Gary singing under the telling of this great story, “I am a poor wayfaring stranger” – I do.

  4. Jewels

    This story is truly a blessing & one that we all need to be reminded of as we pay attention to the least of these that we meet on life’s Highway. Thank you Gary and Robin! Blessings always, Jewels Swain 🙂


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