I was raised in a small Northern California community outside of Sacramento. My family had a farm and their main crop was eggs – so we raised chickens for our livelihood. It was really a small family farm, not like some of the big commercial farms you see today. My mom and dad and my brothers were pretty much the workers on the farm. I can’t remember any time that we had a hired hand on the farm. If we did go on a short vacation to our cabin in the mountains, one of my dad’s friends who had a turkey ranch would come take care of our chickens and livestock and then we’d do the same for him on his farm.
On our farm, we did not have a need for migrant workers, but several of the farms around us did. Especially the farms that had harvest times – especially in the tomato fields and rice patties in our area. So in my elementary school we often had children of migrant farm workers come to school for a few months out of the year. I always felt sorry for them, because they weren’t with us long enough to get to know us. Some of the kids in school were even kind of mean to them because they looked different, dressed different and usually they were even one or two grades behind, so some kids called them stupid.
When I told my mom about how mean the kids were to the “visiting” kids, she (as she often did) pulled out her Bible and read…“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him/her wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
Then she explained to me that these “visiting” kids’ parents worked on farms and they had to go where there was work so they could feed their family. Because of moving around so much, it was hard for their kids to keep up with their studies like those of us who had parents who worked in one place. So, she said, God wants you to help them and encourage your friends to help them feel welcomed in your school.
Now I live in a neighborhood full of people who might be considered “strangers sojourning” in our land. People who are here on job assignments from countries and lands far off. They are much better off than the migrant workers from my childhood, but many of them feel lonely and out of touch. Our native languages are different, our cultures are different, some dress different than we do, but I always remember – “you shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself.” Whether in the grocery store, the bank, or walking down the sidewalk let’s greet all with enthusiasm and respect, because we have all been or will be “sojourners in a strange land.”