Our exchange student that year looked at me with perpetual confusion. She could not understand what was I saying to her. She struggled with her lessons, reading the texts and even circling words in the word search. Desperate for some help, we called a neighborhood woman from the same country and asked if she would help.
“Why should I? She is not my family,” she tersely responded.
We did not ask again. After a school year of total immersion into English, our student ended the school year able to maintain a conversation and comprehend her classes.
Fast forward about a decade to a time when my husband regularly repaired small household items for the neighborhood woman from the exchange student’s country. As her health began failing, she began talking about selling her house and going to a nursing home.
At the same time her next door neighbors began noticing that she no longer could manage a daily walk. They took her to medical appointments. Once they realized she had not paid utility bills because of failing vision, they worked out details with the utility companies and the husband became the neighborhood lady’s payee. He knew how much money she had, told her when she did not have enough for what she wanted to withdraw and made sure bills were paid.
She thought and talked often about her options as her decline in health interfered with her activities. Then one morning she called her next door neighbors, “Can you come and get me at the hospital? I fell this morning.”
They went. She told them she had fallen, cut her head and called for the EMTs.
After that, they asked her to give the doctors permission to talk with them about her health. The noted her increasingly unsteady walk and irregular blood sugar. Something must be done, and done quickly.
Conversations took a long time to reach a conclusion because her health added much confusion. But, she did settle on one thing: she preferred to return to her native country, to be near her siblings in her waning years. And she would go, as soon as she cleared out her house and sold it – sometime in the future. She saw no need to rush.
Her plans, her conversations confused those ready to help her. The neighbors began talking with a Realtor and estate sales organization. They explained and explained and explained to her what they learned. With the help of another woman from her country, they talked with her family over the phone – emphasizing her poor health and how the house and goods could be sold.
It took a couple of phone calls to establish that yes, their sister needed to return home – not in a year or two – but now. Her health needed closer supervision and her instability in walking demanded a simpler environment.
Her brother and sister flew to the states to help her pack and to guide her through the long day of returning to her native country.
In a flurry of activity earlier this summer, the neighbors made appointments for a couple of out-patient surgeries, medical visits and a final physical check-up where they obtained a copy of her records to carry with her. She went through her home of 30 years and selected items to take back with her: clothes, shoes, knick-knacks, mementos. Boxes packed for shipping showed her just how much she had to leave behind. No one said it would be easy, but necessity demanded it.
The brother and sister helped, but language barriers restricted their activities. The next-door neighbor became her trustee and received power of attorney to take care of legal matters.
Within a month of her departure, with the help of a professional, they held an estate sale one hot weekend and emptied the house. Four days later they signed papers selling the house and began writing the final checks for her expenses in this country.
The next-door neighbors weren’t her family. They did not speak her native tongue. They refused any compensation. They just saw a need and met it. They said their reward would come “when we no longer have to worry about her falling with no one there to notice.”
Long ago Jesus was asked, “who is my neighbor?”
He replied with the story of the Good Samaritan, concluding with his own question, “Which was these three was a neighbor?”
The question still remains. Who is my neighbor?
And the answer is the same: It is the one we see who has a need – a need which they cannot meet themselves. That person is my neighbor. And we become his neighbor when we show mercy and do what we can … even if they are not family.