Cassava, PC: KSB

Good evening, Mr. Neighbor

He walked into our apartment wearing red suspenders and black gym shorts pulled up over his torso. Meet my neighbor, always good for a laugh.

Living in an African home has taught me a lot about loving the neighbors who live with me. I don’t yet know most of the people in my apartment complex, only a few by face and a couple by name, but the people I know well make my life a lot brighter.

Our primary neighbors, who are relatives of the people I live with, live in our same building. But because living down the hall was too far away, they moved directly across the hall from us. (Actually, they just needed more space.) We eat together daily, listen to Yemi Alade and Moise Mbiye together, even fall asleep in each other’s apartments. We’re tight.

Some might call that type of closeness intrusive – overstaying your welcome perhaps – but I think it’s fun. I love having lots of people around. Plus, they’re family to the people in my apartment, and the interaction goes both ways.

My one neighbor, who is my age, is hilarious. He’s constantly laughing and cracking others up with his conversation and antics once he comes home from work. He’s the one in the suspenders.

His mother is a gem, too. I can count on her to affirm me when I’m looking good and to comment on the good of something else she sees. We speak different languages, but we’re getting to the point where we can understand each other a bit even though we primarily speak our own languages aloud.

Without neighbor love, my apartment would contain less laughter, less food, less music, less of all of the stuff that makes life good. Without all the church members and other Congolese friends who pop over at random, there’d be less of these blessings, too.

So love your neighbors. Eat a meal together; heck, eat together daily. Share your home like the early Church did. You don’t have to live in one another’s apartments like I’ve described here, but if you don’t already, try inviting each other over more often. You might get to know some fantastic people.


Mu Kappa: a taste of Heaven

We sat around the pot of fufu, a handful of sisters. First we wet our fingers in our bowls of homemade peanut soup. Then, protected from sticky base we were about to share, we reached into the communal pot to tear off a piece of the doughy circle of boiled flour. Next we dipped the fufu in our peanut soup and placed it in our watering mouths. Oh satisfying West African food. We savored our first bites, remarkably silent for a brief moment before we continued our chatting and laughing, inquisitive and alive, together.

Meet Mu Kappa, summer edition: a group of brothers and sisters in Christ, making hilarious memories every Sunday evening. We’re joined primarily and ironically by the fact that we have such diverse experiences as third culture kids.

An extension of a group that meets during the school year, our Sunday dinner fellowship this summer was composed of missionary kids with bursting passports, biracial college students with double citizenship and a residence outside the United States and friends whose parents who do business overseas.

I’m an American from Connecticut, but with a belief in the connectedness of people, an interest in the world and all its beautiful and diverse cultures and a leading to live in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I love spending time with these welcoming friends.

I am most filled with joy and laughter when I am with friends from Mu Kappa. I’m humbled by their open arms. We also support each other through celebrations and suffering. When we’re not laughing, snacking or going off on adventures, we share in each others’ struggles and lift each other up to our Heavenly Father. Last fall, we held prayer vigils for a friend whose family needed the Holy Spirit’s intervention. More recently, my Mu Kappa friends have distracted me when I was in physical pain. They also helped me with cooking and cleaning each week that I hosted the group. We’re family.

Mu Kappa is an extension of the global church. We come from Pacific islands most people have never heard of, South American jungles, Chinese cities, spiritually parched Europe and the 10-40 window. Korean Americans from Africa and China and the Middle East, Indians from Eastern Europe, European Americans from every region of the world—representing all corners of the earth, we come together to feast and share our stories. We worship and praise our marvelous Creator. We ask each other questions and care for each other deeply. We are the Body of Christ from around the world, a joyful and tight community composed of all nations, coming together at college to glorify God through our shared lives.

I’ve seen a sneak peak of Heaven.

Five things I learned from my science-major friends

This summer, I became friends with a group of students taking Organic Chemistry. We began to hang out every weekend, and we had tons of fun, but they also stretched me and caused me to grow. Here are a few things I learned in the past month or so:

1. I operate in a very different world than they do. I didn’t understand anything they said when they talked about A-Chem, P-Chem, O-Chem, professors, tests or assignments. I’m used to debating which sociology professor is better, not which lab to take. I’m accustomed to being online doing social media all day and reading articles about race, not studying intricate scientific formulas. I understand journalistic jargon, not bio patois. When I was one of the few non-hard-science majors present, if not the only one, I felt a bit lost and left out, but I understood that this was only natural since I was the only non-hard-science major. I was glad to see their shared passion although I did not comprehend their vocabulary.

I also realized that other people might feel this way around me and my closer friends who operate in more social science/ humanity and writing or even international circles. As a journalist, working in a discipline created for the people, I should be especially careful to speak in terms that everyone can understand in an attempt to make everyone feel included.

Despite our different academic interests, my science major friends excelled at making me feel welcome by inviting me to hang out each weekend, giving me rides and always smiling and listening as good friends do. Of their own will, they went out of their way to include me. And as I grew to know them better, I discovered (as I had glimpsed from the start) that they were way more than super-smart science nerds.

2. People can love biology or chemistry yet also have other passions and places to which God has called them. Some of my summer friends are concerned with social issues such as race in the United States and the genocide of Native Americans as well as the human body and marine biology. As humans we all have passions, dreams and maybe even a draw to specific locations placed in our hearts. Christians may feel this calling more acutely because God wants us to live out his will in specific ways. Needless to say (yet apparently not obvious to me at first), God calls bio, chem and physics majors too.

3. Science majors work crazy hard, but they also have crazy fun. And they can be crazy weird. Together we traipsed through Wheaton, Glen Ellyn and Naperville this summer watching fireworks; belting Christmas carols; chasing each other on the starlit playground like school children; creating a sand octopus that strangled one friend; eating Korean, Indian, French and Italian food; participating in a surprise birthday party and performing incredibly realistic chicken sounds. (The chicken imitation was the weirdest part, and it got even weirder when three of my friends were doing it in a parking garage on the way to the birthday party, suddenly ceasing when other people appeared to claim their car. However, we still have plans to make a larger impression this school year. Stay tuned to campus news, Wheaton College. 😉 )

wheaton fireworks 2015 o-chem friends photo by falecia sanchez

Photo Credit: Falecia Sanchez

4. God is powerful and deserves to be sought. This past week I heard about my friends’ student-led Bible study and attended the last night with the O-Chem students present. I listened as one of my friends, having sought the wisdom of a professor, explained 1 John 5:26. We all wrestled with that Scripture together. We discussed the power of prayer, and they encouraged me in my missionary endeavors to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The way they sought God reminded me of the passionate college students I’d admired in Connecticut.

God used these students to teach me more about himself though regular interactions as well.

5. The diversity of our Messiah’s Body goes beyond race and ethnicity. Most people in this group of amazing men and women were white Americans and thus appeared homogenous. However, we came from varied backgrounds such as the suburban Midwest, SoCal and the “boonies” of Minnesota. I do not intend to demean the significance skin color and ethnic culture plays in our lives and the lives of those around us. However, I was surprised at the cultural diversity within the group despite our shared skin color, and I’m grateful that God showed me how amazing my white skinfolk can be! I needed to learn that lesson. We learned from each other, compared cultural differences we noticed and tried to understand how our cultures influenced us.

Our dreams also varied: One friend has already been accepted into optometry school, and a couple friends are anticipating their upcoming marriage and future children. Yet another is looking forward to working in a Boston lab before potentially going overseas to India. These friends are so welcoming, humble, and inspiring!

You would think that I’d already know all these points, having lived with two hard-science-turned-other-major students this past year. (Common sense is a thing, too, but I’ve always been a little lacking in that area.) I had to be in a group composed of bio, chem and physics nerds in order to learn these five lessons.

These friends have loved me and welcomed me into their circles, offered me generous hospitality and extended warm hugs of friendship. They remained their weird selves in front of me, and they welcomed me with my own quirks and interests and unsightly allergies that make me cry uncontrollably once the pollen builds up each evening. These gracious, intelligent, godly and fun friends filled my June weekends with laughter.

The Organic Chemistry class finishes this Friday, and I won’t see some of my new friends again until school resumes in August. I will miss them! Here’s a shout out to the friends who are leaving for the month: I thank you for loving me. Thanks for teaching me about God and the joyful, vibrant life he’s given us. Thank you for stretching me in unexpected ways!

Photos by Falecia Sanchez

Do you see what I see?

Perception is a funny thing. We all have perceptions of people and things, but our perceptions can be slanted or incomplete based on our contexts and how well we know a person.

For example, tonight I was hanging out doing dumb but fun online quizzes with the middle schooler with whose family I live. We looked up how romantic we were, what color our brains were and so on. On one of these quizzes, we had to pick an occupation out of a limited list. Since the quiz offered nothing journalism related, I chose the most preferable option on the short list: realtor. After I clicked the box, my friend Hannah referred to the options and said, “Really? I would’ve chosen military for you.”

What?! Anyone who knows me well will know I hate war and am not athletic. As a creative person who has never fit in with any one group, I also prefer to work outside the established boundaries, unlike the strict and formal military culture where, to my knowledge, orders are always followed as given.

I expressed why I would not work in the military, and Hannah admitted that she probably thought that because of my hair. (Half of it is shaved.) Because we’re still getting to know each other, Hannah supposed that out of my limited occupation options, I’d choose the military. She perceived this based this on my appearance. It’s understandable but also inaccurate.

I think it’s safe to say that we should hold off making judgments based on our initial perceptions of people! Let’s explore this a bit more now—let’s look into contexts.

After we had satisfied our slap-happiness with online quizzes, I went on Facebook to show Hannah a picture, and as I scrolled to find it, she saw a picture of me from the Office of Multicultural Development’s spring banquet. I was wearing a pale rose colored dress and playing an inflatable guitar next to one of my best friends in his snazzy suit and shades. Hannah was surprised to see me in a pink dress and said she couldn’t picture it.

“What do you picture me wearing?” I queried. I love dresses! The picture seemed natural to me.

“Sweats. Jeans maybe,” she replied.

I realized that whenever I see Hannah, I’m at home, and when I’m at home, I crash and am comfortable bumming out. I don’t have to perform like I do at my internship; at home I can wear my ugly sweater, and nobody will care. While I enjoy dressing up, I also enjoy dressing down afterwards, and since Hannah and I only interact in the latter context, her perception of me was slanted.

Let me be clear: Hannah’s a dear. She’s amazing, funny and smart. Together we laughed till she cried. We “died” by laughter at least five times in the space of a few hours.

But as I reflected on the night, I realized her perceptions about me were incomplete and rather one-sided—through no fault of her own but because we’re still new friends and only operate in the context of her house after I’m off work.

Perceptions can be slanted based on our context and based on appearances. People may perceive someone with arched eyebrows as judgmental. In reality, the woman may simply not be aware of the attitude her plucking job conveys. Hair color, attire, makeup, and an assortment of other physical characteristics cause us to perceive people in certain ways, some positive and others negative. I won’t break them down here, but I will add that our most obvious perceptions or judgments may be based on skin color, since that’s probably the first attribute we notice about a person, whether we can verbalize that or not.

To see is to perceive something with our eyes. Judgments follow soon thereafter. We would be wise to hold off these judgments until we know people better since first and even second impressions are never complete.

What do you see when you look at a person?