With my blue plastic Candler name tag affixed, flight numbers noted, and umbrellas packed, I drove to the airport ready to greet the newest Candler student. An airplane landed as a taxi driver cut me off from the hourly parker entrance. I walked into Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport reliving my own arrival flight to a new semester, new country, new university, and new language.
A smile spread across my face as I remembered my hand clasping the Portuguese-English dictionary disembarking the plane and reluctantly releasing the book it to accept the handshake greeting Demétrio offered me at the arrival gate. Equipped with name badge, smile, and delightfully slow, articulate Portuguese, Demetrio welcomed me to Brazil, to Methodist University of São Paulo, and to an unforgettable part of my Candler journey. Refugee advocate and author, Mary Pipher calls this role a “cultural broker,” explaining they are the ones who “help ease people into each other’s cultures”. (The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community, Orlando, Harcourt (2002), 89.) Demétrio’s hospitality and grace at the threshold of my study abroad semester ushered me into the vivacious seminary community of Methodist University.
With soccer matches, discussions of liberation theology as compared to Pentecostal theology, ever-present coffee, and an array of church visits behind me, it is my turn to do the welcoming. Hoping to practice the encouraging hospitality I received, I have and am currently working in the Office of Student Programming this summer to assist the incoming international and exchange students in their transitions to Candler. My summer has been filled with flight schedules, good questions, shuttle routes, and emails.
Reflecting on the many welcomes that gave me the courage to ask challenging questions, to seek the wisdom and experiences of my Brazilian colleagues, and to knock on the doors of those friends, I pray that here at Candler we each continue to build relationships with people whose experiences are different from our own. May we each grow towards the image of Christ that resides in each “stranger.” I am grateful for the adventure helping to ease the transition into the culture here at Candler, the South, and the United States. I thank God for the rich diversity of cultures represented at Candler as we each learn a bit about each other as we journey together asking, knocking, and searching for the Kingdom of God.
Haley is a third-year MDiv student at Candler. An Alabama native, last year Haley was a Luce Fellow through Candler’s exchange program with the Methodist University of São Paulo, Brazil.