Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
– Hebrews 13:2, NRSV
I waited to board my flight from Seattle to Nashville. I was looking forward to four hours of solitude, the kind I love in an airplane seat on a long flight.
As I neared my row, I saw a woman already seated in the middle seat. A beautiful scarf draped her head and body; her hands were busy with prayer beads. I realized that she had little English and was not familiar with the ways of airplane travel. My irritation quickly turned to compassion as I noticed her discomfort at being stuck on a plane in the middle seat between two strangers.
The young woman in the seat by the window helped plug in our friend’s cell phone to charge and explained that the phone would not work in the air. We showed her how to find and secure her seatbelt. When she needed to go to the restroom, I walked her to the back of the plane, opened the door for her, and held her scarf.
We learned through little bits of words and gestures that she was traveling to Tennessee from a Sudanese refugee camp in Kenya. She was going to be with her daughter who was in Tennessee … or maybe Kentucky.
About halfway through the flight, I pulled up the flight tracker application that showed where we were on our flight. We “talked” about how much longer we would be flying (two hours). How far we still had to travel (1000 miles or 1600 kilometers). I dragged the screen to show Africa and, between us, we found Sudan and Kenya on the map.
She told me, “In English you say, ‘Good morning.’ [In my language] ‘Salam Alaikum.'” I said to her, “Salam Alaikum.” And she smiled.
I saw her later at the baggage claim. She was in a wheelchair pushed by an airport employee who spoke her language. She told him that I had been helpful on the airplane. I said that I enjoyed traveling with her.
Later, I realized that I never learned her name. But I hold her in my memory, my heart, and my prayers. May God bless her journey to this new place so far from her home. May God bless her healing from whatever traumas she has endured. May God bless her life, her family, her journey. Salam Alaikum.
You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
– Deuteronomy 10:19, NRSV