The Distance Between Smiles

Gummy candies in child hands: Children's hands hold a lot of Sometimes it takes sharing your story over and over before you remember how incredible it really is.

Or how often God is at work in the small moments.

We spent four weeks sharing the story of our lives and work with friends and family in the U.S. The encouragement we felt in the feedback of listeners was always inspiring. “You’re right, God really is at work in our lives!” Not that we forget that He’s at work, but sometimes it just feels like mundane living. But when we step back and look at the bright tapestry of all that happens in those in-between moments, we re-realize how active and present God is here, not only in our lives, but in the greater community and globally.

Yesterday was one of those simple moments. It may not have changed eternity, but it clung to my heart as something special. An opportunity taken. Small, but meaningful.

I was at the grocery store, a place that feels like a second home to me. I’m there a lot. German refrigerators tend to be quite small, requiring a shopping trip every few days. Top that off with my poor meal planning and I’m there almost daily, if not multiple times in a day. I know. 

This was no different. Except this day I noticed what appeared to be a sweet refugee family making their way through the store as well. My heart always goes out to them because 1) they stand out and 2) I know what it’s like to be a foreigner here, albeit for different reasons.

I smiled big at the family, and the father lit up and gave me a hearty “hallo.” I carried on my way.

Less then a minute later, the woman came toward me down the aisle, calling out to me in her simple German. This is how it often goes… their simple German and my simple German are the most common language we have. I gathered quickly that she was trying to figure out whether the gummies had pork.

Pig in gummies?!

When I went to Greece in March 2016 with a team of BFA students, we learned right away that if we were to take gummies to share with the refugees, we needed to read the ingredients carefully. Little had I known at the time that gummies OFTEN have pork. Unless it specifies differently, most gelatin comes from pork. Disturbing.

Very disturbing.

So I wasn’t terribly surprised when this sweet woman was trying to figure out what gummies she could buy her children. As you probably know, the Muslim faith practices pork-free living, even down to what’s in the gummy. It’s a big deal.

In one hand, she held a package that said “vegetarian” and in the other, a package that said something about being fake-colors free. She wanted to know if the latter was also free of pork. Reading over the German ingredients, I saw Gelatin. I couldn’t find “vegetarian” anywhere or any indication that, other than the natural coloring, this package was pig-less.

She thanked me, smiled, and went on her way. I went on mine.

Nothing life-changing, perhaps. But I wondered if it wasn’t my sincere smile upon first seeing them that helped her feel safe to ask me this question. That in a very foreign country and atmosphere, when one feels stuck and lost and confused and maybe even un-welcomed, how a smile might wash a moment over with some peace and comfort. Enough to brave asking the stranger about ingredients in gummies, which is really just one more way this family must navigate this new place. Not only in language and laws and customs… but even in food ingredients, lest they break a faith-law. After all they’ve been through.

I’ve needed such help as a newbie here myself. Maybe not gummy ingredients, but many other things. So many.

I don’t know if I’ll see them again, but Kandern is small and I probably will. And I hope they’ll always sense and know that I (and we) am a safe place to learn life in this new place. In more ways than they realize, I get what it means to learn life here. But I also have the “benefit” of skin that matches the Germans, dress that mostly matches the Germans, and an arrival that wasn’t based on the massacre of my people.

I hope and pray that our smiles prove to be, not only a bridge between ourselves and our newest neighbors, but between them and their German hosts as well.

So go out and smile! Wherever you’ve been planted, you never know how short the distance between smiles really is.

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