Several weeks prior to finishing each issue of Interpreter, we email a question to readers asking them to respond with a short answer.
For this issue, we asked, ““How did you first develop a relationship (social/friend, work or school, church, family or other) with someone of a different ethnic or racial group or from a different country?”
You said …
I live in an ethnically diverse neighborhood. I've found the easiest way to make friends with people like my neighbors from Sudan or Iran was to walk across the street and say hello. We talk about our kids, our gardens and how the teenagers drive too fast. There is a slight language barrier, but smiles and taking time to talk works it out.
Tricia Barnes-Garback, Faith UMC, Lancaster, New York
In college, I had a classmate that I became very close to. I am white. He was black. We mostly socialized in a group, but he was more like me than any of my other classmates.
J. W. Burkey, First UMC, Cedar Hill, Texas
As a non-traditional student and English tutor at nearby Piedmont College, I was assigned two male students from Nepal to help with their studies. These young men were eager to learn American English. The year I spent tutoring them was one of the most rewarding personal experiences I have ever had. They are two of the finest, smartest, well mannered, and dedicated young men I’ve ever met. Although of different faiths, we discussed many aspects of our beliefs, which helped me to see our Father's world very differently.
Michael Carroll, Clarkesville (Georgia) First UMC
When I was about 10, my grandmother took in a foreign college student from Peru. I got to know him well and explained some of his studies to him as best I could, as his English was quite broken. I was truly fascinated by him, and I've tried to be that congenial to others since then.
Ken Costlow, Church of the Good Shepherd UMC, Arlington, Texas
I first formed a bond with my foreign exchange student from Japan. She stayed with me for 10 days and we got to know each other very well and still keep in touch. She came to my church twice during her stay, once on Sunday for church service and Sunday and the other for youth group that Wednesday. She enjoyed it immensely. She shared with me that in Japan, she is so busy with school she doesn't have time to go to church, which shocked me because I could never imagine not having enough time for God and reflect on everything he's provided me.
Rachel Dishman, Chester (Virginia) UMC
At 17 years of age, I was a freshman at Oberlin College, Ohio in 1944. I grew up south of the Mason-Dixon Line as had my best friend, who was my roommate from Virginia. While studying at our desks in Elmwood Dorm, there was a knock on the door. A lovely student said, “Which of you is Lorraine Ellison? “I am,” I answered. Connie Pond was an Oberlin Conservatory piano major in her second year. Connie was my Big Sister, a sophomore assigned to a freshman. Her letters that prior summer were welcoming and lovely with the promise to help me adjust to campus life. Connie was from West Virginia and she was of African-American descent. The remainder of that event was definitely a learning moment and a change to a more positive and open attitude for all of God’s people.
Lorraine Duncan, Lincolnia UMC, Alexandria, Virginia
I moved to New Jersey in 1968 and lived in community of "2nd generation" people from a variety of European countries. I was shocked to learn they asked each other "Where are you from," not meaning a state in the United States, but what country were your relatives from. I got to know people living in my apartment complex by joining the other mothers who, with their babies/toddlers, spent summer afternoons in the courtyard. I simply introduced myself to them.
Zella Felzenberg, South Orange-Vailsburg (New Jersey) UMC
As a child growing up in an integrated neighborhood on Detroit’s east side, I knew nothing other than a diverse community. I played and went to school with African American kids, many immigrants that were primarily from Eastern Europe (Poland, Hungary, Ukraine), and a few First Nations kids. We lived with my maternal grandparents who emigrated from Finland; as children, my sister and I spoke Finnish and English.
Ronald Fisch, Rochester St. Paul’s UMC, Shelby Township, Michigan
We moved to Uganda, in 1966. I was five. I met and had friends from many nations and cultures. My parents, who were not missionaries, encouraged us. We entertained families from several different cultures. I learned early that people the world over want the same things: happiness, security and opportunity. Cultures may be different; people are not. Color is about skin, not people. Choose love – be open, kind and accepting of all cultures.
Rick Frederickson, First UMC, Windom, Minnesota
Rezan came to our church's thrift shop, asking if there was someone who might help her learn English, her native language is Kurdish. A few days later, we met and agreed to twice-weekly meetings in one of our church classrooms. Using public library materials, I have made lesson plans and we are enjoying our time together. Rezan is motivated to learn English.
Ruth Laningham, Avondale UMC, Kansas City, Missouri
In my St. Louis, Missouri, high school, the different races had no problems working and socializing together. There was no notice of the differing races, not even among our parents.
During the spring of my junior year, everything changed ... students from another school district decided to try to shake up our happy school by coming on campus during our breakfast hour and knifing students. From that moment on, the campus turned into a military institution with badges, razor wire fences and guards at the parking lot entrances. Immediately all sports and music activities were cancelled until investigations could be made into the incident. However, our student body president decided to try to keep us together as a family. Our principal allowed a rally on the quadrangle where 2,600 students vowed not to let racism tear their school apart. What a memorable experience!
Ginny Lind, Eastmoor UMC, Marion, Kansas
I first met my friend Harun, a Muslim, two years ago at my church. He was new to the neighborhood, so he came to visit and brought us gifts from Turkey. They are a very hospitable people. The Koran is similar to the Bible, and the Five Pillars of Islam are similar to our Ten Commandments. They both set high moral standards to live by.
Robert L. Martin. First UMC, Wind Gap, Pennsylvania
I learned correct pronunciation of the name, and I learned to say "Hi" "Goodbye" and "Thank you" in the native language. I also smiled.
Jeff McPheron, Trenton UMC, Mount Pleasant, Iowa
In 1961 upon graduation from high school, I joined the Navy. I grew up in a small town in Michigan and was not exposed to minorities. I was also fortunate my parents did not pass any prejudices to me. My first ship assignment I made good friends with several blacks and Mexican individuals. The experience has served me well over the past 56 years.
Dean Moore, First UMC, Homosassa, Florida
I recently started attending the Hispanic worship services started at our church. I wanted to become acquainted with what seemed like wonderful people attending. I was completely taken aback at the feeling I had, being the only “Americano” in the service. I was uncomfortable that I did not know the language and realized how difficult it must be for Spanish-speaking minorities in my service. Since then, I have been embraced by the Hispanic group in our church and I am learning Spanish. I even read the scripture in Spanish at their service. Weekly I attend and I am becoming a bridge between the Anglo and Hispanic groups in our church.
Several Spanish-speaking adults, adolescents, and children come up to talk to me, practicing their English. I have been asked to help them in learning English and they have promised to help me with Spanish. My world has been rocked open to the beautiful, passionate and loving Hispanic culture, thanks to the Vibrant Church Initiative we became a part of five years ago.
Brenda Myers, First UMC, Pasadena, Texas
I am African American. My first recollection of a relationship with a person of a different race was as a child. My mother was West Texas Conference President of the Women's Society for Christian Service (WSCS, predecessor of United Methodist Women). She had several white WSCS friends from the white conference who became her friends. They were welcomed in my home and mother and I were welcomed in theirs.
Myrtis McAlister Parker, St. Andrew's UMC, Fort Worth, Texas
I grew up in the south on a farm. My first memories are of Short James and Mary. Short James worked for my father and I followed him around like a puppy. Mary worked for my father and mother and helped baby sit when needed. There is not a day I do not remember them, their love and things they taught me. My father and mother dealt the same with all races (they got a lot of grief over it). My father told me from my earliest memory that the reason I did not ride the same school bus as my friend Henry was “Hate, son! Hate!”
The Rev. Lester Pettus, First UMC, Wynne, Arkansas
The Rochester, New York, riots took place in the summer of 1964. In September 1964, I began my freshman year at Rochester Institute of Technology. The campus was downtown, blocks from where the riots took place. Racial hostility was tense, and we were often afraid to be walking the downtown streets. I remember one black man in my class who became a friend. We had amazing discussions about race and inequality. He graduated with a GPA a full point higher than mine and I started at Xerox at a higher salary than he did.
The Rev. Gerald Piper, retired, Knapp Creek UMC, Olean, New York
My grandfather was the general manager of a prison farm here in Texas. The household staff and office staff were all black men, many of whom were my baby sitters.
David Seay, First UMC, Fulshear, Texas
My first introduction to discrimination came in the late 1950s when I was 16 and a junior in high school. A group of friends and I all went to a department store to get part-time jobs and were horrified when we discovered that one of our friends couldn’t work on the sales floor, but could only be an elevator operator and would make 10 cents an hour less than the rest of us. We were Caucasian and she wasn’t.
Mary Jane Sufficool, Thalia UMC, Virginia Beach, Virginia
The first person I met of ethnic/racial group was when I was a child. My parents would take us to visit friends/relatives on the Seneca Indian Reservation near the Pennsylvania/New York state line. The family name was King, we played like children together and ate their food and did not think much of the different of us. After the Kinzua Dam reservoir was put in place, they were relocated I believe somewhere on the reservation in northern New York state. We lost touch after that. I tried to find them as I became an adult, but to no success.
Stella Walton, Youngsville (Pennsylvania) Evangelical UMC
I was an 8th grader when our schools in Denton, Texas, integrated. I met two of my neighbors who rode the bus with me. One of those teenage boys shared my advanced English class. We often worked on assignments together during that bus ride home, rode our bikes in the neighborhood, and had many phone conversations. My new friends helped me to understand that when you get to know people what might be perceived as social barriers disappeared.
The Rev. Linda Wimberley, Vega/Adrian UMCs, Waco, Texas
I was born on a tobacco farm in Piedmont, North Carolina, amidst five black tenant families. As far as I can remember into my early childhood, I played with, ate with and took afternoon naps with several different families of black people. At my advancing age, I realize, more and more, just what a great influence, in very many regards, they have in my life.
The Rev. Billy Yeargin, Yelverton UMC, Faro, and Lebanon UMC, Stantonsburg, North Carolina
Neighborhood friends when I was three. Brian and Derek were my best buds until we moved at 5 years old. Being an ethnic minority, it's not hard to meet Caucasian people.
The Rev. Craig Yoshihara, Palm UMC, Dinuba, California
I went to private schools and there were less than 1 percent of the students that were of a different ethnicity than me. It wasn't until I was in the work world for a number of years before I had the opportunity to have a social relationship with people from another ethnicity. I enjoy having a diversity of friends and wish I had that experience sooner.
Rosalie Young, Rayne Memorial UMC, New Orleans, Louisiana
When I was in college, I worked with a doctoral student from Iraq. During the summer of 1974 we became good friends and learned much about each other's culture. It was the first time I believed I received first-hand knowledge regarding Arab ethnicity and the Middle East.
The Rev. Steve Ziegler, Dove of the Desert UMC, Glendale, Arizona