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GEOFFSHATTOCKweekly

Strangers

Mar
27
2006

Issue 187

They’re everywhere; you may have met several today already. You’ll be very likely to speak with some today. Others you may encounter but never converse with. Some you may speak to once,  never to speak to them again.

I am talking about strangers. In the course of a working day you may deal with people who answer the phone, show you in, handle your enquiry or deliver your items. They may have worked on a product or a service for you without you ever realising what they do as you speak to them.

Much has been written about how Christians should treat their colleagues, seniors or juniors. The importance of the development of long term good relationships has been explored and a considerable amount of advice has been given concerning integrity, witness and good practice.

There is less, but still no shortage of, material about how we benefit from the kindness of strangers. Each of us lives by the grace of others.

But what about the thousands of brief encounters, the unguarded moments or short term negotiations? As you get to know someone you may also like them and find it easy to show a ‘Christian’ attitude.

What about those whom we will never know? What about those who experience you for a few moments and you’re gone?

Perhaps no-one typifies this as much as the call centre operator. Some time ago I did some anger management work for a group of tele- workers who needed help in managing complaints. It reminded me of how many times I have been the one complaining or enquiring in frustration, having been a victim of a telephone system which stops me speaking to people. When I eventually get to the person, I am ready to explode. But it is a person – a stranger – who may try to help and for a few moments we may make or break each other’s day.

The challenge is that you just don’t know. You and I have no idea what is happening in a stranger’s life. You know nothing of their frustrations or weariness. Have they had a good day or a bad one?

Old Testament law had quite a lot to say about a group of people who were called ‘aliens’. These were strangers who found themselves, for whatever reason, mixing with the tribes of Israel. They were not from the same culture but had dealings with the Israelites nonetheless. The rules of practice spelt out, not only advice, but  God’s attitude to such people. “Do not ill treat him,” says Moses. The Israelites were told to treat the stranger as one of their own, even loving them as themselves. The reason given is that the Israelites were to remember that they were once in such a position.

It’s a good principle. It finds its echo in Jesus teaching, on treating people as you want to be treated, but deeper than that it provides the opportunity to be good news in tiny messages. The stranger may never know that you are trying to be good news because you want to honour your God. All the stranger might realise is that some people want to pass on a better atmosphere than the tense, angry clouds which so regularly characterise our working days.

A while ago I rung our local post depot because I wanted to thank them for the high quality of service we received from our local postman. The supervisor was so shocked he held the phone away and shouted across the office “Somebody is ringing to thank us!”

Sometimes people don’t notice. The supervisor did and God always does.

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Series: -
Module: 2
Season: -
Daily Guide: No

Tags: alien, attitude, behaviour, gratitude, stranger, witness

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Geoff Shattock

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