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Emerging from a church service on the rural island of Jeju, south of the Korean mainland, a ten-year-old girl came running up to our group that included three Caucasians.

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"Are you Americans?" she asked in perfect English with a slight Southern drawl. She explained that her name was Rebecca, and she was from Georgia but visiting relatives in Korea. She looked greatly relieved to find us and began to talk rapidly about how hard it was to be an American in Korea. My Korean-born daughter, Janell, immediately related to her.


"Everybody expects you to speak Korean, don't they?" Janell asked, delighted to find someone else who understood. Rebecca did speak Korean fairly well, but she found that her Korean relatives expected her to think and do things differently than her friends in America.


Living in another culture is hard work for anyone, but it is especially bewildering for children who may not understand the differences or find themselves caught between two cultures. They don't have to move to another country to experience this culture shock. The stark contrast between life in a homeless shelter and the normal world of schoolchildren, serious illness, the violence of war and the horror of terrorist attacks are only a few of the ways children experience displacement and alienation.


How does Jesus expect us to respond to these little ones?


Throughout the Bible, we see the family as the social unit by which God intended human beings to be nurtured and protected. However, beginning with the first family, a long history of dysfunction and violence has intruded upon this community structure. But God, in his patience, continues to care for his wayward children.


Living in another culture is hard work

At one point, God made an object lesson of a man named Hosea. God told Hosea to marry a prostitute, Gomer. They had two sons and a daughter. Apparently, the children were a great disappointment, and Gomer was unfaithful. Then God revealed how the nation of Israel, his family, was equally faithless. God poured out his heart of compassion by saying, "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me. [horizontal ellipsis] Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms. [horizontal ellipsis] I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them" (Hos 11:1-4).


That's what it means to be a child of God-to experience that kind of compassionate, faithful care, even when we are running in the opposite direction. Our heavenly Father is constantly bending down to care for his children. Sometimes he works directly through his Spirit but primarily through his body, the church.


The story of salvation in the Bible is a record of how God has worked to redeem the family-not just the nuclear family as our culture has idealized it, but the extended family or "household." That includes multiple generations of blood relatives, close friends, those related through faith and even the strangers in our midst.


Deuteronomy 10:19 tells us, "You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Jesus reinforced this in Matthew 25:35, saying, "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me." James builds on that theme, saying, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world" (Jas 1:27).


The purpose of the church, the family of God, is to glorify God by reaching out in love to the strangers among us-the "orphans and widows"-who are suffering, hungry, homeless, abused and alienated. We are to welcome them into our household. Of course, that means sharing the family values and, most of all, introducing these newly-adopted family members to the Father and his Son, who can be trusted completely. It also means that we share our material resources and open our hearts in compassion.


This is a family built entirely upon adoption. Ephesians 1:5 explains, "He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved." We were all aliens and strangers at one point. God in his mercy drew us into his family. The apostle Paul tells us, "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba!! Father!!' So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God" (Gal 4:4-7).


Rebecca and Janell both needed the security of family and culture to give them a sense of identity and belonging. Each of them found it in their nuclear families but also in the warmth and love of the body of Christ.


Now it is our turn to return the favor. Each time we care for a homeless child or family, each time we seek to cross cultural barriers to communicate in love, each time we risk our status and resources to welcome a fellow human being into God's family, we extend the table in God's household. What else can we do in response to the bounteous love that we have already received from the Father but share it with our actual and potential brothers and sisters in Christ?