One day when I was on my way home on the MRT, I heard someone shout, “Go back to your country!” I looked up from my phone screen, wondering what the commotion was about. It was a middle-aged woman sitting opposite me. She continued saying lots of nasty comments while pointing at the elderly woman sitting next to me. I felt frightened by her hostile looks. What made her say such things? I turned to look at the elderly woman beside me, and noticed she was a foreigner from East Asia. She dressed like a villager from a rural place. Her clothes looked a little old and torn too. She had a big woven sack bag in front of her, and her head was bowed low. She did not say anything in response to the middle-aged woman’s hurtful remarks. People in the train carriage were staring. Deep inside me, I was praying, “God, what should I do?”
In Leviticus 19:33-34, after the LORD showed His lovingkindness and delivered the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, He gave these words to His people through Moses: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” This is echoed in Deuteronomy 10:18-19, where it is written that God “loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing” and that is why as His people, the Israelites who were once treated as foreigners in Egypt, were to love the foreigners in their own land.
Commanding the Israelites to “love the foreigner” was countercultural. However, God was making for Himself a new “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod 19:6) who would follow His ways and reflect His holiness, love, and compassion. Knowing that the foreigners were often deemed as outsiders and subject to bullying and mistreatment by locals, God was teaching the Israelites the importance of loving the foreigners in their midst, because they themselves were once foreigners in Egypt and knew how hard life was like as unwelcomed outsiders. In obeying God’s commandments, including loving the foreigner, the Israelites would reflect the holiness, love, and compassion of God whom they were in covenant with and be a testimony to the nations.
I decided to befriend the elderly lady and speak kindly to her. As I chatted with her, asking about her day, the middle-aged lady became more agitated and hurled more insults. I reassured the elderly lady, “Don’t be afraid. You’re going to be OK.” I continued to engage with her, and after a while, the middle-aged woman stopped shouting, and things went back to normal, with people getting on and off the MRT.
That incident made me wonder: How are we as Singaporeans making our country a welcoming space for those who have left their home countries, loved ones and possessions to study, work, and live here? I have lots more to learn about loving the foreigners, and I’m encouraged by friends who have inspired me to do that through their own examples. I know of a young couple who invited some migrant workers to their home for biryani on a national holiday, and the workers appreciated the warm hospitality. I know of a Christian community who came together to raise funds for a domestic helper who had to undergo surgery at an unsubsidised cost because she was a non-Singaporean. Such acts of love toward foreigners are not a mere command to follow; they bring such joy as we draw nearer to the heart of our LORD who loves.