“The great majority of Christians in America will never host a meal for someone from another culture making his home in the U.S.,” said my friend across the table. I immediately thought of my fortune not only in having been invited for dinner, but to have been “adopted” into an American family my sophomore year in college. In retrospect, it made all the difference in the world.
I thought it was a silly, frivolous prayer at the time. But in the depths of my lonely days as an international college student, I prayed to God for a family–more precisely, an American family. I had grown weary of not having a place to go during breaks, specially the long summer breaks. My parents in Brazil were financially struggling to keep me in school, my student visa limited the amount of hours I could legally work, and flying home during school breaks was just not a possibility. I never thought I would see that prayer answered—that is, until Milton Hollifield Sr., a country preacher from the North Carolina mountains came looking for me. I had met “Preacher Hollifield” and his entire family a couple of months earlier during a speaking trip to several congregations in the foothills of Black Mountain, NC.
They were a gregarious, loud, and even obnoxious bunch. I thought of my own crazy, loud, and obnoxious family as I experienced dinner with them. But now, out of the blue, Milton insisted I visited them during the Christmas break. “We’ll figure out how to get you there and back. You just need to plan to be with us.” There was no arguing with the man. So I did.
I was never the same.
I spent every holiday and school break with the Hollifield clan for the next several years until I got married and had a family of my own. Milton and Elizabeth made me one of their kids, even though I was closer to the age of their grand kids. I embraced corn bread and greens, livers and onions, and the Sunday morning staple of burned cinnamon rolls. I stuck out like a sore thumb in a rural community and loved every moment of it. I learned so much about love, family, grace, and acceptance from my new family.
I watched Milton get up every morning, read his Bible and pray for the growing list of people in his life. Once you got added to the list, only death removed you. At 81, Milton still prays for me every day. He reminded me of that not long ago.
I cannot imagined what my life would have been had a man whom I met only once, and briefly, not insisted I joined his family for Christmas. There are more people like me everyday in communities all across the country–college students, families, and professionals who are making America their new home. For their sake, as well as ours, I hope we can open our homes and invite them in.
Have you ever opened your home to someone new to your country? What happened?
Maurilio Amorim is CEO of The A Group, a media and technology firm in Brentwood, TN.