Am I A Neighbor?

Written By Adriel Yeo, Singapore

In the month of June last year, I spent the bulk of my time in New York City. It was refreshing to see different types of people and lifestyles that one would not typically find in Singapore. During my stay, there were two incidents that left me thinking about how we should treat the foreigners living in our own country. Both incidents happened when I was taking the subway.

In one of the incidents, I was staring at the map trying to figure out which line to take and where to alight so that I could change to another line (honestly speaking, it’s more complicated than how it sounds). To my pleasant surprise, a lady approached me asking if I needed help. She then showed me the direction that I needed to head towards. Needless to say, I was very grateful. The second incident happened when I was already in the subway. An American who walked out attempted to spit at me but the closing door took the “bullet” and I watched the guy’s phlegm slide slowly down the train door.

In Singapore where I live, the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) map is by far less complicated and much easier to read. Singaporeans generally have little difficulties finding our way around. However, this may not be the case for a foreigner. Taking this issue one step further, there are plenty of foreigners in our midst and they may experience difficulties adjusting to the cultural differences. There are also those who work for hours under the sun and face certain injustices that are not being addressed. How should Christians respond to these issues?

In 2013, a Population White Paper was published that triggered a nationwide debate. It outlined the government’s plans to increase the population of Singapore to 6.9 million (of which citizens would only form 55 percent) by the year 2030. This news was not well received. But this is not the first time that Singaporeans have complained about issues regarding foreign workers.

As I recall both of the incidents that I faced in New York City, I wonder whether we are more like the American lady who offered to help me, or the other guy who attempted to spit at me. Do we as Christians show hospitality and grace to the foreigners in our midst? My personal take is that regardless of our opinions on certain policies like the Population White Paper, or the label “foreign worker” or “foreign talent”, we should offer help and extend the grace and compassion that was first extended to us by Christ.

No matter how much we may hate or oppose the idea of a city overpopulated by foreigners (or our university slots being taken up by foreigners), the reality is that some of these people are already in our midst. Many of them are our colleagues or people we see daily, making them our direct neighbors. At the end of the day, the rejection of a policy should not lead us to a rejection of people (or at the very least for this particular scenario). So while some of us may disagree with the government’s plan to drastically increase the population, this should not justify or give us an excuse to treat the foreigners among us with hostility.

Many of us are familiar with the parable of the good Samaritan where the question of “who is my neighbor” was posed to Jesus. I think it is extremely interesting and thought-provoking that the implication of Jesus’ reply was not so much of who our neighbor is but whether or not we are behaving as a neighbor to others. This is certainly a point worth pondering. Are we as Christians, neighbors to the people around us? Or do we treat them with hostility because we never supported the policies that brought them here in the first place?

[Jesus] answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Luke 10:27 NIV).

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