By Sanele Ndebele
When I landed in the United States on the morning of November 19, 2011, there is one thought that stuck in my mind: God is constant. I had arrived in a foreign country at 5 a.m. and found myself surrounded by so much unfamiliarity. I had nothing but a bag full of winter clothes, a piece of paper with an address, and some kind of nervous excitement.
I was desperate for something to hold onto, something to affirm that I was going to be OK. I had made an American friend along the way, and when we got to the airport, I kept looking at her for reassurance. Her smile put my heart at ease.
I had my first encounter with God in the face of a stranger-turned-friend. She quickly filled me in on the procedures and showed me which way to the visitors’ queue. Right there I thanked God for such precision and timeliness in having me meet this lovely girl at that moment.
Since my flight had been delayed more than 15 hours, there was no one waiting for me, so I had to find my own way. As I stepped out of the airport gate I was welcomed by a breeze so cold that the hairs on my back stood straight. My “heavy” grey jacket felt like a mere vest. I knew I was finally in the oh-so-glorious U.S.A.: It felt surreal and scary.
I’d just turned 21 and was traveling outside of Africa for the first time. So far, everything just appeared beautiful, living up to all my ideas about the country. Until then it had not actually hit home that I was venturing into a distant land alone. Granted, I would be meeting other students from South Africa eventually, but I teared up a little as I thought of all that.
I located a taxi driver and made it to the address and was greeted by the aroma of rich, freshly brewed early-morning coffee in the reception (not that I hadn’t been warned about Americans and their coffee!). The lady at the front desk was expecting me. I talked to a pleasant girl who I found sipping coffee by the reception area. She too was part of the work-travel program I was on and was waiting for the bus to go to work. She suggested that I come with her for the morning shift. She quickly helped me get into my work clothes and rush to the job site, leaving my bags with the receptionist.
We got to work on time and she took it upon herself to show me around and all that I had to do on my first day at work. My two and a half months in the country had officially started on a wonderful note. While there was so much I wasn’t sure of, one thing I knew for certain is that God was with me everywhere I went.
My friend from the plane later came to fetch me and show me around Washington, D.C.
A friend’s mum had someone send me a duvet when I had trouble adjusting to the cold weather.
I enjoyed Christmas with a family that’s related to my mum’s friend back home.
I celebrated New Year’s Eve with my roommates’ cousins.
I crashed with a friend in Stamford, Connecticut.
Toured New York with another friend.
Spent a week in Indiana with some family friends who now live there, where I met even more nice and friendly people.
I could go on forever, but my point is most of these were people I never knew until I got to the United States, but all the while they made me feel like we’d known each other all our lives. So much has been said about grace, but I think until you’ve experienced it, you will never really understand its depth, weight, or meaning. Grace is defined as unearned favor—favor we can’t do anything to receive. We do not deserve it and neither can we earn it.
While I was in the United States I found so much grace in the hearts and eyes of the people I came across. There is nothing I can point back to and say that this is what made me deserving of their kindness. Apart from my name and where I was from, there isn’t much those people knew about me.
What those people also didn’t know is that in the warm hands that shook mine, the tender arms that embraced me, the homes that sheltered me, the kind faces that warmed up my own…I found God. They spoke a higher language, a language of the heavens. A language of infinite kindness and boundless love.
Thousands of miles away from home, I found grace in human form. I learned that while it might be easier and more convenient and comfortable to be nice to and love only those who are like us, agree with us, and believe what we believe, that isn’t what grace and love are about. The love that Christ showed us and calls us to is a love that sees beyond what is or isn’t.
Grace has nothing to do with who we are. And just as we have received that grace, not because we are amazing or wonderful, we ought to freely give it to those we come across.
“By that everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35
Sanele Ndebele is an accounting student at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa. In her spare time, she loves to write. Visit her blog at www.sanelle.wordpress.com.