Sometimes all it takes is one word to bridge a culture gap.
In my work as a nurse, I often ask my patients where they are from as a way to get to know them and put them at ease. I am often pleasantly surprised at what I learn. Recently, I approached a patient to start his IV in preparation for surgery. I had noticed that the patient and his son were speaking a language other than English so after I sat down and introduced myself, I asked if they spoke Spanish. “No,” the young man said. “Arabic.” I asked where they were from and learned they were from Syria. “Sa-lem” I said, using the only Arabic word I knew. They looked rather puzzled. I told them I thought it was the word like the Hebrew word shalom. “Oh,” the son said, “it’s sa-laam.” We continued talking as the son corrected my faulty pronunciation and I connected sa-laam with Jerusalem and my recent visit there. Meanwhile the father didn’t speak a word until I finished his IV and said “OK.” He replied, “OK. Thank you.” We laughed as we realized that “OK” crosses all language barriers.
During my time with this family, I wondered if they were Muslim or Christian, but forgot to ask. Not knowing if they were Muslim made me a little more self conscious about the “I stand with Israel” button displayed on my scrubs, but soon the patient went into surgery and I forgot about my angst.
Several hours later, the gentleman returned to our area. As soon as he saw me, this patient, who only spoke Arabic pre-operatively, started talking to me urgently in English. I had to listen closely because of his thick accent and lack of dentures. He told me that his mother had taken him to Jerusalem in 1957and that the city was so beautiful. At some point, he had gotten a tattoo on his right forearm, which was now concealed by a large ace bandage. I asked him, “Why the right arm?” He said, “Because the sheep go on the right and the goats go on the left.” Later, he told me “We love everyone because of Jesus.”
As he was wheeled out the door to go home, he was all smiles and said “God bless you.” I was once again amazed how the use of one word in my patient’s language opened the door to meeting a new brother in Christ from Syria.
GENEVA CHINNOCK is a writer and author of Becoming His Beloved: Journey into the Father’s Affection. Geneva has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Master in Business Administration. In her spare time, Geneva loves reading, eating bacon and attending live theater. She lives in Southern California with her husband and blogs about matters of faith at TreasuredbyGod.com.