The Nations Next Door

2021 n02

When Bobbie Jo pulls into her driveway, her two-year-old doesn’t look toward his own house but toward the one next door. If the neighbors’ garage door is open, he’ll say, “Heather* home. See Heather.” That’s the special relationship Silas has with his nine-year-old neighbor, Heather.

In a time when many people don’t know their neighbors, Heather’s parents, Gustavo and Maria, made a point of welcoming Chris and Bobbie Jo to their neighborhood several years ago. Maria grew up in Honduras, and Gustavo’s family is Hispanic as well. And while they have great English, both speak with an accent.

Having international neighbors wasn’t something Chris and Bobbie Jo (both East Tennessee natives) were used to when they moved in. They didn’t know about Honduran history or the current social situation there. And Bobbie Jo didn’t know how much she didn’t know about tacos! That’s all changed.

“Now, if we have tacos, they’re going to be the ones Maria taught me to make,” Bobbie Jo declares. Sitting under a tree in their adjoining yards, she has also learned about the violence in Honduras from Maria’s father as he tells stories of life in his home country. “I had no idea,” she said, “I just had no idea.”

The friendship extends to the children, too. Heather adores Silas. In the summer, she reads to him from a Bible story book while they sit in a hammock, and in the winter, she plays in the snow with him. She also makes sure he gets first swing at every birthday piñata.

It didn’t take a big effort or a formal strategy for Chris and Bobbie Jo to become friends with their neighbors. It just took a little openness, a willingness to learn something new, and a trip or two across a shared yard.


Who are your neighbors? If not in a home near yours, maybe there’s an international person near your desk at work or school. Maybe there’s an international market down the road or maybe your church hosts an ESL class. With over 44,000 internationals in metro Knoxville, it doesn’t take much effort to find and befriend someone who’s relatively new to the area. In fact, you’ll usually find your efforts reciprocated by at least double! For 2021, KIN’s theme is The Nations Next Door, and we’re encouraging all our KINfolk to be neighborly to the internationals they find next to them.

If you’re nervous, we’d love to give you some starting points. Just email us. Otherwise, let us know how it goes!

*Some names have been changed for privacy.

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