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Letter to Strangers

Posted by Margaret Ma on


It had been a few months since I had heard from my cousin Jane, so I was pleasantly surprised when I got a text from her. “Wanted to share a horrible thing that just happened in our town,” she wrote. She then forwarded me a news article about a family in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with school age kids who came home to find the n-word spray painted across their front door. “The kids are pretty traumatized, and the family are friends of my neighbor,” she said.

I was surprised that such a thing could happen in a fairly diverse, college town. I wrote back to say how sad and appalling that story is, and how sick it is that our country is becoming more divided by racism. Then she asked, “Would you be willing to send a letter or card of encouragement to the family?” 

“Of course,” I said.

Later, when I sat down to write, I found myself having writer’s block. These people are strangers, I thought to myself, and I had no idea how to start the letter. My cousin had given me the names of everyone in the family, including the school age kids, so I wanted to write something that would encourage all of them. But I couldn’t quite get the words out. I know for sure what I was feeling. I was feeling frustrated about the current political state in our country and wanted to blame this racist act on that. But I knew writing a letter that focused on my frustration was not what they needed to hear. 

So in desperation, I prayed that Jesus would give me the words to say. I had asked my cousin if this family was a churchgoing family. She said she didn’t know, but encouraged me to write “…as the Spirit moves.” So I prayed, and as I did, I was reminded of Psalm 139. In particular, I thought about verses 13-14 (NIV):

For you created my inmost being;
     you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
     your works are wonderful,
     I know that full well.

I was reminded of how, many years ago, a group of us from The River travelled to Honduras and led a week-long vacation Bible school focused on this psalm. On that trip we had kids from our partner church, as well as children from a nearby small, impoverished village. Each day they ran down the hill, eager to learn, sing, play, do art projects, and be loved upon. I still remember the faces of some of the kids. I remember being struck by how powerful it would be if these kids could really have it cemented in their hearts that they are fearfully and wonderfully made. If they had that anchor in their soul, could they survive the storms of life that would come their way? 

So, as the words to my letter started coming to me, I prayed Psalm 139 over this family. I wanted them to have that anchor in their souls. I also wanted them to know they are not alone and that a community of people, in San Jose, California, stands behind them. I wanted them to have hope that their fight is not theirs alone and that here in 2019, sixty-five years after the start of the Civil Rights movement, people of diverse races still long for social justice.

As I closed my letter, I realized they weren’t strangers anymore.

Image courtesy of Margaret Ma


Margaret Ma is a native of the Chicago suburbs but has been calling The River home since 1999. In many ways she feels she has “grown up” at The River. She went from being an idealistic “dot-comer” in the early 2000s to finding her calling as a teacher. She is also a wife to Jack, mom to Lucas, sister to Angela, daughter to Sophia, aunt to Jeremy, and sister-in-law to Steve (yes, she has numerous family members at The River). She is currently a small group leader and member of the Giving Team. She enjoys watching movies and TV shows that make her cry, playing board games, and traveling.


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