by Andy Pearce
One of the most unique and exciting “Opportunities to Serve” offered through Evergreen-SGV involves a drive on busy freeways, standing for one to two hours and trying to spot someone new to the U.S. in a crowd, loading five bags totaling 180 pounds into a car, and driving on busy freeways again (often during rush hour) to an apartment that may or may not be ready for a new occupant.
During two weeks in mid-March we served 29 newly-arrived international students, mostly from India, who were arriving to begin their studies at Cal State Los Angeles in the Spring Quarter. They arrived on 14 different flights. The brave drivers helping Andy include Roy Tsuneta, Garrett Ohara, Frank Salgado, and Don Saguchi. Stuart Jung has also helped in times such as when 13 came in on one flight last fall, and Mark Salgado is also on the “pickup team.” Garrett Ohara deserves special commendation for picking up one student at 2:15 am. Roy Tsuneta and I waited for two hours and 45 minutes for a group of five students on a particularly busy afternoon.
The students fill out an online form before they arrive, so we know their names. We write their names on a sign that we hold up in the midst of the crowded arrival area. The new students don’t have cell phones that work in the U.S. so we have to watch carefully to make sure they see us. They are very tired after a trip that is usually 20-24 hours.
New international students are allowed three checked bags of 50 pounds each on most international airlines, so the backs of our vans fill up very quickly with luggage. It is very common for customs officials to pull them aside to inspect the bags because they usually have a wide variety of Indian food and spices, including seeds. One group of four students were not able to move into their apartment right away, so all of their luggage stayed in the back of our van for three days! (see photo)
Most of the new students have never flown on an airplane before and have not left their country before, so they are very afraid. The opportunity to welcome them and serve them at a moment of great need is a blessing. The students remember the exact day and circumstances for the rest of their lives. After we drop them off, they are eager to thank us, and that usually involved tasty and spicy Indian meals together.
When they ask us why we are serving them, we point to Galatians 5:14, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” We are blessed to be a blessing!