Though I‘m as white as they come, most of the time I wish I lived in another country–or at least didn’t live surrounded by other white people. Having traveled to multiple countries, I find other cultures, ethnicities, exotic foods and customs fascinating. I especially love collectivist cultures in South America, Africa and Asia where spontaneous visits, eating off the same plates, invitations to family meals and sitting around chatting for hours are the norm, not the exception. People are not seen as individuals, but draw their identity through being a part of the whole. Because of this, the church instinctively knows how to move as one unit with more fluidity than we do in the west.
In China, I was close to a young Chinese couple that led a small house church. When a couple in their group started having martial problems, they didn’t just refer them to a book to read or a counselor to go to, they MOVED IN WITH THEM. Literally, moved into their house for several weeks to help them work through some of their issues. Can you imagine something like that happening in western countries?
In Uganda, friends would go out on weekends and visit friend’s homes unannounced. I remember meeting an African family studying in America at my college and they complained that they just didn’t know how to make friends in a culture that didn’t just “drop in” on each other, but had to plan everything weeks in advance. In China, it took me weeks of being stood up to realize that I was planning too far in advance (one week). When I asked my Chinese students when you should ask someone to dinner if you wanted to go on a Saturday, most said Friday–the day before.
Since returning from living in China five years ago, I’ve definitely struggled with some of my motives in wanting to live overseas. Yes, I felt that God had “called” me overseas and to this day, I am in tears when I hear missionaries share in church or if I see videos meant to inspire people to go. Just this Sunday a man stood up in church and shared about a short term trip to Ecuador and every part of me wanted to jump on a plane in July–with or without my family–and be there. But I have also had to wrestle with the fact that I liked being viewed as different, special and radical–both in my own culture and in other cultures. And I am addicted to adventure, the exotic and the Next Thing. I live in the tension, wondering if I’m “called” or if I’m just eager for change.
So instead of looking for ways to go abroad, I’m struggling to be content where I am. And that means loving the people right here in my city in Colorado, which happen to be 92% white. But so far many of those boring white people have certainly shocked me.
My first friend after we moved last year is a woman I met at the park. We connected and since our kids were the same genders and ages, agreed to meet up again sometime. Though colorful tattoos decorated her arms and back, I didn’t think she was too different from the other women I had seen around. She mentioned that she and her husband own a martial arts academy, so naturally I googled it and her as soon as I got home. Turns out before kids she was not only an instructor, but a world champion martial arts competitor.
One of our neighbors is a stay-at-home dad who is in a band on the side. A woman at church mentioned she takes snuff when she goes to her in-laws. Out of a Bible study of 20 women I’m in, over half have lived abroad. A woman we had over from church yesterday told us about her daughter who is a professional synchronized swimmer. And I mentioned to two women at a moms’ group that I started a blog and both of them happen to be writers as well.
As I wrote last week about trying to notice people all around me, part of this is realizing that I am making unfair assumptions about people as “boring,” writing them off before I even have a chance to know them. But what I’m really doing is not building a wall around others, but around myself. Because I can’t know others well unless I also allow myself to be known.
“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21).
We are called to a life of loving others, no matter their outer appearance.
So I’m praying for open eyes to see people without prejudice or prejudgement. I’m striving to be content where I am. And I’m asking that God help me to see people as He sees them and love them as He does. Because, truly, no matter what country, culture, race or custom, those who know Jesus are my brothers and sisters, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus…There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26, 28).
I, not God, am actually the one making the distinctions and declarations, because God Himself looks at us all and simply sees His beloved children. And I long to see people of all colors (including my own) as He does–full of beauty, life, creativity and His very characteristics.
Do you ever feel like white people are boring? Do you have any stories of people who have surprised you?