My pasty white skin and blonde hair stand out wherever I go. People constantly tell me my blue eyes remind them of a cat’s. I have five kids, which is practically unbelievable for a “rich” woman like me. My chosen religion of Christianity is shared by less than 1 percent of the population. I have no use for the idol shelf that came ready-made in my house. In most ways, I’m the opposite of normal here.
It’s not that I haven’t tried. I understand contextualization. I’ve studied crossing borders and becoming all things to all men, that I might win some.
I have worked hard to learn the language. I can read the difficult script (even if my writing is admittedly terrible). I can carry on a conversation, and I get my meaning across despite my many mistakes.
I wear local clothes most of the time. I can wrap the skirt like the locals, wear the typical shoes (and take them off at the right times). I know what is modest here and what isn’t. I wear gold earrings because any respectable woman does.
I buy my food from the market. I have even learned to cook the local way, and I eat rice (almost) as much as local people do.
I have come to understand, respect, and even uphold a lot of local ideals and beliefs. I don’t hold my American patriotism too tightly. More and more often, I find myself understanding local motivations and reasonings — and questioning my American ones. Things that upset me about the culture when I first entered it make sense now in ways that are hard for me to explain to fellow expats.
I know about the seasonal calendar. About religious festivals and customs. I can sense the change of seasons now and even feel the hope and excitement in the air when religious holidays are near.
Our house is typical. Our furnishings are modest and simple. Besides the ridiculous number of toys our kids have, we could almost pass for locals.
So, why am I still so opposite? Why didn’t the divide between us lower more quickly? Why aren’t my best efforts at practicing incarnational ministry paying off and producing fast fruit?
No matter what I do, how I live, how I speak or dress— will it ever be enough? Is all the effort even worth it?
I will never be a local person. I can’t change my hair, my skin, my accent. I can’t change my passport country, the visa requirements that dictate my travel plans, and the immediate perception people have of me as a rich foreigner.
So, what can I do?
I can keep seeking understanding and keep becoming like the people I want to serve.
Some days I do want to give up. Forget the local dress, the local food, the local way. But, in humility, I must keep learning, keep growing and keep becoming like the people I desire to serve in the name of Jesus Christ. I can keep learning language and studying verbs. I can memorize new vocabulary and listen carefully when someone corrects my pronunciation. Each day, I can remember in humility to keep an attitude that says “I want to understand you and learn from you because you are made in the image of God and you have something to teach me.”
I can use my oddness to attract others to the Gospel.
Rather than denying the differences between us, I can use my oddness to attract others to the saving message of faith in Jesus. I can use people’s desire to learn English to start conversations and build relationships. I can use my family choices to explain God’s plan and blessing for families. I can use my wealth of money and resources to share generously with others. I can use my very white skin that often draws the stares of strangers into conversations where I can bless others with my presence and words. I can use my hope in Christ and the truths of the Gospel, which are so foreign and unknown here, to help people begin seeking their Creator.
I can pray that God will tear down the dividing walls between us and become our peace.
There are dividing walls between me and the local people. There are areas of conflict and confusion. Misunderstandings and missteps. I must acknowledge that my efforts will never be enough on their own merit.
God is the one who breaks down walls, creates peace in chaos, and builds his church. We can hold on to the hope that Jesus “himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14).
Just as he brought the Jews and Gentiles together under the headship of Christ, he can bring our differences together as a witness to the saving work of Jesus Christ who gives us access to the Father by one Spirit.
Paul says of the Gentiles, “you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:19).
I may feel like a foreigner and stranger, but God can use our differences to build his church and show the world the great love of Christ that has no bounds and no ethnic affiliation.
Keep pressing on in your incarnational ministry, keep becoming like the people you are serving, keep using your differences to attract others to Jesus, and keep praying that God the Father would do the work of uniting us all in love.
How can God use your oddness to draw others to himself?