“Quick! Tell me everything.”
Those may not be the exact words. In fact, the question may have been thoughtful and the time-pressure low. But panic still tends to ensue when I hear that message.
One of the most beautiful and challenging pieces of my role as a mission worker is to interpret mission for and with folks “back home.” What do I do? What are the churches and societies where I work different from or similar to our U.S. communities? What is involvement in God’s mission all about?
This blog and other written channels are one way of doing that. But there’s also the face-to-face interaction that happens whenever folks from the U.S. visit or when I’m in the States. For me, the biggest challenge is deciding what to say and how to say it. There’s only so much room in a newsletter page, only so much time for a sermon or presentation, and often even less time in one-on-one conversations. Out of all the things that could be shared, what will I choose?
I’m beginning to plan for an extended time on “interpretation assignment” in the States next year (please let me know if I should visit your church!). So I’m starting to think about what messages I’d like to share and how to do that faithfully and effectively.
The information we get about other cultures in the U.S. tends to be limited, highlighting just one aspect of a whole group of people. When I meet folks in the U.S. to talk about my work, they usually have a few yes or no questions, starting with what they already think they know. The challenge is to go from there and begin filling in a more complete (but still limited) picture of these places and this life, introducing new elements and adding color and shading.
In this excellent video, Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie explains “the danger of a single story.” It’s almost 19 minutes long, and well worth watching. The heart of the matter is this: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
Those of us interpreting a life of service in another part of the world have the privilege and responsibility to help share other stories so that a fuller picture is viewed. So while I’m thinking about what stories to share and how best to share them, what questions and ideas are on your mind and heart?
This blog post by Christine Eige has helpful suggestions on how to engage in conversation with folks who have had cross-cultural experiences, including a list of sample questions that go beyond stereotypes and the impossibly broad “So, tell me about Bolivia” (or Venezuela–or Japan in Christine’s case). I look forward to delving deeper with you!