Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Little Miss Ethnocentricity

Missions, shmissions!

I never had a heart for missions. I never understood what it was that moved people to go all the way around the world to give the gospel to tribal masses when there were unsaved people RIGHT THERE in their very own neighborhoods, communities, and country.

Why give up your language, conveniences, electricity, appliances, and vinyl flooring? When you could keep it all and STILL minister to others?

I knew all about the “Great Commission” and by age 12 firmly believed it was THE most over preached passage in sermons. I met numerous missionaries through church and my Christian school and found them affected with a holier-than-thou attitude that ratcheted my suspicions up to red alert.

In college, I met the infamous “MK’s” or missionary kids. They had their very own on-campus club – MU KAPPA. It was hard to befriend the MK’s, as they mostly stuck together, strangers in a strange land. They couldn’t believe how we “Americans” consumed so much food, wore so many different clothes, and seemed to take everything for granted.

I was mildly incensed.

I shared classes with several of the MK’s where I learned a little of where they came from, what they faced, and what scared them.

More than one MK told me he was going “into” missions because it was what his parents did. Many MK’s planned to become missionaries to the very same country so they would be able to work alongside their parents doing the very same thing they had known all their lives.

Essentially, it was just as important to them to be close to home doing something familiar as it was to some of “us” Americans. Namely, me.

It was interesting to listen to the MK’s. One guy talked about how we (Americans) take meat for granted. In his adopted country, the people eat mostly rice with tiny silvers of savory meat mixed it. He couldn’t believe how much meat we consume in a double cheeseburger.

Another girl told me she used to spend days stretched out on a Moroccan beach watching the tide come in. She didn’t understand the constant craving for TV and movies that drove most of us off-campus on the weekends.

However, there was a pervasive attitude among the MK’s I found hard to swallow. They were often convinced they were following a higher calling, especially than the communications majors (of which I was one).

Come to think of it, we comm majors got stepped on a lot since we weren’t going into the pastorate or missions.

I always enjoyed (Moody’s Communications Chair) Dr. Fetzer’s response. “Just WHO exactly do they thing is going to pay them overseas? Those of us who have JOBS in stateside congregations!”

He was just kidding, but we used his rejoinder in the occasional our-major-is-better-than-yours scuffle that occurs between immature 18 year olds on Christian college campuses all around the world.

Compounding all this was the fact that my new roommate was weirdly cultural.

I loved my old roommate Kelly. Mainly because we shared an eerily similar sense of humor along with a raucous friendship I treasured. The trivial falling out we had after our first year of rooming together forced us to find new roommates.

Kelly found hers first and so there were only two of us left roommate-less on the floor. It was either room with each other or take in a (gasp!) freshman. We chose the known over the unknown.

I didn’t know much about October – Tob, as I came to call her. But it took less than an hour of rooming together for me to realize that we were not alike. Not even a little.

It took me the better part of a day to unpack my college luggage. Tob’s luggage consisted of one suitcase and a duffel bag.

I would soon learn Tob was not like other girls. Occasionally, she liked to sleep on the floor – “just to see how it feels.” Or to eat nothing but rice for a week – “like people in third world countries.”

Despite her eccentricities, or maybe because of them, I came to love Tob.

She was unique and unafraid in areas where I trembled and shook. She was kind to all people – the pizza delivery guy, the old missionary, the girl with poor hygiene none of us talked to. She made an effort to reach out to street people, often forging friendships with people I wouldn’t have even acknowledged.

But, perhaps what I liked best about Tob was that once we were friends, she wasn’t afraid to call me out on my shortcomings.

She didn’t nag or harangue me, but often remarked on what I could do to be a better witness to others.

Read about how Tob gave me the nickname Little Miss Ethnocentricity.

It finally dawned on me that it WASN’T all about me. Or what I wanted to have. Or what I could achieve. (which was all I thought about in college at that point in my life)

It was about serving God. It was about others.

Now, I’m not going to say I immediately warmed to missions or other people outside my frame of reference. But it was the starting point where I realized there was a point to missions – whether they be around the world or around the corner.

I credit Tob with teaching me to think biblically about others when I was fully consumed by the me, me, me of the moment.

I admit I still struggle with understanding missions. That’s why I’m grateful to our church for creating a missions conference that focuses on learning –

Why missions?
Why there?
Why this way to reach the world?

I’ve learned significant things this past week.

The lesson it seems I am constantly learning is that people are people are people the world over. That holier-than-thou attitude I felt from the missionaries of my childhood was the exact same attitude I was exhibiting (actually more of a better-than-you) when I was an immature 18 year old.

I can’t imagine missions is an easy field to enter. I could never understand why people signed up to go. It’s amazing to me, after all these years; I’m finally learning those very things through our church’s mission’s conference.

One thing is for sure though. Little Miss Ethnocentricity doesn’t live here anymore


Heidi said...

It is amazing. With each one's slide presentation in the church where I grew up, I would say, wow, I would love to go there.
I am still very open to the idea if that is what God would call us to do.

Ann-Marie said...

Gosh - I hope I didn't offend anyone. I meant to show how I'd progressed from not understanding missions to finally learning why they are important. At least, I hope that's what I did!

Anonymous said...

That's what you did.
As far as people are people are people... that's exactly right. And I'd add to that: there is no perfect culture. NO matter where we go, we'll find sin....including America and at church of all places!
But what I love about people everywhere is that they cannot be copied (cloning isn't really a true copy I don't think). No-one is a better or a worse you... there is no other you regardless.
And what I love about Ann-Marie is that she could be so different and not treat me like the rest of what I might have considered at one time to be "her crowd". The group of peole who never saw me or heard me because I was not worthy of their attention. She broke the mold in that scenario and I thank God for her...