What does a missionary do in the United States?
Well, we don’t sit around open fires and roast wild animals. We don’t clear landing strips for airplanes. We don’t run medical clinics for the local village folk. We don’t study another language and culture.
Instead, we gather around countless grills, doing neighborhood BBQs and sharing meals together outside. We mobilize numerous volunteers to clear out garbage in various neighborhoods. We bandage an innumerable amount of skinned-up knees and elbows, assist moms in the ER, make appointments for countless families to attend the doctor, visit the sick, and wipe away tears.
And, we don’t study simply one other language or culture, because about 10 different ones are represented in our neighborhood.
I heard a missionary speaker once speak emphatically about the great importance of understanding language and culture. In fact, he said,
“You must be able to communicate in the target language as an adult and be immersed in the culture for years, before you ever attempt to share the Gospel.”
Talk about a crushing blow. He made a great point, and it served him amazingly well in his context.
However, for us, the very thought of communicating at an adult-level in each of the languages present in our neighborhood alone is staggering.
Not to mention, which culture should we attempt to be immersed in – especially when the common culture is “North American?”
If we do want to be immersed in a non-North American culture, the options are overwhelming. We must understand, at least in part, the home country culture of those who are new to the United States. Yet, after they have lived in the States for some time, we must consider the fact that these first-generation people are no longer living in their home country, so they take on a “dual-culture,” combined with North American culture; certainly, the mixing of those two worlds produces another offspring of cultural traditions and practices. Then, there are the children who have typically assimilated into the US culture at varying degrees (depending on the age at which they arrived here and/or where they were born), thus presenting a myriad of perspectives to be learned and understand.
The fact is, missions in the United States is not easily divided into “us” and “them,” nor should it be. Rather, it is “we.” In this context, we don’t readily draw lines and categories.
In this context, we embrace the sometimes chaotic, blurred, and mixed environment as the norm – and we celebrate it.
But we definitely don’t immerse ourselves in one, single culture or language. We can’t.
As if the kaleidoscope isn’t an interesting enough mix of complexity, we must keep one foot solidly placed in the average Midwestern North American culture. We don’t leave our sending church, our friends or families; we maintain connection and relationships as best we can.
Thus, this calling requires functioning in multiple worlds – going from sitting cross-legged in a small apartment sharing an Asian meal with neighbors, to stopping by Walmart on the way to a quinceañera, interrupted by a few calls from African friends about job situations, rounding out the day with typical small group study on a big screen TV, all of us reclining on comfy couches.
On good days, I call it cultural experiences. On bad days, it’s cultural whiplash. Overall, it’s just part of navigating the melting pot.
Earlier this week, I sat on my front porch and marveled at it all. On my right, my neighbors were performing a healing ceremony. Someone was stooped over on the front sidewalk with burning sticks, and I could hear the familiar chanting and bells. From my other neighbor’s garage to my left came the music of South Sudan. Jay walked to the right, and I walked to the left, both visiting our neighbors on either side. He stepped into SE Asia, and I into Africa. And then, we ended up back on our front porch – because that is the beauty of life here.
Here in the United States, immersing one’s self in “the” culture and learning “the” language means learning to navigate the melting pot with grace and acceptance.
It means coming to understand that “the” culture of the USA is a kaleidoscope culture – colorful, constantly changing, and most beautiful in its combinations. And, it means learning to go from one world to another, but most importantly, to stand in the midst of it all and hold up Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of us all – various people from around the globe living together in northwest Iowa.May we navigate the melting pot with grace & acceptance, holding up Jesus as Redeemer of all. Click To Tweet