I sat curled up in an OM staff lounge recently, journaling and trying to process massive changes in my life due to losing my visa to stay in England, my-home-away-from-home for over two years. A young man and woman took seats next to me.
After about 30 minutes, one of the young man's American friends came over, laughing and talking with him, and then left with a smile and a wave. The first young man turned to the girl, and I felt a familiar sinking in my stomach.
“I love Americans,” he said. “They’re like the quirky, retarded younger brother of the world, sitting in the corner sniffing glue.”
"Love"? Is this really what it looks like to love your brother?
Sadly, this is not an isolated incident in my two-and-a-half years serving full-time as an OM missionary. I avoid OM multi-cultural gatherings whenever possible, because hearing my home culture be the butt of jokes and disparaging comments among my fellow Christians grows painful and wearying quickly.
When did it become acceptable in our movement’s culture to preach unity in diversity out of one side of our mouth and mock out of the other side?
Some might brush aside such comments as affectionate joking or cultural differences, but is it not better to show affection with words that affirm, rather than words that tear down?
Are we not called to display Kingdom culture, regardless of our cultural heritage?
Over a year ago, I was serving at an OM training conference in the Netherlands, growing more discouraged every day as I repeatedly heard staff and new recruits speak derisively about my home country and culture, even as they spoke on cultural sensitivity. I even began responding to others in a different accent (not difficult after living abroad) just to avoid the comments.
One night, a young Dutch woman on the conference staff spoke words that changed my life.
“I love Americans,” she said. “From my American friends, I learned how to affirm.”
I cannot express the life that she spoke to my heart that night.
I decided then and there I would never allow myself to be ashamed of where I’m from. The freedom and opportunities in my home country have given me the skills and resources to serve God and His people through media all over the world.
Whenever I speak to new OM recruits, I tell them, “Never be ashamed of where you come from. You have something unique to contribute. Your cultural heritage is part of your story.”
I speak to my brothers and sisters in Christ from the Global South, and they sometimes are ashamed, they tell me, because their country is poor. Their country has problems. And I tell them all the the same thing:
Their home culture has dark spots. So does mine.
Their culture has beautiful spots. So does mine.
Their heart has both darkness and light within. So does mine.
We all have our weaknesses and failures, our past mistakes and uncertain futures. We have all hurt each other at times. We each have a story of brokenness and redemption, of a Father God who saw something of value in each of us and chose to bring us into His family.
I am not without fault, and I freely admit it. Sometimes, I laugh too loud, speak without thought, and forget to seek to understand. Sometimes, I see only the negative parts of a culture and forget to look for the beautiful parts.
Yet to mock another person’s country, people, or cultural heritage is to disparage the unique story God is telling with their life.
Brothers and sisters, let us choose to esteem and not belittle.
Choose to affirm and not ridicule.
Choose to see the beauty in others’ home countries—and our own—not just the broken.
In this way, the world will know that we are Christ’s disciples, because we love one another.