For the Outsiders
|Here's a nice view that has nothing to do with the post. Enjoy!|
For me, in Mozambique, the unsettling thing isn’t the heat, or the dust, or the water outtages or the public transportation, or the weird food shortages (one time, the entire city ran out of eggs). It’s the fact that I am constantly under observation.
Sometimes the observation is hilarious. A few days ago, I unwittingly provided free advertising for a chappa by the simple act of getting into it. The coprador started yelling, “this is a great chappa! Even the white girl’s using it! Everybody, get on! What are you waiting for?” and I really felt like I should print some stickers, WHITE GIRL APPROVED, for them to affix to the bumper.
Sometimes, it’s disturbing. Like the creepy guy who knew exactly where I lived and kept following me around asking for my phone number so that he could be my boyfriend.
And sometimes it’s gratifying. Like the time I (completely unintentionally) blasted a ton of rich white girl stereotypes out of the water by cleaning a bathroom. Apparently, Flavia uses this story to prove to everyone that not all white people are racist and entitled.
But there’s always observation, and it used to make me so nervous that I would start grinding my teeth any time I had to go out of the house.
I was terrified of messing up. I was terrified of offending someone, or of breaking some sort of cultural taboo. I knew that, if I did, everyone would know about it.
‘Cause I’m the white girl. Everybody knows me, and everybody’s watching.
If you’re a fellow white girl missionary reading this, then I want to tell you something that it probably never occurred to anyone to tell me:
This is something that gets better over time. It may not seem so, but it does.
There may be days when you’ll have to repeat this to yourself every five minutes. That’s ok. I won’t judge.
You gather a group of friends who see you for you, and not for your skin color. You learn how to deal with the tension of being under constant observation. You laugh at the funny stories and shrug off the rest. There will even be blessed moments when you’re having such a fabulous time that you forget that you’re the outsider. Eventually, you'll even have whole days that are like that, and it will be the most blissful break from constant self-consciousness.
And then one day you will realize that your very obviousness - the visibility that you dislike and wish you could avoid - is potentially your most useful tool in effecting cultural change. If you’re the most visible person in the room, then echoing Paul’s call to ‘imitate me as I imitate Christ’ is ridiculously simple. You don’t have to invest in fancy programs or advertising. Your skin color can do that all for you. All you have to do is listen to God and do what He says.
And the results will surprise you.
I have been shocked by the things people have noticed and the way it has affected them. The smallest acts of humility or kindness are noted, pondered, and repeated at a later date, always very much to my surprise. I’m frequently left completely floored, thinking, ‘they noticed that?’ and silently giving thanks that I had the integrity to do the right thing, even when I was convinced that no-one was watching.
I would never choose to have any particular level of influence. I have never sought to be a leader or to have anyone follow my example. The responsibility of being visible has the potential to be crushing. Every time I mess up, I’m tempted to fall headfirst into the mire of guilt. But, since guilt never does anything helpful, I’m learning how to pick myself up, dust myself off, repent, apologize, and keep going forward.
I remember the fear I felt when God first began talking to me about leadership and influence. I fled the bare idea for months, before finally realizing that running away from God’s will is a thoroughly futile endeavor. So one day, I asked Him, “how do I use the influence You give me to not mess up people’s lives?”
He spoke to me about the cross. He said, “if you come to the cross every single day, and humble yourself before Me, then I’ll guide you.”
So, that’s what I try to do. I fail a lot, but if I’m given influence, I’ll do my best to use it for the glory of God and the good of the people around me.
As Christians, we are called to live as outcasts and foreigners in the land. My foreigner status may be more physically visible than yours, but that doesn’t make yours any less real. The truth is, that a true Christian will always be out of place in a world that is sinful and self-gratifying.
If we embrace our calling to ‘act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God’ then we will inevitably influence the people around us.
The important thing is to act with integrity. To live out, every single day, the things that we believe and the things we’re preaching to others.
To live our lives, wholeheartedly, for God.
And we may be surprised, when we get to Heaven, to discover who else was watching.