I am an ignorant, white American who knows about as much French as a three-year-old Burkinabe child.
I could spend decades assimilating myself to the culture of Burkina Faso to lessen my ignorance, but no amount of time can fully erase the “FOREIGNER” label from my forehead. It has its benefits, opening doors of opportunities for conversations and events that would not otherwise be possible. It also creates a seemingly impenetrable divide between you and the people with whom you are trying to connect. That divide is founded upon the concept of “us” and “them,” which even the most politically correct beliefs cannot seem to fully wash away. “We” are coming to minister to “them.” “We” have the truth that “they” need. Go ahead and fill in “they” with your stereotype of choice. Cultural diversity is an incredible gift that adds color and dimension to the earth, but its downfall is division. And national pride, a socially acceptable title for believing yourself to be supreme. The Gospel message is one of unity of the church through Christ Jesus, and there is no room for division in the body of Christ.
The first two weeks of my mission trip were spent with a group of Filipino missionaries who had been in Burkina Faso for nearly two decades. They taught me many wonderful things, but nothing compares to the clear picture of discipleship that they painted for me. These missionaries didn’t come into the country with grandiose presentations of the Gospel. They came humbly. They were led by God to take specific individuals under their wing and form them into nation changers. Now many years later, I was able to experience the fruit of their labor. I got to see a young man, who was once a dejected boy that was given a bike and some clothes for school, translate and animate Bible stories to masses of children in their tribal dialect. Every single one of our translators were young men with similar stories of being taken in and loved by “foreigners.” Now they, with their local Burkinabe status, are able to live among the people and show that God’s love is not limited by race, nationality, socioeconomic status, or religious background.
When I walked down the streets of Burkina Faso, children pointed at me while chanting “Nesara!”, reminding me of my foreigner status. In the Philippines, they stared with wide eyes and ran their fingers across my pale skin. In Romania the kids practiced a bit more Wdiscretion, but it was still clear that I did not belong. I cannot change how I look or my background. And I can choose to let that be a weakness, or I can let go of my desire to be the hero of the Gospel and instead invest in future heroes. I want to go into all the world preaching the Good News, but without discipleship, lasting change is not feasible. Whether or not I get to stand on a pulpit, I have a responsibility to invest in the people that God has placed in my life. Believing the best for them, calling out the good and the bad, speaking into who they could be and watching their potential become their character.