Welcome back. A twofold statement; 1) because I am back in America and 2) because I have not written a blog in over a month. Partly because hours of leisure and writing are minimal when working with volunteer mission teams, and mostly because once we were finished with our teams for the summer I sort of shut down. I guess I took a short vacation, but since I am seldom at a loss for words I figured it was time to write again.
I think a lot, which I am sure I have already mentioned somewhere, but even with the amount of thinking I do, I still need a lot of time to process. Switching from one culture to another takes some processing. In theory, I would like to think that it is all make believe and that we as humans just make a bigger deal out of culture shock because we subconsciously seek for ways to draw attention to ourselves or make something to be about us. Occasionally though, I am reminded that culture shock exists.
At some point throughout the summer I made a mental note that it is possible to live in a foreign culture in several different formats. I can live as an American that is American yet explores the culture. I can live as an American that excludes myself from the culture. I can live as an American that expects culture to change to my American ways. Oblivion is also always an option. OR, I can live as American that becomes the culture. If you’ve ever lived in another culture for an extended period of time you may agree.
Newsflash. There are parts of me that have become Italian. I think this is a necessary step, in some capacity, if we are ever going to reach a culture that we are foreigners in. Fortunately, the gospel is powerful and relevant to all of us; no matter if we take our caffeine in small amounts all throughout the day or one ginormous cup early in the morning. Don’t get me wrong though, I definitely keep my American genes when it comes to having to eat an endless supply of pizza and pasta. I just can’t handle the tomatoes and grossly large portions of hot dough. I don’t particularly like to eat hot food, but that is besides the point.
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.”
1 Corinthians 9:19-23
I’m not going to try to explicate this passage, I just want to think out loud about it. I think most believers could claim the Apostle Paul as a hero of missions and spreading the gospel; because we can’t argue with the example he left for us to follow in. His radical life change; the things he gave up; what great things he gained; all that he endured; all that his heart desired to fight for; all that he encouraged the church to continue. His list of hero qualities is a long one. I mean, he’s not Jesus, but he sure gave us a great example of a human life surrendered to Jesus. I mostly love this passage because Paul is talking about himself, but the focus is the gospel.
He became all things not to be a jack-of-all-trades, culturally speaking, but to win them all to the gospel. His focus was winning them to the gospel, and he won them to the gospel by being them. Because in being them, he identifies with them. People are won to the gospel in all sorts of ways, but when it comes to life-on-life, ministering to those that are around us, we have to identify with them. We have to relate to them. I’m not sure that it is possible for us to love someone that we can’t identify with or relate to. And if we do not love them, I’m not sure that we can really be affective in winning them to the gospel.
So do we become them in order that we might love them? Or do we become them because we have begun to love them? Maybe it’s both. It’s probably both. Ok, actually it is both. Sometimes we love first, and because we are driven by that love and broken by that love, we begin to do what it takes to make the gospel known. I think there are also times in which we do what we know to be true because it is what we are called to. We become who they are because we know we are instructed to bring the good news to all, and through our becoming we begin to love. Sometimes it take a while to realize our love for a people.
Now that I think about it, someone often used to tell me this very thought. Sometimes our actions come before our feelings.
At some point in the recent past I think I have realized that my Italian-ness has developed into a love. It has developed into a love for a country that is dry. A country that is dry, though a religious capitol of the world sits at its center. How is that even possible? My actions may have moved me to love, and now my love may move me to action.