Traveling to a Third World country…
The very thought gets my anxiety working overtime:
Will there be poisonous snakes?
Should I drink the water?
Will I be able to handle witnessing the poverty I’ve seen on T.V. in real life?
What will it be like to be the wealthiest person the community may have every met?
How will I respond to hungry children? I bet they’re very dirty—and I’m a germ-phobic…
This internal discomfort and angst could very possibly be a God-ordained contrivance of deep learning and change. It indicates I’m crossing over, and onto an encounter with people whose life assumptions are quite different from mine. It prepares my heart to receive the unexpected I hope to understand. And it reminds me that God is in charge of the trip, from taking my seat for departure, to hugging my family back on American soil.
Yet, as this anxiety grows, the tendency is to begin stocking up on “gifts” – candy, earrings, hot wheels, spiral notebooks, glow-in-the-dark pencils, tooth brushes, etc. I now feel safe and my anxiety is justified. I gather all these things, assuming that a gift is meant to symbolize the relationship between two people. And my notion is somewhat vindicated as it works in First World America. Unfortunately, the items I may leave behind in the community will tell the receivers little about who I am, and clearly reveal how little I know about them. Often, all it typically communicates is that I assume that the receiver needs it. Excuse me while I dwell in my anxiety, and for a moment, forget that they are human, and their intrinsic craving for authentic relationships in life… It applies to beings in both worlds—First and Third.
To truly meet a new friend, I have to set aside my presumptions, my white-collar position, my degrees, my social status, my power, and receive the person for who they are and what they look like. In an uncomfortable moment, my complete ignorance of the local language reduces me from a respected professional to a 3-word uttering toddler, babbling greetings to the raucous delight of the native children. If I’m lucky, I’ll soon realize how accustomed I have become to my personal accouterments—those that suddenly seem unimportant and insignificant. But, these are the things that make me who I am. Or do they? I blush, bowing my head at this revelation. Tears well up in my eyes. I smile. And the Third World community somehow senses this moment. They recognized my desire for a relationship… a friend… a need that I inadvertently attempted to disguise through “gift giving.” They come rushing forward to embrace me—all 47 adults and all 104 children, repeatedly. The awkward yet riveting moment set the stage for the 3 weeks of work and transformed me into the impossible: a friend in a Third World country.
So is our goal to turn “gift items” into a “give-me” circus which, unknowingly flaunt one’s wealth and leave unreasonable expectations? Or, to use a powerful initial encounter as a transformational moment?
Take a simple gift. Leave the clutter. Go with vacant hands. Create unprecedented moments.