Thoughts from my wife, God bless her:
“When I was in Kenya, I didn’t blend very well. In fact I was an anomaly everywhere I went. I saw a few more white women in Kisumu, but they were just passing through, and so was I. In the villages and schools we visited with people, and most of them were glad we were there. I tried to meet people and just be friendly, but language was often difficult. Surprisingly, it seemed to me that the biggest barrier was shyness. I guess it makes sense that I would not be shy after having traveled so far to visit with the Christians of Kenya, but they were often shy of being met. I was a curiosity, a source of blessing, and a window to the world beyond, but I was unfamilar and imposing. I bungled customs; trying to take the basin from the woman who held it while I washed my hands (I figured it was her to turn wash so we could eat together), sitting in the middle of the church instead of in the seats that had been reserved for the “honored guests,” insisting on helping to carry water jugs with some other women. The Kenyans often wished to maintain a respectful distance – not all of them, and not in an unfriendly way – and I spent the first few days crashing recklessly from one awkward situation to another. I had traveled a long way to close that distance, not reinforce it, but as the week wore on I became more accustomed both to the part the Kenyans expected me to play and to being laughed at when I just didn’t quite “fit” somehow.
Now that I am home, it is clear to me that this was the greatest blessing and revelation of the journey for me personally. Yes, we saw scores of people dedicate themselves to Christ nearly everywhere we went (literally SCORES, as in multiple groups of 20). Yes, we witnessed miraculous healing. God even allowed me the assurance that a young girl was ushered into the kingdom of heaven after she died on the side of the road. None of these things are commonplace, and all of them are powerful. But far and away the most powerful experience for me is the first hand knowledge that I can be that different and still be me.
I remember when I wrestled with the decision to let God lead me. I wondered, as I think most do, how I could do God’s will and still be me? If He had jurisdiction over everything, did I get to pick anything I did? God is so big, I thought that I would just be swallowed up and become some kind of religious automoton. I couldn’t see how I could let God be My Lord in practice without losing something of myself, as if lordship over myself was the essence of who I am. This is why one must follow Christ by faith. It isn’t until after you give God the benefit of the doubt and throw caution to the wind that you realize those fears are completely unfounded. No one can tell you how it is – you either give God the keys and see how it is, or you don’t and you continue to wonder.
At any rate, being different is often uncomfortable. In Kenya, I didn’thave a choice – I was different by definition. Even if I spent years in Kenya and immersed myself in the cultures and languages, I would still stick out like a sore thumb. But in the States, we have to choose to be different, and it’s hard. Even Jesus acknowledged how difficult it was for Him to go back to the people He had grown up with and be different. There are understood expectations. There are assumed modes of conduct. We are completely unconscious of them until we feel the pull to be different. Then even the smallest changes seem to bump up against an insurmountable barrier. Being different feels forced – imposed – because we have to choose it andit’s a lot of work. To go to Kenya and find that “different” can be a partof my identity rather than an addition to it, was a real eye-opener. For the first time I realized that “different” and “same” are definitions imposed on people from outside. “Different” is dependent upon the surroundings and has nothing to do with the individual. It has no meaning what so ever without some outside point of reference. Clearly that outside point of reference has no real significance to me personally. I am the same person in Kenya and the States. Why should I shun being “different”? What difference does it make?
What is it about people that we continually see ourselves through the eyes of others? Why do we define ourselves in terms of external factors? Are we so ignorant of what or who we are? Shouldn’t we know ourselves more intimately than our neighbors do? Why then do we look to them in order to assess ourselves? I have now had the first-hand experience of being awkwardly “different” fora week and yet being the “same” person the whole time. It’s embarrassing that I had to travel almost half-way around the world to see how weak those words are. I look around me and see some people striving for “sameness.” Surely they are really after something more solid – unity or fellowship perhaps. Others go out of their way to be shockingly “different,” even if they make sure to do it in groups. Again, they must be looking for something more – maybe recognition or a sense of power. No wonder being different feels forced or imposed – it is. It’s a definition imposed on the individual as a result of comparison with the group. It’s a meaningless assessment of who someone is.
We saw all those people come to Christ because they encountered the Truth about Him and it was compelling. We witnessed salvation and healing because of the power of the faith that followed. In America, those experiences are different. I think about the joy I felt at being a part of it, and I hope I can hang on to “different” even now that I am home. The Truth is still setting me free.”