Don’t Waste Your Ethnic Identity

Don’t Waste Your Ethnic Identity

 

My ethnic identity journey has been one of joy, tears, and trust. Joy in knowing that in the Lord’s good and perfect sovereignty He chose for me to be a person of Mexican descent. Tears as I enter into the painful parts of embracing my culture– from feeling “less Mexican” because I am not a fluent Spanish speaker, to being left speechless after someone said something derogatory about Latinos. Trusting that the Lord is using this journey for my good and His glory. Before I enter more into my ethnic identity journey, let me first share a little more of who I am.

I am a third generation Mexican American who grew up in South Texas, doesn’t speak Spanish fluently, and didn’t really realize I was Hispanic until I moved out of South Texas. That last statement may be a little hard to believe, but honestly — when the majority of people around you look like you, it’s a lot harder to recognize that you have a culture. The Lord has graciously used my time working with Destino to help me recognize and embrace my ethnic identity.

Though I would mark the summer of 2010 as the beginning of my ethnic identity journey I can see ways the Lord was moving in my heart to move forward in the journey and to truly embrace all of who He created me to be. In February of 2009, a staff member of our organization called me up to see if I would be interested in joining a new team in Dallas — one that would reach ethnic minority students at different schools in the city. I felt the Lord leading me in that direction, so I took a step of faith and obedience and saw the Lord provide the financial support needed to go.

The thought never crossed my mind that ministry would look different than what I experienced as a student in CRU. I can confidently say that I am not the same person I was when I first started working in Destino. My experience working with Destino and my ethnic identity journey are so intertwined, which is probably good because it reminds me that my ethnic identity journey isn’t just an isolated event, but really does impact so many areas of my life.

As I have walked on this ethnic identity journey I have learned a couple things along the way:
1) My ethnic identity journey is a process.

In the summer of 2010 I spent some time in the Arab world with a group of Latinos. It was the first time I had spend such an extended period of time with that many Latinos, other than my family. I felt right at home. I understood the indirect communication that I heard and could relate to experiences students had with feeling lonely when they were the only Hispanic in their classes, etc.

It also felt so natural to talk with the Arabs I met. They insisted on feeding us and made sure you had enough to eat. They also gave hugs and would kiss your cheek when they first saw you and when you were about to leave. There was also no such thing about a “group hello or good-bye– you said bye to everyone individually. All of these things felt like I was back at my grandmas house with my family or back in South Texas.

|After this trip, it was the first time that I loved being a Latina.

I didn’t hate being Latina before, but up until this trip didn’t feel like my ethnicity was valued or significant. When you don’t see many Latinos in position of power in society, it’s easier to believe lies that your culture and ethnicity isn’t really that significant.

In the way that I’m wired I really value closure. I enjoy finding solutions to problems and according to strengths finders, 2 of my top strengths are “developer” and “restorative”- both of which are essentially seeing the potential in situations and working to bring them to completion. So, with my new found love for my ethnicity, I wanted to embrace being Latina. I started with the most logical thing to do — watch Selena and go buy some Spanish music to put on my iPod. ;) I also needed to learn how to salsa dance and speak spanish fluently ASAP. The problem with wanting to see all these things happen was that for 23 years of my life I didn’t listen to Spanish music, or practice my Spanish, and had only danced Salsa a couple times.

Another problem with wanting to do these things, is that I was looking to these things to make me Latina. If only I spoke Spanish all the time, THEN I would be Latina and embrace my ethnic identity, or if I was only the best salsa dancer, THEN I would be Latina and embrace my ethnic identity. But, if I looked in the mirror I could see that I already was Latina! Also, when I did try speaking Spanish more or Salsa dancing and the reality that I was still a beginner in both of these areas was staring at me straight in the face, it was hard for me to know who I was, because I had looked to these things to find my identity. I’ve learned that there isn’t going to be a point where I have all of my ethnic identity journey figured out. It’s not as simple as just learning Spanish, or just doing this or that. It’s a lifelong process of running to Jesus as he walks with me through this journey. All of who I am is found in Him and in Him I have been made complete.

2) It’s OKAY to walk through the pain.

It’s easier to not walk through the painful and hard parts in your life. Like I mentioned before you don’t see a lot of Latinos in position in power, so it’s easy for me to believe the lie that I couldn’t dream big, because my dreams probably wouldn’t come true. I also walked through pain when others around me would point out the obvious — “you don’t speak Spanish?!” it made me feel shameful for not knowing the language of mi gente (my people). Another painful thing to walk through was thinking that it was wrong to embrace my ethnic identity. There has been growth in each of these areas and I can acknowledge the lies that I am believe and run to Jesus and rest in knowing that all of who I am is found in Him and in Him I have been made complete.

3) I’m not alone in this journey.

The Lord has met me where I’m at, has provided friends to walk through this journey, and has used me to walk people of different ethnicities through their ethnic identity journey. I’m sure that especially with the growing population of Latinos in America, there are many others who are thinking/will be thinking about their ethnic identity. I’m thankful that in the midst of the unknown, the pain, and the joy all of who I am is found in Him and in Him I have been made complete.

John Piper has a book called Don’t Waste Your Life, which challenges us to make much of Him in every part of our life.  I don’t want to waste my life — or my ethnicity!

Melissa Silva is a graduate of the University of Texas, and has served on staff with Destino in Texas, L.A., and in the Mediterranean.

photo courtesy: digitizedchaos

Posted by Devin Tressler in Culturally Connected, Spiritually Empowered, 0 comments
The Value of Community in My Ethnic Identity Journey

The Value of Community in My Ethnic Identity Journey

“So you and your family are from Mexico, huh?” Emily, my freshman roommate asked soon after I moved into the dorm room my first semester in college. “Yes, but I grew up in Deer Park, a suburb of Houston,” I replied, trying to deflect the question. In fact I had moved to Deer Park at the age of seven, where the majority of people at my school, as well as my friends, were white. Her curiosity persisted, “So this must be very different for you. Do y’all have running water in Mexico?” Her face was completely serious, and from her expression I couldn’t figure out if she knew she was being offensive or not. This had never happened to me. “Monterrey is a huge, very modern and industrialized city. We have running water,” I replied slightly annoyed. She went on to ask if my parents knew how to read and write and if we used donkeys as our main mode of transportation. I couldn’t believe she was seriously asking any of these things. I got the feeling that she wasn’t just curious about my nationality, but rather purposely being insulting. I sought a roommate change soon after this conversation.

I had never felt insecure about my ethnic identity until that moment. Immediately I could tell I was very different to the majority of students on campus, and that it was a bad thing. I looked around my economics class from the back of a large auditorium and started wondering how many Latinos were in the class. I began to feel so insecure about being one of the few Latinos on campus; I wished so badly at that moment that I could blend in and be like the majority of students in class. Although I didn’t consciously decide I wanted to look more white, I dyed my hair platinum blonde and put light colored contacts in my eyes because that’s what most girls in my classes looked like. I was not ready to admit to the world who I really was. I wanted to be accepted.

It wasn’t until I joined Destino that I realized I had been desperately trying to hide my ethnic identity from the world. One day while carpooling to a Destino social, a girl I had just met asked what my last name was. Without thinking I said, “Villarreal,” pronouncing it in English. My good friend Denise said, “Say it right!” I repeated my last name in Spanish with the proper ‘y’ sound for the two ‘l’s and rolled my ‘r’s. It was then that I knew I was in a safe environment that accepted who I really was and not who I had to pretend to be in order to blend in and be accepted. I could unashamedly admit that my favorite breakfast is barbacoa with tortillas de harina, I like listening to Luis Miguel, and that it feels very weird not greeting everyone with a kiss. I could call my parents and speak to them in Spanish in front of my friends and no longer have to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable.

I even became aware that when I pray silently I do so in Spanish, so when I am asked to pray aloud in English I become tongue-tied. The language I use to communicate with God is Spanish and my Destino friends didn’t mind when I asked to pray in Spanish around them. In fact they understand, because some of them feel the same way.

Destino offered me a home away from home in college. The familias, el pan dulce at the meetings, the salsa nights, making flan and empanadas with friends, being surrounded by Spanglish, listening to Spanish music in the car on road trips to winter conference or fall retreat—all these things offered glimpses into the identity I had chosen to hide. I could finally look around and see myself reflected among fellow students, and it was comforting. Destino created a safe environment to allow me to discover my ethnic identity and helped me to embrace all the cultural factors that have shaped me. The most valuable aspect was not to have to embark on the journey to find my ethnic identity alone. I am grateful to have had the support and understanding of friends who were also on a journey to discover their ethnic identity.

Ana Villarreal Bush served as an intern with Destino in Texas.

photo courtesy: jorislouwes

Posted by Devin Tressler in Culturally Connected, Discipleship, 0 comments
Brown is Not a Weakness

Brown is Not a Weakness

I am brown.

Brown is not a weakness…

God loves me and wants me to embrace who He’s made me to be!

It took me nineteen years to boldly proclaim that I am Mexican-American and to stop pretending I was a white guy with an epic ability to tan quickly. Intellectually I understood my ethnicity since the time I first had to bubble in the option identifying myself as “Latino/Hispanic/Chicano” on a standardized state test. But fear kept my culture at an arm’s length. American society had laid out for me my fate as an alcoholic, high school dropout, gang member, construction worker, farmhand, or dead-beat father.

I blended in like a chameleon
I was born in South Texas, raised in a predominantly Anglo township in Michigan. My surroundings helped foster my need to turn my back on the Hispanic community. There was no benefit to learning Spanish, so I didn’t. I was a chameleon, blending in well with my Anglo friends. I adopted the ideology of individualism, living for myself and not for my family.

My parents decided to uproot the family and move back to south Texas at the end of my freshmen year of high school. People at school spoke Spanglish. Some sported Mexican flags and shirts that said “Viva la Raza.” To them I said, “Go back to Mexico.” The rest of the student population was fairly assimilated to American culture, but I only thought of them as poor imitators of my people up north.

<span style=”font-weight: 400;”>When I came to faith, the world and the self-complex I created for myself was turned upside down.span>

I didn’t know what it meant to be Hispanic. This was when confusion and shame settled into my heart. I was on a journey to discover my ethnic identity. Many times I wanted to give up, because it is easier to be only Anglo or only Mexican. But my Destino leader believed in me, “It’s in you. You’ll find out what it means to be Hispanic.”

The stereotypes I fought hard against slowly became real people to me: my Papa the carpenter, my Abuelo the field worker, my parents who gave birth to their son out of wedlock, my uncles who struggle with alcohol.

I found healing in being bicultural
As I dove deeper into my journey, I found healing and security in being bicultural—studying the rich history of my family’s culture, both Anglo and Hispanic. It helped to explain my desire to be relational, even though I fought to suppress it with individualistic ideas. Mostly it has helped me understand that God didn’t leave me in the oven after the timer went off.

God loves me and wants me to embrace who He’s made me to be.

Brown is not a weakness…

I am brown.

Rico Gutierrez is from South Texas and served as a student intern with Destino.

photo courtesy: unsplash

Posted by Devin Tressler in Culturally Connected, 0 comments
Pulling Up Roots, Pt. 3–Jesus calls our bluff.

Pulling Up Roots, Pt. 3–Jesus calls our bluff.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed ad self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26

In my first and second posts in this series, I talked about the importance of having a safe community to be honest about who you really are and about the things you’ve been hiding or lying about. That’s a big risk, because you don’t know how a person is going to react to your honesty. We lie about sin and hide our shame for a reason. But Jesus asks us to behave this way with one another because we (ideally) act the same way towards him. Jesus knows us inside and out, and yet the Bible says that he accepted us even when we were at our worst (Romans 5:8).

|How many times do we try to bluff God?

How many times do we try to bluff God, though? I pretend like I have bargaining power with him, or spend time reminding him of how I’m at least better than someone else. I’m reminded of the story Jesus told about the tax collector and the Pharisee in Luke 18.  The Pharisee, who was legitimately an outwardly righteous person, went to his worship service and spent his prayer time reminding God how good he was. The tax collector, who was a social outcast and widely regarded as a traitor and among the lowest of sinners, simply stood at the back of the temple, looking down at his feet, and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

When you play poker, an important skill is bluffing, or getting people to believe something different about your cards than what is actually true. What’s going on is that you decide whether you can deceive the person and manipulate them into doing what will benefit you. If you don’t think you’ll be able to do it, then you fold and give up that hand.

I, however, am shockingly bad at poker. I’m not good at getting to people to believe things about my cards, so I employ what I refer to as the “camouflage strategy.” That is, I try to keep a low profile and let people kind of forget about me until I get a really good hand.

I think it’s a pretty appropriate metaphor for what we try to do with God when we hide our sin from him.  We either try to pull the wool over his eyes and manipulate him into doing what will benefit us. Or sometimes we try to hide from him, hoping he’ll just kind of forget about us until things get a little better.

“Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there…

If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day
for darkness is as light to you.”

-Psalm 139:7-8, 11-12

“All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweet us away.”

-Isaiah 64:6

Devin is on staff with Destino in St. Louis, MO.

Photo Credit:  Viri G

Posted by Devin Tressler in Discipleship, Spiritually Empowered, 0 comments
Pulling Up Roots, Pt. 2–Shedding light on things.

Pulling Up Roots, Pt. 2–Shedding light on things.

In my last post I asked the question, “How do we live in light of the fact that Jesus wants to pull up the roots of sin in our lives, not just ‘trim the weeds’ and make us look externally good?” Our Destino community finished up last semester and started this new one talking about what makes a community healthy. There is a connection between a healthy community and this pulling up the roots of sin. At our Destino Winter Conference last week, our keynote speaker described the kind of community that breeds healing as, “a place where people can be ‘naked and unashamed.’” This borrows imagery from Genesis 2:25, where Adam and Eve, having a perfectly harmonious relationship with God and with each other, didn’t hide anything about who they were. That, of course, was before sin became a part of their reality, so they had nothing to hide. Today, however, it’s a different story. We have shame and guilt from things we’ve done and things that have happened to us. We have our background and family history that we either want to hide or selectively reveal to others. We have lies and facades that we want people around us to believe.

There are a lot of things to hide and a lot of good reasons to hide them too. Our world’s main operating principle is pretty much survival of the fittest, so if you can’t be the fittest, the next best thing is to look like the fittest and hope nobody calls your bluff. Now, the Kingdom of God isn’t like that at all, but unfortunately we treat it like the rest of the world. That’s to be expected, though, because we’ve only ever known the world. But our Christian communities ought to be places where we don’t need to keep up the lies.

|I have lies, you have lies, and I’m sure we’re both tired…

Maybe part of the solution is just talking about it honestly with another person, saying, “Look, I have lies, you have lies, and I’m sure we’re both tired of keeping up with it. Let’s agree to be a safe place for each other to be honest and start to heal.” In I John 1:7, God tells us, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin.” I’m praying that in Destino, if we get nothing else accomplished, that we’d allow light to be shed on our lives, every part, and therefore start to be purified from every sin.

Devin is on staff with Destino in St. Louis, MO.

Photo Credit:  jcarlosn

Posted by Devin Tressler in Discipleship, Spiritually Empowered, 0 comments
Pulling Up Roots, Pt. 1

Pulling Up Roots, Pt. 1

Imagine a sin.  A sin you can’t give up.  Maybe a habit you’ve tried to kick, or a pattern you’ve tried to break.  You get new resolve every once-in-awhile to try to change, and you break free for a little while.  Or maybe you make a New Year’s resolution, and you see decent success until Martin Luther King’s birthday.

But then you fail.  Giving into the temptation feels good, but then you feel empty and shameful.  You don’t want to admit your failure, so you don’t call your friends.  But in your isolation, you lose your resolve to fight when you face temptation again.  Thus the cycle continues.

As I have seen this pattern take shape in our Destino community, I’ve been frustrated as I’ve seen people make mistakes that I’ve made.  I’ve been angry when I realize that a friend of mine is basing his actions on lies.  And I’ve wept as I’ve seen people do things that have consequences that will last a lifetime and even affect other generations.  We’ve started a conversation with our leaders about this pattern of sin, shame, and isolation, and I feel like it could be a major turning point for our community.

|Don’t just cut the fruit—pull up the root!

One of our leaders talks about sin this way:  “Don’t just cut the fruit, pull up the root.”  That is, when you see someone’s sinful behavior, remember that the most important thing is the heart.  I remember growing up there was this part of our lawn that didn’t have any grass in it–only weeds.  The yard looked great as long as you kept it mowed; the grass and weeds really looked the same so long as it was short.  But if you skipped a week with the lawn mower, you’d see crabgrass, dandelions, and thistles sprout up, and the true quality of the lawn would become evident.  Of course, just because you mowed the lawn didn’t mean it wasn’t filled with weeds–you just couldn’t see them.  To actually get rid of the weeds, you’d have to kill the root either by digging them out or with some sort of spray weed killer.  The point I’m trying to make is that sin is the fruit (or the weeds), but the real problem lies in the heart (i.e., the root system).

Jesus didn’t come to die for us so that we could trim up the weeds of sin and make them look like grass.  He wants to dig out the roots.  (Sorry, I don’t have any analogy for the spray weed killer…)

My question is, how do we live in light of this fact?  What does it mean to focus our efforts on helping people pull up the weeds of sin by the root instead of focusing on trimming the weeds and making our lives look good? On the other hand, what do we do about the poisonous fruit sin in our churches, organizations, and communities?  How should the leaders of those communities lead in not trimming the fruit but cutting out the root of sin?

Devin is on staff with Destino in St. Louis, MO.

Photo Credit:  evaekeblad

Posted by Devin Tressler in Discipleship, Spiritually Empowered, 0 comments
Sharing the Gospel through Día de los Muertos

Sharing the Gospel through Día de los Muertos

The smell of cempasuchitl (Mexican marigolds) would often take over the busyness and pollution of the city. It signified the beginning of a colorful celebration that I did not fully understand, but certainly enjoyed.  As a child, Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), was a moment to remember those who had gone before us. It served as a tribute. As a young teenager, Día de los Muertos, served as a tool to humorously deal with realities we could not overcome.

Through altars and short poems, sorrows and anecdotes were expressed in a cheerful tone during this season and out of fear many mocked death in an effort to overcome it, if only momentarily. Doing so alleviated the harsh realities of a broken world and of an imminent destiny.

Regardless of the many perceptions of this celebration, I think Día de los Muertos today can serve in bridging many to Jesus. I want to challenge us to point out the glimpse of the greater story of life in this celebration.

Perhaps behind this tradition there is a sense that death is not how things ought to be, that it is contrary to our existence. What if we spoke truth into the evident need to overcome death?

Maybe we are the ones who could complete the story though sharing about the One who overcame death so that things are what they ought to be.

|Maybe we are the ones who could complete the story though sharing about the One who overcame death so that things are what they ought to be.

In your campus, there might be a Día de los Muertos celebration, where different groups or individuals set up “altares”. This might be a great place to meet Latinos and to engage in significant spiritual conversations as the topics of spirituality and death are easy to come up.

I have seen “altares” (display tables with relevant artifacts) to remember loved ones, to make a statement about ideas or philosophies or to humorously deal with realities.

An altar to the dying economy would be an example of humorously dealing with realities that are hard to overcome.

Last year at a campus in Southern California students decided to make an altar with colorful paper representing different aspects of the gospel, much like a gospel bracelet. Every time, someone came by to ask them what the topic of their altar was they shared the gospel through explaining each of the color specific levels.

Sandy, @itsovalle, served for several years with Destino in Texas and California.  She has a heart for creating multicultural communities of belonging where foreign-born and native-born people can experience the kingdom of God together. She believes God uses displacement and migration as essential catalysts to carry out his mission. Currently working at World Relief, Sandy empowers churches and communities to engage their immigrant and refugee neighbors

photo courtesy: Bea Ibarra

Posted by Devin Tressler in Culturally Connected, Outreach, 0 comments
Who Decides What It Means To Be Latino/a?

Who Decides What It Means To Be Latino/a?

 Hispanic Heritage month is well under way on many campuses around the nation, but not here on this commuter campus. No mariachi band playing, no people handing out free paletas, and no grito.

Here, where Latin@s are t the majority of the student body for the first time, students are having discussions about what Hispanic Heritage Month means to them:

“It serves as a means of grouping the other.”  They shared as they wrestled with different ideas. They asked: “Who celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month growing up?” The room was silent as someone offered up more thoughts on having someone outside the group define traditions and assign holidays to them.

While many different Latin American countries celebrate their independence during this 30 day period many argue that the term Hispanic negates the Afro-Latin heritage of many Latinos/as.

As I watched this discussion unfold, I could not help but think these students are on to something. They have an understanding and insight into their culture and into power dynamics that many miss.

I went to a university where 10% of of the student population at the time was Latino/a. Hispanic Heritage Month consisted of a series of events: a banquet and a carnival. Most Latino/a student leaders on campus would show up to the banquet and most Latino/a student organizations had a booth at the carnival.

We were but a small minority of  the student body, our voice on campus and in the city was not a strong one. We had but few spaces to ponder on what this month meant or who we were. Aside from two Professors who headed the Latin-American Studies Program, there were not many opportunities to dialogue about issues of identity.

A lot of the discussion I witnessed earlier centered on the issue of identity and who gets to define identity. How cool would it be for a similar discussion to happen in the context of a Destino Movement? What if we provided avenues to help students embark on a journey to find who they are in Christ as Latinos/as?

Our ethnic journey is a large part of our identity journey. I have come to believe that we honor God when we are who He made us to be, including our unique ethnicity.

Our ethnic journey is a large part of our identity journey.
I have come to believe that we honor God when we are who
He made us to be, including our unique ethnicity.

He desired diversity when he asked people to fill the earth. He was not pleased with people grouping as one and building the tower of Babel and He gave them many tongues and scattered them. He will one day have representatives from each tribe, people, nation and tongue before His throne. It seems to me like culture might be important, stay tuned for the upcoming Cross-Cultural training.

What have you observed on your campus? How is the Latino and Hispanic population diverse there?  How are Latinos/Latinas defining themselves there? How about the community in your city?

Sandy, @itsovalle, served for several years with Destino in Texas and California.  She has a heart for creating multicultural communities of belonging where foreign-born and native-born people can experience the kingdom of God together. She believes God uses displacement and migration as essential catalysts to carry out his mission. Currently working at World Relief, Sandy empowers churches and communities to engage their immigrant and refugee neighbors

photo courtesty: jaygalvin

Posted by Devin Tressler in Culturally Connected, 0 comments
For We are God’s Workmanship—Part 3: Living in Two Worlds

For We are God’s Workmanship—Part 3: Living in Two Worlds

At the beginning of a summer mission project we always have a briefing where we talk about cultural differences and crossing cultural boundaries.  I love leading this segment, because crossing cultural boundaries has taught me personally a lot about myself and my own culture.

I was all prepared to lead this segment with our team–Bible verses studied, witty illustrations rehearsed, notes in hand–but I was not prepared for the direction the conversation would take.  I was not prepared to see a picture of Jesus himself revealed in these new teammates of mine.  We started by reading I Corinthians 9:19-23, where Paul describes how he lays aside his culture for the sake of the Gospel:

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

I asked, “How do you think Paul felt when he was ‘becoming like’ these different groups of people?” Silence.

Finally, one student offered, “Well, I know how it makes me feel to change the way I am to fit in better.”  He lived in Mexico until he was nine years old, then moved to Houston, where he lived in a largely African-American neighborhood.  He explained how he learned quickly not just to speak English, but to adapt to a new culture. “In my neighborhood, if you even greet somebody wrong, you could be in a lot of trouble.”

At age 18 he started college at a university that is over 70% white, and he learned to adapt to yet another culture.  He navigates between three very different cultures–languages, dialects, mannerisms, and customs–depending on whether he’s at school, at home, or around his family.

When I do cultural training with students, I explain that things will be different where we’re going.  While abroad, they have the opportunity to lay aside what they feel comfortable with for the sake of helping others get to know Christ.  But these students already knew that cultural differences exist, and had about twenty years’ experience navigating these differences by adapting the way they spoke, acted, and interacted with others, depending on the setting.  They possess a skill that some people have to develop through painstaking trials and many errors.  Changing and adapting to a new culture is clearly something that can be used by God, but also something that reflects who God is.

Philippians 2:5-11 describes how Jesus, “though he was in the form of God,” took the form of a human.  To say it another way, Jesus’ ‘native culture’ was heaven, and when he took on human flesh, he crossed cultures:  that is, he laid aside his heavenly culture for a particular human culture.  And his reason for doing this was to die in our place, to sacrifice for the sake of those he loved, to bring them new life.  Now this group of Latino college students were doing the same thing–laying aside their own culture by traveling to a new country, to bring God’s offer of new, full life to those God loved.  Crossing cultural boundaries has been a given for each of these students, yet in this simple fact of life I see a beautiful picture of Jesus stepping into our world, laying aside his own comfort for our sake!

There are hard things about crossing cultures every day of your life.  Though Jesus chose to step from heaven into our world, my friends were born this reality.  “Sometimes you can lose sight of who you really are, because it’s so easy just to adapt,” one girl said in the course of our conversation.  Sometimes people start to think that one of the cultures they live in is inferior to another, more dominant or powerful one.  But the reality is that God created and formed each culture on earth:  while every human culture is marred by sin, each also reflects God’s character as well.

It’s my prayer that those for whom cultural adaptation is a way of life would have eyes to see how their life in two worlds reflects Jesus’ love for us in adapting to a new world.  And though they didn’t choose this life, their ability to recognize and navigate between cultural differences is a trait that can be powerfully used by God.

Devin is on staff with Destino in St. Louis, MO.  Originally posted on his blog.

Posted by Devin Tressler in Culturally Connected, Missions, 0 comments
For We are God’s Workmanship—Part 2

For We are God’s Workmanship—Part 2

In Genesis 16:13, Hagar calls the Lord “the God who sees me.” Basically, the story goes like this: Hagar is a slave woman for Sarai, Abraham’s wife.  She becomes pregnant with Abraham’s child and is afraid of her mistress (even though having a baby by Hagar was Sarai’s idea in the first place), so she runs away.

When she’s sitting by a spring, God appears to her and asks her what she is doing. She is honest, and tells the Lord about the messy situation she’s in and why she’s run away.  Ultimately, God tells her to go back and submit to her mistress, but he also promises to make a great nation from the son that she is carrying.  In that moment, Hagar calls the Lord “El Roi,” or “the God who sees me.” In The Message paraphrase of the Bible, verse 13 says “She answered God by name, praying to the God who spoke to her, “You’re the God who sees me! Yes! He saw me; and then I saw Him!”

“You’re the God who sees me!
Yes! He saw me; and then I saw Him!”

I’ve read this story a few times in the last few years, and I’ve been struck by Hagar’s excitement that God saw her.  I’ve always been told and just assumed that God could see me. I couldn’t see Him, but He could see me.  If I had one shot at giving God a name, I might have said “the really strong God” or “the God who loves me” or even “the God who knows everything.” If I was going to choose one important characteristic of God, I certainly would never have chosen the fact that He could see me.  Maybe this seems trivial to me because I’ve never really felt overlooked. I grew up in a white, middle-class household and was the oldest child in the house. On top of that, I grew up in the generation where every parent was positive that their child was the smartest, most creative, most talented human to ever walk the face of the planet.  From a young age, I’ve been asserting myself and performing, making sure that I was seen.

You know what the down-side to that is? I don’t always see others. My culture, generation, and sinful nature have taught me that it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and that I’ve got to look out for #1. Asserting oneself and making others aware of how important you are is a cultural value in my culture, and I’m so good at it that I can just plain overlook people that don’t seem important to me.

Example: on the first official night of our project, our group was walking across a road in Houston to the restaurant where we were going to eat dinner.  As we approached an exit ramp from the highway, I looked ahead to see how far the restaurant was and looked right past a man who was standing there asking for money. A few minutes later, I noticed that two students were missing from our group and was honestly a little frustrated by the fact that they had wandered off. I turned around, though, and saw that they were standing next to the homeless man, and it looked like they were praying. When I asked later what they had been doing, they said that they wanted to hear his story, see if they could help, and pray with him.  It was only during that conversation that I really thought about that man as a person with a story and emotions.

Not only does that story illustrate something that can be really sinful in me (the ability to simply overlook people) but it also illustrates something beautiful about the Destino students I spent the summer with. They see people. That is not simply to say that they have good eyesight, but that they notice  people and care about their stories and lives.

After seeing this time and time again on our project, I began to see this as one of the ways that God has uniquely gifted a lot of our students in Destino. He’s given them eyes to see people that no one else sees. He’s given them hearts that care about the forgotten, the marginalized, and the poor.  In this way, and others, I could see Jesus’ heart in a lot of our students. Because, after all, He is “the God who sees me.” And I think He’s using Destino students to display that to the hurting, tired, poor,  and forgotten.

Casey is on staff with Destino in St. Louis, MO.  Originally posted on her blog.

Posted by Devin Tressler in Culturally Connected, Missions, 0 comments