Why was I born in America?
Of all questions that I anticipated would run through my head during my European travels, this was not one that I expected.
Some background: The biggest obstacle I came across in all the countries I visited and with all the people I met is summed up in two words: cultural communication.
If communication were really just about words and grammar and sentence structure, then anyone could really live anywhere, given enough time to learn a new language structurally.
But if you have nailed the language (reading, writing, and speaking), you honestly have just skimmed the surface. Put that at about a 4th grader’s level. What about expression, double meaning, sarcasm, humor, idiosyncrancies, body language etc… Understanding a country, a culture, is so much more than language. What about history and how that affects feelings and emotions of people of that nation? What about different sub-cultures within a country (North, South, etc…)? And to top it off, the varying sub-cultures of Christians within all those sub-cultures?
Light bulb moment: Being an American gives me a communicative advantage to other Americans over anyone else in the world. Yes, meeting Spaniards and Britains and Italians and Filipinos have been very exciting, and it’s always an adventure trying to figure out each other’s past and life experiences and connect with each other. Yet if I were to put myself into the middle of their community and live with them, I would literally have to re-learn culture because I’m not in America anymore; I’m in their land so I adapt to them. And the same would happen if they became my neighbor in South Carolina and if they really did intend to be involved in community.
This is where I really struggled. As a foreigner, not only did I have to mirror those around me in order to simply participate, but I had to also search for some avenue to communicate who I was as a person in a way that they would understand.
Problem is, I only know how to do that in American English. Who I am as a person is how I express myself in my language and my culture.
I was faced with many questions at this point. I know that God does and will continue to place and move people around the world for the purpose of the furtherance of His Kingdom. History testifies this mobilization of the saints. I believe in mission and how God is using it, but what about this cultural barrier?
Realization: I have 24 years of American experience. If I travel within any part of the U.S., I would have a pretty developed understanding of the history and type of culture diversity in any given location. I could communicate fluently and could understand that if they said a certain sentence with the right inflection, they may be either content, or bitter. Sarcastically jovial, or demeaningly pessimistic. We all have a varying degree of social awareness (painfully, some less than others), and this is often derived from culture.
Enough of the rambling.
Here’s the point.
Why was I born in this country?
Unfortunately, I think Christians only start taking culture seriously when we strategize about missions in foreign fields. We give all these encouraging strategies about cultural transition and celebrate being able to share Christ while speaking and understanding in the same language—at the same time! And that is exciting, please don’t get me wrong! But why don’t we think this same way about our own country? Missionaries are simply praying about opportunities to meet people and tell them about Jesus, and then actively looking for those opportunities every day. If you’re looking for something extraordinary about the mission field, don’t ask me about it. What I observed on this trip was very ordinary and real. Loving God, loving others. They plant, God gives the increase.
Missionaries have to learn about a country and culture, and it’s exciting to relay to supporters how they were finally able to use that understanding to start a conversation, which led to a new friend, which led to a Bible study in the apartment complex, which led to a family being saved, along with all the relatives.
Why would we expect less in America? Is this only “missions” stuff? Is the Gospel only more effective in godless cultures? Is it not the power of God unto salvation to all who believe?
Maybe it’s because we don’t have the same dependency on God that they do, because cultural transition is really hard work. Without the strength and help of God, it would drive most to despair. (take a moment and thank God for His children living out the Gospel outside their culture. No seriously- right now. Do it.) And since (at first) they only know how to communicate personality in their own cultural language, they are forced to rely on God, and not abilities and personality. How humbling is that?
God didn’t have me to be born in America to waste it. Because of wealth and resources, maybe I could be more effective in Kingdom growth by supporting a national that is already culture savvy. Or maybe His intent is that I go and preach the Gospel where there is not a soul that knows His name. American or foreigner, it doesn’t matter—it’s the drive in the heart to live a life that’s not wasted.
I realize that when I was born in America, that it was part of God’s Kingdom strategy. None of this “I’ll go but I’m willing to stay.” We’re all to “go.” Or perhaps we’ve already “went.” Going does not mean simply moving. It means dwelling somewhere with a purpose of living, sharing, breathing the Gospel. America is not homebase, and neither is any country-of-birth. The only country-of-birth that matters is the country of our 2nd birth, our birth into God’s Eternal Kingdom.
So why was I born in America? Maybe I need to realize that this really isn’t my country; maybe I need to start living like a foreigner. After all, isn’t my passport just… paper? Live in light of the permanent citizenship you truly eternally have.