The lenses that we wear certainly affect the way we see the world. The fifteen years that my wife Kim and I lived in Latin America have greatly affected my vision. Today I love to get acquainted with immigrants, especially with those that have only recently arrived in our country. Often I imagine myself in their shoes.
Since we returned to live in Indiana, our circle of Hispanic friends has grown to several hundred people from the Caribbean and Central and South America. Interestingly, lots of other immigrants and minorities are also now a part of my growing circle of friends. It is fascinating for me to imagine what they are thinking and feeling about life here in Hoosier land. I am even more intrigued with the way their children are adapting to life here in North America.
At the same time, Kim and I have another world of friends, mostly white people, who have not traveled or lived very far from their birthplace. Many of those in our extended families are included in this other world. Many of them consider themselves Christians, but their points of view about immigrants and minorities are often very different from ours. Typically, Kim and I try to keep our opinions about minorities and immigrants to ourselves when they talk, but at times it’s really hard. Sometimes the things that our family and white friends say are insulting and painful because we hear them talking about others that we also love even though they may not realize it. Often our impression is that these friends and family members are spending more time listening to talk radio and talking racist trash with their friends than they are getting to know the immigrant neighbors that now live among us.
Please don’t misunderstand me. It’s not that I consider myself to be totally free from ethnocentrism. I’ll confess that often my first reaction when I meet someone of a different culture and language is to pull back from them. In fact, I’m only recovering from my self-centered biases and prejudices on a day by day basis myself. Maybe the reason I get so passionate about the insensitive comments of others concerning minorities and immigrants is because I can hear echoes of my own ethnocentric attitudes rearing their ugly heads again.
Here is where living in the Word of God is so important. The temptation is to allow the sinful world to shape our perspectives and attitudes. I especially love what Paul says in Romans 12:2 about this matter:
Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity. (Romans 12:2, JB Phillips translation)
Clearly God has a different plan in mind regarding minorities and immigrants than the world does. When I live in His Word, I am reminded that we are closer to God’s kingdom when we spend quality time with people from a variety of cultures. The Bible portrays this picture in many passages – from Abraham (Genesis 12:1, 2) to Pentecost (Acts 2) to the multitude of peoples from every nation, tribe, and tongue that someday will gather around the throne of Heaven (Revelation 7). I imagine this is part of what Jesus had in mind when He prayed to His heavenly Father, “…your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 NIV).
Having minority and immigrant friends also helps me to keep a biblical perspective as the immigration debate rages around us. Often I can see our immigrant and minority friends’ faces when I hear hateful comments from our other friends and acquaintances of the majority culture. Many of my immigrant and minority friends are innocent children, who have a special place in our Lord’s heart and also in heaven. My hope and prayer is that God will use me as a bridge between cultures, my own majority culture and other minority and immigrant cultures. Maybe in that way I can have a little part in helping our Lord’s Kingdom come to earth as it is in heaven.
Dr. Norman G. Wilson pastored for six years in Indianapolis (1974-80) before serving as a Wesleyan missionary for 15 years in Latin America where he was involved in ministerial education and mission administration. Afterward, he served for 10 years in administrative roles in North America. He is currently an associate professor of Intercultural Studies and coordinates the Department of Intercultural Studies at Indiana Wesleyan University. He has written numerous articles on missions’ theory and practice and compassionate evangelism. Fluent in Spanish, Norman and his wife, Kim, are active in their local church called Iglesia Wesleyana Amistad Cristiana in Carmel, Indiana.
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