By M.J.*, DO
Living cross-culturally is a near constant school in the wonder of how others think, feel, and process differently. The lessons abound, the perspectives shape us, and yet there is the sense (and truth) that we will always be “other.” One arena where we feel most alien is in collective vs. individual thought. We have so much to learn about how our people view community. To illustrate how extremely essential it is for them: in interviews done by others, the great majority of our people agreed with the statement that they would rather go to hell with their families than go to heaven without them.
Let that sink in. That is simply remarkable isn’t it?
Now we might reply that these people don’t really know what they are talking about. If they did, they wouldn’t say such things. True, but do we really know what we are talking about either? Coming from possibly the most individualistic society on the planet (I am thinking of the U.S. here), can we even begin to understand what prompts such statements?
So before we cast aside such notions of community, let me remind you of what the Apostle Paul said in Romans about his own family. I was stunned by this recently. In Romans 9:3, referring to his own Jewish community, he said, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
Now obviously, this is not quite the same. Paul is saying that he himself is willing to face hell so that his family might know heaven. Paul is willing to be cursed so that his community might be blessed. What we hear from communal peoples is that their identities and lives are so wrapped up in one another that they cannot imagine living this life, or the next, without their families, extended families, clans, etc. What Paul is saying is actually more extreme, much more. He is saying that his love for his community is so great that he would willingly sacrifice his eternity to see them know Truth and Peace. If it weren’t in the Bible, I wouldn’t believe it.
How about you? How about me? Do you love anyone that much? Do I? Maybe your spouse or kids? Parents? Would we say to Paul, “You don’t really know what you are saying or you wouldn’t say it.” Really? Paul didn’t know? I have to think that if anyone understood what he was saying, he did, and he meant it. It’s true that if we emulate Paul here, we might not really understand what we are saying. But it seems to me that we ought to try anyway. It is the ultimate in putting others first and isn’t that love? (I am mindful that Paul is not only concerned here with the blessing of the Jews but also the glory and honor of God that he longs to see rise up from his community. Ultimately, Paul’s greatest concern is God, not people.)
You can pray for us that we would love both our birth community and our adopted community in this way. Ultimately, it is actually our eternal security in Christ that fuels our love. We cannot exchange our blessing for a curse – Christ has already done that! The passage in Romans still boggles us, but we do want to yearn for our communities to know Him and make Him known. We want them to know love, joy, and peace. Are we willing to sacrifice our own for theirs?
M.J. is a MedSend physician serving in the Horn of Africa.
* Name withheld for security reasons.