"We all look at the world with our different cultural lenses," said OMer Ivy. "However, I feel like I am the only one wearing yellow glasses among people wearing either green or red glasses.
“Eating fish heads is totally out of my comfort zone,” one team member said as she shared how God had challenged her with the local food, while other westerners nodded their heads. But I love fish heads, I thought to myself. Especially the eyes. I eat them in my country.
“Living without nshima would be difficult. That would be a sacrifice,” a local team member shared. Many Africans nodded their heads in agreement. But I never had Nshima in my life before moving to Zambia. I could totally live without it.
I thought it was only about food that I am different from the rest of the OM team. However I'm slowly realising that my culture doesn’t fit exactly with anyone else's on my team – I am the only 'Easterner' (By that I mean someone from Asia/Oceania). There are times I identify with the 'Westerners' and there are times I understand the 'Africans' more.
I feel alone and lost in some conversations. I am not able to laugh at all the English jokes, but I also struggle to sing songs in the local language. Cultural elements are in every part of daily life and there is no way to escape them. It’s not just about what we eat (Well, food is a big deal in my culture!). We all look at the world with our different cultural lenses. However, I feel like I am the only one wearing yellow glasses among people wearing either green or red glasses.
This frustrated me. I didn’t know where I belonged on the team. Then I found out this cultural issue is not new at all. Paul addressed it a lot in the Bible. In fact, he talked about it in almost every letter. The first conflict of the early church we hear about was associated with culture differences (Acts 6).
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” - Galatians 3:28 (NIV)
“For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” - 1 Corinthians 12:13 (NIV)
“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” - Colossians 3:11 (NIV)
Paul emphasised again and again that we are all one in Christ Jesus. We might have all different backgrounds, but we are one body in Christ. “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts." - 1 Corinthians 7:19 (NIV). If Paul was here today maybe he would say “Dancing during worship is nothing. Standing silently is nothing. Task-orientated is nothing. Relationship-orientated is nothing. Keeping God’s commandments is what matters.”
God is not asking us to be the same; He wants us to focus on the common thing we all have – God Himself. It’s not about uniformity, but unity. It’s so easy to put people into different groups and then decide who 'we' are and who 'they' are. I tend to forget that we are all children of God and that’s the group I belong to. We should celebrate how God put all these diverse cultures in one family and how we all reflect the character of God in different ways.
I also discovered that there are many benefits to being an Easterner here. I might not totally fit in one culture, but I can be the bridge between the different cultures within the team. The yellow glasses I wear have a mixture of green and red. With my yellow lenses, I can connect and relate to both the green and the red. I can bring new perspectives and ideas to the team.
It's still not easy to be the only Easterner here, but I now embrace who I am and how God can use my culture background for His glory. I will continue enjoying eating chicken feet with the Africans and my biscuits with the Westerners.