September 9, 2015

​A Different Kind of Family

It was a Friday night in Southeast Asia.* I was a student missionary taking a break from my hectic week by spending time with my team. Mr. and Mrs. Robertson, one of the career missionary couples, had invited the student missionaries to their house for a night of rejuvenation and fun. We spent the evening by first sharing testimonies. We then enjoyed telling cheesy jokes, playing games, and snacking on the most American food we could make: popcorn and smoothies.

We were a diverse group of people hailing from New Jersey, Michigan, Nebraska, Canada, and Jamaica.

I was the only missionary from southern California. Despite our different homes, we were a family. We were united in a common mission to share God’s love with people desperate for acceptance and freedom.

We weren’t always a family, however. When I first arrived in Southeast Asia, I quickly concluded that I was different from the rest of the team—so different, in fact, that I felt like an outcast, judged and looked down upon.

We were a diverse group of people hailing from New Jersey, Michigan, Nebraska, Canada, and Jamaica.

In the Beginning

On my first Sabbath in Asia I had a potluck with the Robertsons. When they learned where I had attended university in California, they poured out a torrent of questions that seemed to question my faith.

Though their questions were perfectly legitimate, I still felt hurt and taken aback, for I had not expected to be interrogated in such a direct manner. It made me feel quite distinct from the rest of the team.

Another time, I was cooking in my kitchen when my housemate, Nancy, walked in to make herself breakfast. I was listening to a popular country music singing duo. Nancy informed me that her parents had told her that listening to country music wasn’t very Christ-like. I felt hurt and misunderstood. I loved this particular singing duo, and my favorite song of theirs was one that proclaimed their faith in Jesus Christ. Nancy had not taken the time to understand that.

On another occasion when I was reading A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, I talked to my fellow student missionary Erin about the book. I was gushing over Dickens’ writing style and the deep human truths underlining his plot. The more I shared with her, though, the more she seemed to tune out what I was saying. I didn’t understand why until she confided to me that the kind of books I was reading represented, for her, a form of rebellion against her parents.

It became painfully clear to me that I was different from the rest of the team. I felt judged for it, and I judged them right back.

A Two-way Street

I began labeling the Robertsons as being small-minded, and Nancy and Erin as uneducated and ignorant. They had to be, I reasoned. But I was wrong.

After I had been there for a little while, I realized that my view of my team members was hindering our mission. I began to ask God for a change of heart toward my team, and He mercifully began to mold me.

Changing Attitudes

When talking to the Robertsons, I stopped answering their questions defensively. Instead, I welcomed their questions because I realized that our discussions would expand our worldviews. Once I had made that attitude adjustment, the Robertsons and I would talk for hours about politics, religion, and science. I learned so much from them, and I like to think that maybe they learned something from me, too. As a result of inviting them to share their perspectives with me, I grew in maturity and in my relationship with God.

My view of Nancy began to change as well. What I had perceived as “ignorance” in music was actually my own lofty ignorance. It turns out that Nancy is an exceptionally gifted violinist who crafts songs to match the emotions of those listening, and she uses her skills to connect to the people around her, teaching them to create beauty from music.

As I grew closer to Erin, I realized that she is extremely well read. Perhaps she hasn’t read novels, but she is tremendously knowledgeable in religious writings as well as Christian memoirs. Throughout the year we would often discuss these books, and her new and fresh point of view never ceased to amaze me. Erin is brilliant, and I would spend hours talking to her about the Christian walk.

A Family Bond

I made a crucial mistake while in Southeast Asia. I judged people because although we are all Adventist, they seemed different than me. I was a country-music-listening, novel-reading Adventist, and they most definitely were not. For that, we judged each other.

It wasn’t until God graciously opened my eyes to their unique gifts that I began to see the beautiful lesson He was trying to teach me. Sure, there were differences between us. What mattered, however, was that we had the most important things in common: we loved God, and cared about sharing His truth with the people of Southeast Asia. We knew that He loved everyone, and we wanted to share His love with the entire world.

It was common beliefs that tied us together despite the differences between us. Our commitments were a bond that made us family, one that no one could break. We were brothers and sisters united as one in the love of Jesus Christ.

* The names of locations and people have been given in a way that protects this closed project.

Mandy Shultz was a junior English major at La Sierra University when she wrote this article.