Thursday, February 23, 2012

I am the Frog, Part 2

But I did not have the fortune to be born in Mexico, and I’m the only one of the family who does not have a Mexican passport.  I am actually currently investigating resident or even naturalization possibilities.  Contrary to popular believe, these migratory issues are not solved automatically upon marriage or birth.  Believe me.

So I’m the frog.  Everyone else in the family is swimming happily around me.  But every now and again, I need to come up for air.  Let me illustrate.

Mexican cultural is highly relational.  Like most Latin cultures, it revolves around family and community friendships in ways that are nearly incomprehensible for Americans to grasp.  Our family always has had and always will have an open door policy with regards to our ministry.  There really is no other way to be effective here, but that’s not why it is our policy.  It is our policy because we genuinely enjoy people, and desire to both learn from others and hopefully at times teach others by the example of our lives.

We do a cultural orientation for every team or intern that visits us.  I’ve been using the book Cross-Cultural Servanthood, by Duane Elmer, for the last several years.  It´s one of the books out there if one is interested in serving others, and not interested only in having good intentions.   After several introductory chapters, the book lays out an process through which one learns be a servant in another culture.

The book is full of good advice.  On particularly salient point is made by referencing research done by a Canadian center determining factors in a successful overseas experience.  Although the study was not ministry-oriented, the results are directly applicable to those of us involved in cross-cultural work.  The number one factor determining success of an ex-pats foreign assignment was how well he or she initiated and sustained interpersonal relationships. 

The author goes on to point out that technical aptitude (knowledge, expertise, etc…), although important, came in at #4 on the list.  Reminds me of what a friend of mine used to say.  People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.   The book begins talking about the importance of acceptance, of “welcoming people into your presence,” and explores the origin of the word “hospital” as a house for strangers, where care was given.  Hospitality is not just a polite thing to do, it is a sacred act of kindness, extended towards those who are different from us. 

You can’t fake love.  You can’t falsify genuine acceptance.  People are pretty keen on picking up on pretense.   If there is one aspect of the culture in Mexico that our northern neighbors need to learn, it is in the sincerity and embrace encompassed by one phrase here, mi casa es tu casa.  This is not a simple platitude, a simple standard greetings when Mexican’s receive visitors.  It is a heartfelt statement of commitment to your happiness and well-being. 

Our house has been host to more parties than I can begin to remember.  We have, on multiple occasions, opened our front door to more than 50 guests, which is usually fine, because they can walk right through the house out the back door if oxygen becomes a bit scarce in the kitchen, dining room and tiny living room.  Some of the most memorable, meaningful and down-right outrageous moments have happened within the walls of this rented house dedicated to the unconditional welcoming of those made in God’s image, whatever their age, whatever their faith, however they come to us. 

Remember the frog.   I must confess that there are times when, in the midst of the chatter, laughter, after the grilling and the eating, I have to escape, like the frog, and grab some air.  Seek some silence.  Usually our upstairs bathroom is the only refuge I find!

You can go to the first part of this reflection by clicking HERE.

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