Stale Bread

I looked down at the stale loaf of white bread in my hands.

Something happened here that I don’t understand, I thought.

I’m in a remote village in southwest China, a couple of hours by car from the nearest “foreigner store” that would sell white bread. I thanked my translator, feeling a mixture of shame, gratitude, exhaustion, and confusion. I’ve tried desperately to be laid back, fit in with the crowd, and go with the flow. What have I done to make my hosts feel that the breakfast that every other person in the entire complex eats every morning, isn’t good enough for me? I walked back to my room in the hospital dormitory, looking out over the dusty mountains as I ran back through every conversation I’ve had in the past 24 hours. The constant emotional drain of being misunderstood once again washed over me. Then it hit me like a slap to the face… I said too much. This is not the first time that my talkative personality would be my downfall.

Let me back up and provide some context. Four years ago I went to China on a long-term mission trip. I worked with an organization that provided medical services to low-income families. The organization was just starting to branch out and offer special education services as well; which was one of the main reasons I chose to work with this organization, being a speech pathologist by trade. During the time I was with them, I was offered an incredible opportunity: Train the first group of Chinese speech-language pathologists at this extraordinarily rural hospital. Ever the adventurer, I’m always up for a good challenge.

Due to the organization’s needs, I would go to the hospital on my own. My team… the ones whom had served in China for a number of years and understood the culture…they would stay in the city and continue their work.

Back to the bread.

I had been at the hospital a few days before the stale white bread showed up. The afternoon before, the hospital-provided translator and I went to lunch together. I stood looking at the food in the cafeteria and exclaimed how excited I was to eat. I told her that I didn’t eat much for breakfast, was hungry, and the food looked great.

That was it. That right there. It doesn’t sound like I was complaining, right? At least not to an American’s ears.

In America, if I wanted to say that I didn’t like the breakfast, I just come right out and say, I didn’t like breakfast. In general, Western society tends to engage in direct communication to get our point across. This is not as true of Chinese culture. If you didn’t like breakfast, you wouldn’t directly complain about it. That would embarrass your host and be rude. Instead, you would use an indirect form of communication. As I reflected on this interaction, I think my translator took my mentioning that I didn’t eat much for breakfast to be me telling her that the breakfast was inadequate for me. She must have sent someone out to pick up what she felt would be a more traditional American breakfast.

Ugh. So much for going with the flow.

This day and age a lot of people might ask why we need to learn about cultural differences? Do these seemingly small blunders really matter? I think they do matter. They matter when we want to honor, respect, serve, and truly love our neighbors. When I recount this stale white bread story, I can’t help but think about how Jesus had to cross socio-cultural barriers for us. I think about the way that God became man-how He came to us.

He was born as a human, assimilated to our world, ate the food we eat, and communicated to us in our language. He attended our festivities, sat and ate with us, and spoke in parables just so we could relate and understand.

We live in a global world.

All of us engage with people from cultures other than our own. It may be at work, at church, in our neighborhoods, or even on mission trips. People from all different cultures are all around us. But if we’re blind to our neighbor’s cultural differences, we could end up offending our neighbor in our efforts to show love.

I hope you’ll join me this year at the Imagine Conference. Amongst the various other break-out sessions, we’ll have speakers experienced in cross-cultural engagement helping to lead us through a conversation about culture and teaching us how to relate to our neighbors from different cultures. Let’s imagine what it looks like to love our neighbor in a way that will be truly meaningful to them…and avoid eating some stale white bread in the process.

Register for the Imagine Conference!

Becca Densmore, Mission Council Representative, North Way Christian Community – East End

What is a Refugee?

You have probably heard a lot about refugees in the news and in political discussions, but what is a refugee anyway?  And why are there refugees?

Simply put, a refugee is someone who has been forced to leave their home country to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. For example, long-lasting civil wars in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo have forced peaceable citizens to flee for their lives. Also, over 4.8 million people have been registered as refugees due to the Syrian civil war, with more being added to that number daily. Anyone of Nepali ancestry living in Bhutan has had their citizenship and civil rights revoked, forcing over 100,000 to leave. When no neighboring country would allow entry, they settled in refugee camps on the border of Nepal. Additionally, after seeking the creation of an independent state, the Karen people have been subjected to decades or persecution that continues today. The Burmese army regularly burns Karen villages and even attacks the refugee camps. Doctors and informants who helped U.S. soldiers in Iraq have had to flee their country for fear of retribution for assistance provided during wartime. These are just a few of the many situations that are causing forced migration. These are the refugees of the world.

Today, there are over 65 million refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people across the globe – more than any other time in history. These are not people who want a slice of the American pie. They are people for whom returning to their home country would mean continued persecution and death. For them, migration is not a choice, it is a necessity for survival.

The specific causes of each situation are unique, but the results are all too similar. Most refugees would prefer to stay in their home country, but when forced into camps the next best option is resettlement into a foreign country. For most of us, this is where the crisis hits home, right here in the United States.

Recently there has been a lot of publicity about the various aspects of the U.S. refugee resettlement program, the vetting process for refugees, and the politics surrounding the temporary immigration ban. You may be wondering, what is our role as men and women of Faith? When we look to the Scriptures it is clear:

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 19:33-34

Putting all political debates and affiliations aside, we believe that it is our responsibility, as Christians, to reach out with Godly love to the refugees who are resettled here. 

Perhaps your first step in loving your refugee neighbors as yourself is attending the Imagine Conference? You don’t want to miss this incredible opportunity to learn more about their plight and seek out your place in this quickly growing area of ministry.

Register for the Imagine Conference

Adam Gebhardt, Founder and Director, Agapao Refugee Ministry


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