At Our Doorstep

Are you planning a short-term mission trip this year? Perhaps you’re heading to Mexico or Honduras or the Dominican Republic. Maybe your destination is India, or Ethiopia.

Or maybe you want to welcome your new neighbors who don’t speak your language or share your customs—but you don’t know how.

Do you want to learn more about other cultures, to be more able to relate to people from other nations?

You can visit China—or Mexico, or India—for the price of a few gallons of gas.

If you live in any kind of urban area, there are probably people from many other countries living nearby. It might be a specific neighborhood, such as Chinatown (San Francisco’s is shown in the top photo). Even here in Colorado Springs, not exactly a major metro zone, we have Koreans, Indians, Mexicans, and yes, even Ethiopians dwelling in our midst. Denver, a mere hour away, has even more diversity.

As someone wanting to know more about other cultures, you can put this globalization to work for you.

A few weeks ago, our small group headed north to Denver for Chinese New Year. We ate dim sum at a Chinese restaurant, were entertained by a colorful array of dragons (to usher in the year of the dragon), and shopped at an Asian grocery store. (If you’ve never enjoyed dim sum—an assortment of dumplings and other delicacies served with tea—you are missing something wonderful!) Sure, we didn’t have to deal with squatty-potties, or try to understand anyone speaking Mandarin, but it was a taste of another culture. It was also a lot of fun.

Just a market alone can prod us from our ethnic rut. The store in Denver offered cabbage, oranges, and chicken—and also dried sea cucumber, baby bok choy, live whelks, and neatly wrapped packages of “chicken paws.” We picked out a huge Dungeness crab for my dad’s birthday. (It was still very much alive as we tried to get it into a pot of boiling water later that afternoon.) If you’re heading to Asia, visiting a store like this might provide an introduction to the food you’ll be served once you arrive.

I want to add a caution here. Just because a restaurant claims to be Greek or Chinese or Lebanese, doesn’t mean it actually is. We once took a visiting Australian friend to Outback. One look at the menu and he started laughing. When he finally calmed down, he explained that real Aussie burgers are topped with sliced beet root and a fried egg, they never “throw shrimp on the barbie,” and pretty much nothing offered was actually typical Australian food.  My Chinese friend says the same things about P.F. Chang’s.

For those who want a more complete experience, try moving into an ethnic neighborhood. We spent a decade living in Cupertino, California. If they ever think of Cupertino, most people think of H-P and Apple computers, both of which have their headquarters there. But Cupertino is also about 85% Chinese. My closest market was TinTin #2. There was an entire aisle devoted to different kinds of soy sauce, and another section with a huge variety of eggs, from tiny quail eggs to dusky “thousand year old” eggs. Our neighbors did not speak English. Our kids’ friends went to Chinese school after school. (Now I’m kicking myself that we didn’t think to send our kids along with them.)

Another program places missionary wannabes in apartment blocks full of people from almost any imaginable culture—right in the heart of Los Angeles. You want to learn Ukrainian culture? No problem. Nigerians, Pakistanis, Cambodians… it’s all there. Think how helpful it would be to practice living in another culture while you can still escape for an afternoon or two, before uprooting and moving overseas to another country.

Most people living as visitors or immigrants in the U.S. are very gracious, and more than happy to educate us ignorant Americans. Invite them for a meal, ask questions, share in their celebrations, get to know them as people, not just foreigners. You might make a life-long friend. Even more important, you might be the one to tell them about Jesus. Many internationals come from countries where Christians are a tiny minority, or even persecuted.

People are moving around the world more today than ever in history. Let’s get out of our ruts and get to know them!

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