Connection Far From Home
Bottled Water, Humility & Cross-Cultural Grace
I went to this woman’s house in Jodhpur for dinner. Hers was a Muslim family not far from where we stayed in the hostel at the fort.
She cooked the food on this little stove and served it in communal dishes. We sat in a circle on mats and swabbed it up with bits of flatbread we held on the palms of our hands.
She served us water in metal cups. Have you ever seen someone drink water without using their lips? That’s how everyone seemed to do it where we were in India. Basically, you hold the cup or bottle up a little higher than your mouth, tip back your head, aim, and shoot. You swallow on the fly while you keep on pouring.
Some people could drink whole cups at one go that way. It’s kind of impressive. I was never very good at it. (You have to get your swallow just right.)
A lot of people bring their own bottled water when traveling. I’m supposed to say that’s the smart thing to do — the safe thing. (We’re all consumed with safety these days.) There’s nothing wrong with it.
But as someone not just passing through, I felt rude doing that. As if I was saying that what they offered me — what they drank themselves — wasn’t good enough. So I drank the water they offered.
My idea was that your body gets used to the microbes, just like the people from there. For me, it worked out (this isn’t a cautionary tale). But that brings me to my main point, especially in cross-cultural situations or missions …
It’s hard to connect without humility. Sometimes we need to let go of our comforts to enter in.
Humility isn’t in opposition to confidence. It isn’t throwing yourself under the bus.
Humility is “freedom from pride and arrogance.”
Pride and arrogance promote competition … conflict … a disconnect.
When anthropologists go into different cultures and practice participant observation to better understand the way people in that culture live, they live as much as possible as those people do.
They live in the same type of housing, eat the same foods, preferably learn the language, and interact with them in their daily lives. It raises questions and builds insights that would be hard to gain otherwise. It builds a commonality with the people whose lives they enter into with an abundance of questions.
When we set ourselves apart for special amenities or perks, it sometimes can seem like an expression of privilege and superiority. And sometimes it’s just a point of faith (and not just practice) that is rightly immovable or an expression of our own culture. But to set ourselves apart where it isn’t necessary puts us a step or two further away — not closer.
Connection doesn’t wear only one face. A lot of people are better at it than I am, and there’s no single right way to connect. I’m sure a lot of people connect successfully while drinking their sweating-cold Bisleri bottles.
I thought of it this way:
“We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.”
~ 1 Thessalonians 2:8
God became one of us and lived among us with all the discomforts and uncertainties we face. So I thought I could drink an ordinary cup of water as they generously shared their lives and their home with me. To say through my actions that everything they gave me was good enough. That I was grateful for their company and welcome.
That’s the beginning. It’s difficult to build connection and relationship with someone when there’s a rigid hierarchy, and we’ve set ourselves up as the infallible superior.
And it’s not all about what we eat or drink with them. It’s an attitude of the heart.
Sometimes our relationships with people, at home and around the world, will involve some kind of structured relationship. One might be the teacher, the other the student, for instance. Also, in places like Korea, which traditionally emphasizes senior-junior roles in relationships, responsibilities and courtesies can be more defined.
Even within that, there’s an opportunity for humility and understanding … for caring about the other individual as a person — not just a recipient for your wisdom. Not just someone for you to fix.
There’s an opportunity to learn from the people you’re teaching or leading or working with.
They could teach you something about that culture or age group … about some technical aspect … some relational aspect … a better way to do something in that context. Some truth.
You could learn from your mistakes with them and be willing to change and grow from what you learn.
Humility in Action
Several years back, a pastor I particularly loved listening to was preaching a sermon. But in that sermon, he made a biblically factual mistake. I struggled through whether I should confront him with it.
The point of his sermon was sound. But it wasn’t just my INTJ issues with factual errors coming out. It was an issue of what the Bible actually says regarding those events. So I decided to raise the issue with him as politely as I could.
His response showed humility. He invited accountability. He wasn’t defensive. He didn’t rationalize. He accepted the correction from no one in particular (i.e., me), and I respected him even more after that.
That’s one way humility builds connection: It breaks down walls of pride and distinction. It accepts that we’re all on a journey, we all make mistakes, and we all have something to learn and to teach.
The First Step
Humility is a first step to seeing the people right in front of us and recognizing their value. If we’re each made in the image of God, I doubt my own image is brighter and more beautiful than theirs.
I mess up. I get irritated. I get peopled out. I get stuck on being right when sometimes it’s better to give that person space to find their way past the obstacle — to show them grace or consider I also might have areas that need correction.
Sometimes I want to bring change before I love, when I should love first and watch how that changes people — them and me.
In teaching or in missions, there is usually a message to share. But the caring comes first. The listening, the life-sharing …
The message is important. But first we need a connection to open the door. Humility is what builds the connection that makes all the rest possible.
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Thank you for reading!