Alli looked anxious. It was sixth-grade summer orientation — her first year of middle school and her first time in U.S. public school.
“Mom, will there be any kids at this school who look like me?” she asked.
Most of you know that Alli is Filipina. We adopted her when we were living in Manila in the early 2000s. Her brown skin was never an issue during the years we lived in East and Southeast Asia; the three “whiteys” in our family — me, Joe and Lauren — were the ones who stood out there.
But this was a different place.
“I think so,” I replied confidently. “We’ll ask.”
Turns out, we needn’t have worried.
At Alli’s final middle school band concert last week— she finishes 8th grade today! — I counted 46 flags hanging in the commons area. The flags represent the home countries of the student body. They include Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, China, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Singapore, South Korea and North Korea among others.
Apparently, the nations live right around us, supporting a 2012 report from the Center for Immigration Studies that one in four public school students speaks a language other than English at home.
Our family learned a number of lessons about cross-cultural living during our time overseas. Many apply to our community today. Here are six:
- We are global citizens. Christians are citizens of heaven — sojourners with a responsibility to love God and those He created. As global citizens, loving God and loving others translates to a big picture understanding of how our day-to-day actions affect the nations living among us.
- Being paralyzed by fear is unhealthy … and unbiblical. Granted, public schools can be scary places, but the best way to approach the “scary” isn’t to run and hide but to embrace the challenge and enjoy the adventure. When we teach our children to face their fears with the Holy Spirit’s power, they gain strength for the next big challenge.
- We look for other Christians and draw strength from them. Sometimes it is tempting for a public school student or the parent of a public school student to think, “I am the only Christian here.” More often, though, our “godless” communities are home to a number of Christians who are also looking for support and strength.
- We listen and learn from others but aren’t afraid to offer an alternate perspective. In sixth grade, Alli’s English class was assigned a book about racism in the United States. In the story, set in the segregation era, a black family from Detroit visits a southern U.S. state and is forced to ride in the back of the bus. Alli, who had no concept of the racial tension that has defined the U.S., offered innocently during a class discussion, “We rode in the back of the bus in Korea. We liked it. It was our favorite seat on the bus.” The ensuing conversation gave Alli insight into a significant U.S. cultural issue, and it gave Alli’s classmates the perspective of someone new to the U.S. racial discussion.
- “Tolerance” does not necessarily mean “compromise.” As Christians, our family can be tolerant of — and even friendly toward — the Muslim mother in a burqa or the Hindu man who avoids meat, realizing that some of our cultural practices may appear equally oppressive or unnecessary to them. This doesn’t mean we compromise our beliefs, but we seek to understand the motivations behind their practices and build friendships in the process.
- We have an opportunity to treat expatriates in our country as kindly as the people of Asia treated us. Many people in the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand welcomed us into their hearts and lives. They loved our children and showed them a world without borders. They were patient and gracious with our blunders. I pray that I will be as kind to visitors living in the U.S. as the people of Asia have been to us. Even if you haven’t experienced the hospitality of another culture, practice it with those from other nations living among you, however that looks in your family.
Remember, God orchestrates opportunities for Christians to interact with those who don’t know Him. He can and will use us in our communities to influence the nations around us with the gospel.