Have any of you mothers ever gone to a parent-teacher conference expecting to get praised on your superb parenting skills only to hear that little Billy doesn't play well with the other children?
"Billy has trouble sharing, Mrs. Doe. He hoards toys, hits the other children when they try to play with 'his' cars, and it appears that I am unable to increase his vocabulary beyond 'No' and 'Mine.'"
"Oh my! He's not like that at home... I don't know what could have gotten into him."
Not like this at home
Since I've been in Kenya, I've had a few conferences with the Lord with similar results...
As far as I was concerned, I was fairly generous in my pre-Kenya days. Whenever I had money or opportunity, I did what I could to help anyone whether I knew them or not. Of course I was sometimes accused of being stingy with my time - I often preferred solace over social gatherings - and I've held a grudge or two over people eating food I had set aside for myself, but I don't think the typical person would have used the word selfish when describing me... at least it wouldn't have been the first word that came to mind. Like most mothers would say of their children, in my home turf, I was a good kid.
Enter communal living
Ray and I have been married for three months and living in Kenya for about two months now, and cultural issues are brought up on the daily. Being careful not to blame everything on culture, we have learned to take whatever we're arguing about and put it through the "culture lens" before we start blaming problems on each others' character. As I've mentioned in a previous post, you don't really notice how much culture drives the way you live and the choices you make until you're in the middle of a culture that operates in a different manner.
Up until this point, Ray and I have been staying with various family members in Bungoma and Nairobi. Culturally, Kenyans are extremely accommodating. I don't use the adverb extremely lightly either. If a relative comes to your home and needs to stay for a undetermined amount of time, you feed them and give them shelter until the day they decide to leave. What's yours is theirs, no question. Of course as the guest you pitch in where you can and do your best to help the family cover your living expenses and upkeep, but it is generally the family's honor to serve you in their home. Being on the receiving end of such generosity has done wonders in transforming my perspective on hospitality, but it has also revealed how differently my culture has taught me to treat people.
Material czar in a material world
From day one of my arrival in Kenya, I've been quite protective of my things. If anyone wanted to touch my iPhone, I watched them like a hawk until their five minute time limit was up, including my husband. If anyone wanted to play with my guitar, I practically got ulcers worrying about what I would do if they broke it and I even put a sign on it asking people not to touch it unless I was around. If Ray and I bought laundry soap, I wanted to keep it in our room so no one else used it. And those are just a few examples. I have plenty more, but my husband has requested that I keep the self-criticisms to a minimum. (Good edit, babe.)
Anyway, there have been times in the past few months when I've realized how selfish I've been and felt the need to apologize. Do you know what response I hear the most? "It's okay, you're American. Most Americans are like that when they're here." As much as hearing that makes me feel better about myself and the fact that I'm not that screwed up, it makes me feel bad that such behavior is the norm back at home.
Eliminating "mine" from my vocabulary
Though culture plays a big role in my selfish behavior, there is an even bigger factor at play. I never really got it until today when I was reading through my Call to Die devotional by David Nasser. I've done this book about three times in my life, and every time I go through it, God highlights something new in my life that needs to die. Let me share a few quotes, first from David Nasser:
"When we realize all our possessions are a gift from God, we are much more openhanded and generous with them."
"The modern preoccupation with my this and my that has no place in the life of a person who has been redeemed by the blood of the Savior."
And another from missionary Jim Elliot:
"Father, let me be weak that I might loose my clutch on everything temporal. My life, my reputation, my possessions, Lord, let me loose the tension of the grasping hand. Even, Father, would I lose the love of fondling. How often I have released a grasp only to retain what I prized by 'harmless' longing, the fondling touch. Rather, open my hand to receive the nail of Calvary, as Christ's was opened - that I, releasing all, might be released, unleashed from all that binds me now."
Adopting a heavenly culture
Though I feel the struggle to change from one nation's culture to another, I need to remember that I'm actually not of this world, therefore my transition should be more vertical than horizontal. As my spiritual forefathers acknowledged themselves, I am an alien and stranger on this earth representing a kingdom that's not of this world. Because of this truth, the issue I'm facing is not "when in Rome, do as the Romans do", but it's a matter of demonstrating the character and nature of Christ in all that I do. It's a matter of submitting not just my life to God, but everything I own, with the knowledge that none of the things I believe are mine actually belong to me. It's a matter of truly loving my neighbor more than I love myself.
This is not going to be an easy transition, especially since it's a lifestyle I've been trained to live from childhood, but it's good to know that as I daily submit all that I am and have to Christ's lordship, He will take my feeble offering and transform it into something beautiful.