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We Do Not Have a Disease and We Are Not the Heroes (And Other Things You Might Assume About Cross-Cultural Workers)

Whenever moving our family to a developing nation comes up in conversation, several responses are typical.

Most often, surprise. Followed by awkward silence. (e.g., "Oh, wow. That's really something." [...]) Right. We suddenly went from interesting potential friends to people with a possibly-contagious disease. 

Similarly quarantining us from "normal" Americans are the responses that falsely attribute hero status to us (e.g., "That's something I could never do. I give you a lot of credit."). I haven't figured out the best way to respond to this sentiment, though I usually want to say something to this effect: "You could do it. Really. We are not heroes. And we don't deserve any credit for doing exactly what God has equipped us to do."

On many occasions, we've been engaged in conversations about why we should stay in America. Acknowledging our country's great needs, along with our country's great resources (including the privileged individuals who cite America's problems as reasons not to go elsewhere), is a balancing act in tact and reality. I've failed to manage this conversation gracefully time after time. Fortunately, I get many opportunities to keep trying.  

The previous three interactions have become a typical part of my social experience. But this week, I heard something entirely new in response to our leaving. The statement was kind, and profound, and heartfelt. I don't think I'll ever forget where I was standing when I first heard the words, "Thank you for going."

I didn't have a response ready. But if it ever happens again, I will. I will say, "Thank God. And thank you for sending." This year has taught me so much about the Global church. We cannot go to make disciples without the many who stay to make disciples. Senders are far more than financial partners. Senders are like the many home-front heroes whose sacrifices made possible victory over terrible evil in WWII. Senders are doing the work at home, so those who go can partner with others doing the work abroad. 

"He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6) often appears on Etsy wall hangings and Thank You cards. Interestingly, the context is Paul's discussion of partnership with the Philippian church. His letter begins with gratitude ("I thank my God every time I remember you"), continues with joy ("because of your partnership in the Gospel"), and concludes with confidence in God's ability to care for those geographically separated ("[HE] will carry it on to completion"). 

I can only imagine that the apostle Paul met with a good many people who treated His calling like a disease or exalted him to hero status. But he humbly pointed away from himself and towards Christ. There is only one true Hero, which sure takes the pressure off us. 

In Cameroon, Christians who received compliments (about their work, or their children) would reply, "Thank God!" What a great way to turn around gratitude to the source of all good things. I'm seriously considering responding to any of the previous conversations with, "Thank God". It would almost certainly always be the right thing to say.

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