I just returned from my first trip to visit the Honduras mission. It was a short but sweet journey of five days. I had been to El Progresso and Barracoa in 1999 to help build houses after Hurricane Mitch, but never to Siguatepeque or El Naranjo.
In many ways, I found the country to be much the same as before. In El Progresso, I even spotted the street of CAM's compound. I saw the rooftop on which we used to walk on in the early morning sun at the beginning of the day.
The biggest difference was the prolific presence of cell phones. In the remotest places that I went to, I could not find many things that I consider basic necessities. but they had cell phones. I learned that they could call the US for less than we can call each other.
It is easy and appears to be normal to focus on the differences whenever a person takes a trip like mine. The language problem was its familiar frustration. The social differences jumped out again and again. It is easy to come to the old conclusion that these people could do things better if they would just do it my way. I found myself asking the question over and over, "Could I live here like this?" I suppose that is not a very worthwhile question because I don't need to live there.
How much should the differences between them and us shape our view of each other? Sometimes we are tempted to look at the national and social differences and conclude that the gulf is too great. We just can't understand each other. Sometimes we might look at the differences and feel intimidated or be intimidating.
On the other hand, we may look at another culture like Honduras and declare that really there are very few differences and conclude that we are the same. And, in this sameness we may end up laying a greater burden than necessary. I saw this potential on my trip.
So how can we find the Scriptural balance in the question of same or different? Historically, it has been easy to act, react and overreact to these questions. I don't expect this little article to cure but possibly help to salve the question.
I thought many times of the following beatitude, which I recently learned: "blessed is the mighty king who sits beside the weakest man and thinks of all their similarities."
To look down on someone is native to the carnal nature. To look down on someone is easy when there are great social gulfs. To look down on someone when he or she is not on our social elevation is quite normal in humanity. To sit down and think of similarities is Christ-like. To sit down and think of similarities brings rest. To sit down and think of similarities builds trust.
In my short visit to Honduras, which included two trips to El Naranjo and an ordination, I thought of a number of similarities:
1. The Gospel is available to us. Therefore, the Gospel is mightier than any person, any group or any culture. As one who has been called upon to do much teaching and telling of the Gospel whether by teaching, rebuking, and exhorting, it is easy to fall prey to the mindset that the Gospel flows through me. It was good for me to sit in an examination of a brother whose track record of faithfulness to the Gospel exceeds mine. And to think, my language and my culture had very little to do with this man's salvation and track record. This is because the Gospel is far above my language and my culture. God is not English, Spanish, German, or any other language. He is the Creator of language and the Gospel. Therefore, my Honduran brothers and I are similar in that the Gospel is available to us and both of us need it.
2. Sin is the world's biggest problem. Sin has always affected people. When I was in Honduras, I was made aware of the sin of adultery, the sin of selfishness, the sin of drunkenness, the sin of suicide, and many more. These sins are found on my street. I think the drunk on my street lives in better conditions than the drunks on their street. I think that the selfishness on my street is better dressed than the selfishness on theirs. I think that the adultery on my street may possibly have more structure than theirs. But sin is sin. We are similar.
3. We are acquainted with the grief of fallen saints. In a mission project, it is fairly common to have people begin the Christian life only to fall away. This happened in the parable of the sower, it happens in the mission work and it is happening in our congregations. Is there some way that we can help each other cope with this grief?
4. We make obedience to the Gospel a central theme of our lives. In Honduras, I heard a testimony of a marriage that was completely turned around by the Gospel. This happens as husbands love their wives (a bible command) and wives submit to their husband (another bible command). This is what makes fulfilling marriages on my street as well. We are similar.
5. We make application of Scriptural themes to the challenges of society. Sitting on a porch in El Naranjo, I thought of our church guidelines regarding vehicles. It is somewhat pointless to have guidelines for a church where the only vehicle in the entire town is the one that I brought. Yet there will be guidelines or applications that may need to be made in that village that would seem just as senseless to me on my street. We are similar in that we must apply the Scriptural principles into everyday Christian living.
6. We struggle with peer pressure. This is an old problem that is not restricted to Americans. We are too aware of the going rate, the going practice, the going accomplishments, and the going goals. This awareness prompts us to make foolish and sometimes indefensible decisions. I'm told that one of the reasons why the young women will enter into illicit relationships and brutal marriages is because of the cultural pressure to be a mother. To me that doesn't make a lot of sense. but then again, how sensible are my flops into peer pressure? In this, we are similar.
7. We anticipate a heavenly reward. Sitting on a backless bench in the el Naranjo church house, I heard the minister speak to my brethren of the glories of heaven. When I saw the little amount of accumulation that my brethren have in Honduras, I felt sorry for them. but I am full of joy to think that heaven will dote on them as much or more than heaven will dote on me. With joy, I pondered the reality that accomplishment (in the temporal sense) does not equate to varying reward in heaven. Net worth on earth has little impact on the social elevation of heaven. The millionaire of earth does not dwell on the rich side of the tracks in heaven. We are similar.
We are similar to our brethren. True our net worth exceeds theirs by far. but if net worth is not an eternal concept, then net worth is not a worthy concept. True, we have many more material blessings than they do. but in reality, do material blessings equate to richer and fuller relationships with God?
Do they lead to a more broken and contrite heart?
Salvation works the same for them as it does for us. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses them from all unrighteousness. It gives us peace from worry. The hope of heaven and eternal life is the same offering to both.
There are serious dangers to seeing ourselves as different from them. First of all, whenever we see a difference in products, we can easily feel the need to choose the better of the two. As a matter of fact, in children, this is very common. For instance, seldom do they contend that Ford and Chevy are different. more likely the dispute is; which is better. It takes the love of Christ to keep us from, first, not seeing ourselves as different, but also secondly of not seeing ourselves as better than them. One of the problems with seeing Chevy as better than Fords is that we then measure Ford by Chevy. Until Ford does it like Chevy, Ford is not good enough. This thinking makes how Chevy does it very important. Whenever we fall into this kind of thinking, it is likely we will begin to grade other groups and other cultures in reference to how they do it like us. This is less edifying than we initially believed.
The Gospel is not Ford or Chevy. The Gospel is the Gospel. In the Gospel, there is no difference between Jew nor Greek. All are in Christ. Therefore we expect to have these similar brethren teach us. We expect to teach them. We are similar.
Another danger in seeing them as different than us is that we begin to see ourselves as unable to reach them. This is kind of the opposite mindset of the last thought. many of us know illustrations of mission works who abandoned most of their Gospel because they convinced themselves that their offering was inapplicable to the people they were trying to reach. As we can see, careful wisdom and balance is needed to find our way.
When I went to Honduras, I saw great differences between them and us. but I came home encouraged because I saw similarities. because of these similarities, I know that we are brethren.
Blessed is the mighty king who can sit beside the weakest man and think of all their similarities.
— Myerstown PA