By Thilini Cate
[Written to Westerners, as a current Westerner and former Third-World child who was once cynical of you.]
Traveling to a Third World country.
The very thought gets my anxiety working overtime:
- Should I drink the water?
- Will there be poisonous snakes?
- What if I get malaria?
- How do I respond to hungry children?
- What will it be like to be the wealthiest person the community may have ever met?
This internal discomfort and angst could very possibly be a God-ordained mechanism of deep learning and change. It indicates I’m crossing over, into an encounter with people whose life assumptions are quite different from mine. It prepares my heart to receive the unexpected I hope to understand.
Yet, as this anxiety grows, the tendency to begin stocking up on “gifts” increases—candy, earrings, Hot Wheels cars, spiral notebooks, glow-in-the-dark pencils, toothbrushes, etc. I now feel safe, and my anxiety is justified.
They have intrinsic craving for genuine, healthy, and authentic relationships.
I gather all these things, assuming that a gift is meant to symbolize the relationship between two people. And my notion is somewhat vindicated as, “I’m from the Western world, and that’s what we do.” In that moment, little do I realize, the items I may leave behind in the community will tell the receivers little about who I am, revealing how little I know about them. Often, all it typically communicates is that I assume that they need it.
I carelessly forget the fact that they are human and have intrinsic craving for genuine, healthy, and authentic relationships in life. It is an essence of humanity—both in First and Third worlds.
I go. I experience.
To truly meet a new friend, I have to set aside my presumptions, my white-collar position, my degrees, my social status, my power, and receive the person for who they are and what they look like. In an uncomfortable moment, my complete ignorance of the local language reduces me from a respected professional to a 3-word uttering toddler, babbling greetings to the wild delight of the native children.
I soon realize how accustomed I have become to my personal accouterments—those things that have always made me who I am—and suddenly they all seem unimportant and insignificant. I blush, bowing my head at this revelation.
Tears well up in my eyes. I smile, as I realize my desire for relationship. A friend. A need that I erroneously attempted to disguise through “gift giving.”
Leave the clutter. Go with vacant hands.
They come rushing forward to embrace me. Repeatedly.
The awkward yet riveting moment set the stage for the three weeks of work and transformed me into the impossible: a friend in a Third World country.
Is the objective to turn “gift items” into a “give-me” circus, unknowingly flaunting one’s wealth—or is the goal to use a powerful initial encounter between two human beings as a transformational moment?
Leave the clutter.
Go with vacant hands.
Create unprecedented moments.
posted on April 2, 2018
Meet the Author:
With almost two decades of leadership in the field of Christian education, Thilini Cate is a passionate advocate of equipping the next generation of leaders. Her desire is to help them flourish in their pursuit of God, maximize their potential, and to propel them into their spheres of influence, in both local and global capacities. A published writer with a master’s degree in education and a doctoral degree in progress, Thilini currently works as a qualitative analyst for a consulting firm. Between frequent fueling of triple-shot Trenta Vanilla Macchiatos, wearing flip-flops in 30-degree weather, 1:00am reading, and appreciating all things Black/White from pictures to perceptions, her favorite thing to do is to travel and experience various cultures and people across the world.