I can still remember the first time I traveled to the Middle East quite vividly. I was a college student heading to spend the summer in a city I had never heard of before applying, and a part of the world for which I had little frame of reference outside of news footage. At the time, it meant weeks engulfed by a foreign language, religion, customs, food, and people. After all, it was a completely different way of life! Right?
Yes, it was a new cultural experience for me, and I was fascinated by the many things that were so different from the world that I had known. But to my surprise, my time in the Middle East that summer was most impacted by what I found the same, those things in which the young men and women I shared life with in Texas and those I met in the Middle East held in common. Living in a Muslim nation and experiencing Arab culture had its uniqueness for sure, and I treasure many of the special things about that way of life, but it was the commonality in people that I treasure most.
Things were different, but the “different-ness” was far less than I’d imagined. This week, as I will travel to Beirut, Lebanon with a team from my local church to work with Dar El Awlad boys home for a couple weeks, II expect a certain level of foreignness. But what I will celebrate most are those moments of solidarity. I anticipate laughing boys, puzzled looks, curious faces, lofty dreams, broken hearts, troubled lives, and hopeful smiles that are familiar. I look forward to stories, expressions, games, and jokes that draw to the forefront our similarities more than our differences.
As much as our culture sometimes prefers to objectify the ‘other’ to the extent that they seem incomparable, I eagerly await the countless ways we share in what it means to be human. As strange as it may seem and as aware as I am of the uniqueness of every place, it will not be the different-ness that I hope to focus on most.
This week, as our team makes its way to Lebanon, I celebrate the same-ness of who we are as God’s creation amidst a broken world, the similarities in who we are as people. I celebrate the one-ness we have in Christ with so many at Dar El Awlad, and I praise God for the constant reminder of His unending love for all people, all places, and all creation