Before boarding the plane that would bring me to my placement in Seattle, Washington, I knew that my beliefs would be tested and challenged. My beliefs and core values were tested greatly in the Global Mission Fellow training, and I knew that was just the beginning.
Nothing could have prepared me for the shock that came when I found myself within a culture that is radically opposed to my beliefs within my own country. Initially, the shock was almost too much for me to handle. I remember holding myself tightly, while taking deep breaths as tears fell from my face on the very public bus commute to work. The intensity of the shock, as well as the knowledge that I would be here for two years, led to a degree of home-sickness that I had never experienced in my life.
Things that I had believed in with my whole heart and mind were suddenly viewed as odd, ridiculous, and crazy-conservative. Not only were the things that I believed considered crazy, but the people who believed them were ostracized in front of my very own face.
I have always wanted to bridge the gap between the polar opposites of our nation. Hearing how divided the church is, as well as how some who did not hold the same beliefs as others were demonized and demeaned, was absolutely shocking. The same people who protested for justice, peace, and tolerance were not tolerant with conflicting ideology or theology.
Although I came to Seattle with the resolve to not let this place change me, my easy-going nature and curiosity won that fight as I set out to truly understand those that seemed so very different from me. When I concluded that I simply could not understand how people of a particular faith community or denomination could come to believe as they do, I began to understand that I didn’t see them as people, but as my enemies, in a way. I began to contemplate deeply about, not their beliefs, but their humanity (family life, childhood, regional/cultural influence, achievements, devotion).
When I saw the people I had initially judged as my enemies or as people who did not understand the true teachings that they claimed to follow doing amazing things in the name of Christ, I was confused. I then realized that I had been looking down upon those with whom I was here to serve. (I also remembered that, in the past, this was detrimental to the work of many missionaries!) I realized that my grip on what I thought I knew needed to be loosened. This propelled me onto a journey of re-evaluating everything that I know and believe. Have I changed my beliefs to fit into the majority in Seattle, WA? NO! But I can now appreciate our differences.
I have come to understand that I am too young to have solid opinions on many things, BECAUSE of my lack of experience. I have also realized that I am too complex and unique to fit into one specific party or box.
Most importantly, I have realized that something beautiful can come from something ugly, and that there are many beautiful people who don’t identify with ‘Christian’ and who don’t agree with me.
This may be a life lesson that the United States is still in the process of learning.
GMF US-2, Class of 2016-2018
Seattle District of The United Methodist Church