As I mentioned last week, my husband and I recently came back from visiting his parents who live as missionaries in the mountains of Palawan, an island in the Philippines.
One morning during our visit, I was sitting on the front porch of my in-law’s house in the mountains of Palawan happily engrossed in my book and enjoying the slight breeze on an overcast day. My father-in-law was also out on the porch, busying himself with trying to fix the wiring on some of the porch lights. I didn’t even notice the tiny crowd of little children gathering at the far end of the porch staring at me until my father-in-law started talking to them and then began chuckling to himself after they dispersed. He then turned to me and said, “You’re drawing quite a bit of attention.”
“I am?” I asked incredulously. People come to their house frequently and stand at the porch to ask them questions, visit, sell them things, and get water from their outside faucet, so the morning gathering of children didn’t seem suspicious to me at all.
“Yes,” he replied. “Those little girls couldn’t keep their eyes off of you. The whiter you are, the more attention you draw because they’re not used to seeing people with such white skin. Same goes for someone who has black skin, especially if their skin is really dark.”
I guess it makes sense to me that they would stare. It’s human nature to be curious about things we’re not familiar with, or things that are rare. But it still makes me a little bit uncomfortable to have so much attention directed at me just because I’m different from everyone else here.
When I was a student missionary in Chad, Africa, one of my favorite things was taking walks at night by moonlight. It was cooler at night, the stars and moon were incredible to look at, you couldn’t see all the plastic strewn about on the ground, and best of all, if I passed by any people they frequently didn’t notice that I was a Nasara (foreigner/white person) until they were right next to me and already practically past me on the trail. It was a nice change from all the stares and attention during the day.
You know, I find it kind of funny that we like to be different from other people—have our own likes, dislikes, opinions, style—but we don’t want to be too different. Generally speaking, people want to fit in. It’s human nature to want to belong and to be accepted rather than to be shunned or singled out.
But as I was thinking about the little Palawan girls staring at me on the porch, I began to think about our lives as Christians and how God calls us to be different. God wants His followers to stick out like a sore thumb; He wants people to stare. Because our way of life and our way of loving should be so different from the way of human nature that everyone will watch with wonder.
“But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:15,16, ESV)