A Different View

This weekend it snowed in my hometown.  Some of my friends posted photos on Facebook.  If you live in an area where it snows in the winter, this may sound silly, but when we were kids growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, snow seemed like a far away dream.  It’s only snowed twice in my hometown in the last 50 years, and even then it’s just a dusting.

As I grew up in the 1970s I knew Christmas was coming when the Sears “Wish Book” arrived.  In the days before giant shopping malls and Amazon, we kids loved the Sears Wish Book.  It was a full color catalog of toys and gifts for all ages.  The cover photo was often of a snowy winter scene, or a big fire in the fireplace with a Christmas tree nearby.  The Rio Grande Valley is known as a major produce growing region, with several winter crops – onions, carrots, cabbage and lots of citrus fruit.  Several varieties of grapefruit have been developed in the Rio Grande Valley.  There were citrus orchards on three sides of our house when I was young, and I loved walking through the rich black dirt and picking up windfall oranges – not very pretty but very tasty.

I’d look at those citrus orchards and wish they could be covered in snow, like the pictures in the Sears catalog.  I’d listen to Christmas music and wonder what it would be like to actually have a white Christmas.  I wished very hard for snow.  One year we had a freeze warning, and I remember gathering up piles of frost as I waited for the bus, forming them into a little “snow” man.  I was delighted at the white covering everything.

My perspective was all about MY desire for snow.  Images of snow were everywhere – on winter themed bulletin boards at school, on greeting cards, in those calendars, on the radio and TV.  My fondest wish was for snow.  I never thought to ask what the people around me wanted – that didn’t matter to me in the least.

When I got older, I realized that multitudes of people around me relied on a very different view of freezing weather.  Mr. Fett and the other farmers who owned the orchards, the farmworkers, the packing house employees, the truckers – and by extension all their families – all these people needed temperatures to stay above freezing so that crops wouldn’t be lost.  It is a major blow to the economy when freezing temperatures kill off a citrus crop.  As I pretended that frost was snow and made a little frost man, the orchard owners were out examining their trees, and countless others were hoping the crop would make it so that they could keep working.

As I saw those pictures of snow in my hometown this weekend, I was reminded that when I go somewhere on a mission trip, I need to keep in mind the viewpoint of the people who live in that place.  Conversation and questions before the trip help me to keep my wishes and hopes in perspective, and allow the people who live in that place to articulate their wishes, needs and hopes.  It’s all about honoring different views.

Mission theologians Jacob and Glory Dharmaraj talk about the idea of asking others for their perspective in their book Mutuality in Mission.  “Mutuality in Christian mission is committed to a culture of equality.  The partners are bound together for a common cause in order to bring people back to God.  Mutuality enables the partners to communicate honestly and behave with integrity.  They see the world from the other partner’s perspective….”  As you plan your next mission trip, be sure to include time to talk with the people you will help, and share each other’s views and perspectives.  It will enrich your experience.

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