Across the Street and Around the World by Jeannie Marie paperback
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Across the Street and Around the World: Following Jesus to the Nations in Your Neighborhood...and Beyond
by Jeannie Marie
A practical guidebook that helps readers align with God's desire to cross cultures and reach all nations.
Read an Excerpt
Adopting God's Heart for the Nations
Tall, stunning, and dressed head to toe in flowing black, my new Arab Muslim acquaintance strode out the front door of her office to shake my hand.
"It's a pleasure to meet you," she said. "I am Ayisha. Please come inside."
I had never met a Muslim before this moment. I smiled awkwardly, clinging to my two-year-old daughter's hand. I had left the suburbs and driven into the city on a personal quest: to practice global compassion in my local context. I swallowed hard and dragged myself into the modest refugee resettlement office.
Ayisha sat me down, poured me coffee, and wasted no time. "Why are you here?" she asked evenly.
I stumbled across the thoughts jumbling around in my head, trying to think how to explain. I decided on genuineness.
"I'm a follower of Jesus, whom you call Isa al Masih, and I'm trying to put his words into practice."
I glanced around the bare office, which overlooked squares of government housing. Countless Sudanese made their homes in those blocks, only an hour from my white-picket-fenced backyard.
"I know this might sound kind of crazy, but I was reading his teaching about loving your enemy," I continued.
Ayisha's black hijab hugged her neck and forehead, framing her luminous, beautiful eyes and porcelain face. I wondered what had brought this educated, poised woman to America.
She leaned forward, and the gesture encouraged me to continue.
"Jesus says to love your enemies and pray for those who do harm to you. I can't think of any enemies, except people I don't really know. Because of 9/11, the thought crossed my mind that countries and people from different world religions often perceive each other as enemies. So maybe I should do something about that by actually getting to know a Muslim."
I pulled my daughter up on my lap and squeezed her tight. I wasn't sure how Ayisha would respond.
She didn't say anything, so I continued, "Well, then Jesus tells a story about the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven to judge the world. All the nations of the world stand before him, and he separates the sheep from the goats. To the sheep he says, 'Come and share in my master's happiness. I give you the kingdom that I've prepared for you since the beginning of time.' His reason for giving them the kingdom? He says that when he was hungry, someone fed him. When someone was thirsty, they gave him water to drink. When someone was sick or in prison, a person visited him. When someone was a stranger, or a foreigner, a person welcomed him. Whenever they did this to someone who needed it, it was like they did it for Jesus." I paused, and still she said nothing. I took a deep breath.
"Someone told me that Iraqi refugees were coming to Phoenix. So I looked it up online and found your name. It sounded Muslim. I thought it would be good for me to actually meet a Muslim. You also said on the phone that you're helping refugees, so I thought, well, maybe I could help somehow."
"Yes," she finally said, "you can help."
I breathed a sigh of relief and smiled to myself. I envisioned organizing a food drive or a clothes-collection campaign. I pictured all the refugees gathering around, hugging my friends and me in gratitude. We would all smile at each other and then go home.
Instead, Ayisha said, "I just met a young widow with three small children, who arrived last month from Iraq as a refugee. If all that you are saying is true, then I would like you to come with me to her apartment tomorrow." She paused before continuing. "American soldiers accidentally killed her husband. I would like you to come with me and ask forgiveness for the American people."
Stunned at her request, I heard myself whisper meekly, "Yes, I will go with you." My heart quaked with equal parts anticipation and angst as I felt deeply both my smallness and God's greatness.
After all, I hadn't always been the kind of person to trek across the city in search of random Muslims to befriend and refugees to help. God had to reveal his heart for the nations to me first.
Awakening to God's Heart for the Nations
My path to falling captive to God's heart for the nations was long and winding. I, like many others, held misconceptions about my involvement in cross-cultural relationships. But that's exactly what they were: misconceptions. So much of the time, we think getting involved with people from other countries or faith backgrounds is too complicated, so we leave it for someone else to do. But this may actually be keeping us from discovering a deep, integral part of God's character, purpose, and will — and the part he asks all of us to play in expanding his kingdom. Rather than miss out on the adventure it is to follow Jesus to the nations, let's take a closer look at some of the things many of us say to ourselves that keep us from joining in.
"It's Not My Thing."
Sometimes, we notice people involved in missions or global causes and think of it as a hobby, sort of like someone who might be an avid fisherman, a quilter, or a skydiver. We hear a story like my encounter with Ayisha, and we say, "Good for them. But that's not my hobby." Or we might take it up a notch and view those missional people who would try to help refugees, for example, as called to a worthy cause, in the same vein as those who advocate for natural health remedies, prayer in schools, or homeschooling. We say, "Good for them. But my cause is different from theirs."
I grew up as the child of expats living overseas, privy to firsthand stories of tribal groups without access to the gospel. I even lived in a tribe as a child and still I thought, This is my parents' thing, not mine. But one day God opened my eyes, and I saw his plan for all nations to worship him — starting in Genesis and ending in Revelation — and that he meant for all of us to be involved in it. Could it be that crossing cultures, being a light to the nations, wasn't a hobby or a cause relegated to a few, but a purpose in which everyone could play a role because God planned it that way from the beginning?
God told Abraham, "I will bless you and ... all the families on earth will be blessed through you" (Gen. 12:2–3, emphasis added). Throughout the Old Testament, God kept pressing Israel to be a light to the world, sending Jonah to the Ninevites, Daniel to the Babylonians, and Esther to the Persians. He placed Jerusalem "at the center of the nations," with lands around her, so the people called to stay at home could still affect the surrounding nations (Ezek. 5:5). God told the prophet Isaiah, "I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth" (Isa. 49:6).
The apostle Peter brought Abraham's "blessed to be a blessing to the nations" covenant right into the New Testament too. He reminded everyone that we are all descendants of Abraham and that "through your descendants all the families on earth will be blessed" (Acts 3:25). So that means us too. God blessed you and me with the good news so that all the nations of the earth — all the families of the earth — will be blessed with the good news through us.
The thread weaves right through to Revelation, where we catch a vision for the outcome of God's heart for the nations. The apostle John saw the future, with heavenly creatures encircling the throne of God, saying to the Lamb, who is Jesus Christ, "You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For ... your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation" (Rev. 5:9). People from every tribe, every language, and every nation will one day stand shoulder to shoulder next to you and me in front of the throne of God! This means that reaching out to every culture isn't just a few people's "thing." It is God's "thing." The closer we come to experiencing God's heart to see people from all nations reconciled back to him, the more our eyes will open to his heart for the whole world.
Like a blind person who could suddenly see, I too could see — through God's eyes. The scales fell off, and I saw the millions and millions of people around the world, some of them moving in across the street, without even the opportunity to know God. I felt restless, wrestling with conviction about this ultimate injustice, and wondered about my role in it. I wanted to do something about it. But then I fell victim to the next common misconception.
"I don't see myself moving overseas right now, so there's not much I can do."
Sometimes we believe that if we're not ready to move to a jungle somewhere in Papua New Guinea, or since we're not physicians educated to eradicate diseases in Africa, there's not much else we can do to be involved around the world.
I spent eight years after university just living life, going to church, working, raising children, scrapbooking, playing volleyball, and planning vacations. Not a bad life, but a life without much spiritual excitement. I had absolved myself from any responsibility or privilege to be a light to the nations, and even our own community, because my husband and I didn't see ourselves living in a tribe somewhere.
Then 9/11 happened. Suddenly the rest of the world came crashing in on my everyday life. The news, the issues the rest of the world faced, the nations — all of it started affecting my little, private, safe bubble, whether I wanted it to or not. I couldn't isolate myself anymore from the issues of an increasingly interconnected world. But what could I do to be a light — like Israel to the nations — from my house in the suburbs of America?
Then a friend of my father's landed on our doorstep one day for a visit. He was from India and brought with him a charismatic personality and a fresh faith in God for miracles. My somewhat uneventful and ordinary life came alive with spiritual possibility and adventure as I listened to him and caught his vision for championing the cause of orphans and widows from a country that housed one-third of the world's poor and where only a tiny fraction of the population follow Jesus. We talked about the possibilities of speaking, writing, praying, raising funds, and even leading short trips. I hadn't realized how much I could do right where I lived to make an impact on people on the other side of the world.
Then, as opportunities opened up to advocate for the nations, my experiences gradually deepened. God encouraged me to make disciples right where I lived, befriending refugees and international students who were already in my city — and that's when I found myself having dinner with Ayisha and the young widow from Iraq. One summer I found myself in the Sahara desert, sitting in the tents of refugees without a country and listening to imams (Muslim spiritual leaders) and pastors debate about our ancestor Abraham. Another time I ended up in a little hut-turned-church on the top of a mountain in the Philippines, hearing tribal believers, former animistic spirit worshippers, tell riveting stories about my parents, who had lived and worked in their tribe thirty years before. And then, as sometimes happens, God eventually led my husband, our children, and me to India, to live and work in a city where few Westerners had made their homes.
God's global heart within all of us could burst forth in many forms. We might be called to stay — as visionary mobilizers, extravagant givers, passionate people of prayer, or effective administrators undergirding those who go. Or God's global heart might thrust us into effective welcoming roles, launching us into communities of refugees or into universities to befriend international students. As we practice following Jesus by discipling the nations in our neighborhoods, he may even lead us to eventually exchange one continent for another as we remain open to his leading. We discover our role in reaching the nations, though, by starting small, and starting soon, by making friends with people from other countries.
Personalizing God's Heart for the Nations: Make a Friend
We may find our hearts stirring for the nations and even embrace the idea that we could make a global difference right where we already live, but then we get stuck because we don't know how to get started. Here's one fun and life-changing suggestion: make an international friend! Putting a face that's a friend to the big word nations helps us fall in love with God's heart for all cultures. We'll discuss how to welcome refugees and international students in chapter 3, but before then, here are a few suggestions for how to find friends from another country who live right where you live.
First, eat at ethnic restaurants. My friends and I look for small, family-run ethnic restaurants — Arabic, Turkish, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Filipino, Lebanese, the choices are endless. We try to meet the owners, ask for their recommended dishes, and order generously. Our tables often get filled with samples and desserts on the house because we show genuine interest in learning about their countries, their food, and their lives. My husband and I once met a Pakistani husband with an Indian wife who ran a small restaurant called Currys and Kabobs. We gained a great deal of insight from them about arranged marriages, the political climate in the two countries, and their views on Christianity, Hinduism, and the sects of Islam found there. All because we took the time to go out for dinner and start a conversation.
Another thing we can do is adjust our leisure activities, like working out at the gym or playing basketball in a community league, electing to do them in areas of our cities where internationals are likely to live. With young children in tow, my mom friends and I planned playdates with each other at parks around our city where engineers and software developers from India tended to live, or near the apartment complexes where refugees resettled, or near the block where international students rented out apartments next to our state university. We'd make friends through our children and have leisurely conversations about family and life. One of these park playdates turned into a regular playdate each week with a group of Muslim moms who also took their kids to play at a particular park, which then turned into visits to each other's houses. Eventually, my friend and one of her new friends started an interfaith discussion group designed to help women seek God together. The group drew as many as twenty women at a time from both Islam and Christianity to discuss how to follow God together.
Another idea for finding friends from other cultures is to intentionally notice and approach people who are already part of our everyday lives at work, school, or play. For example, I noticed an Asian woman with a strong accent at my son's community soccer team practices. I sat next to her one afternoon and simply asked, "What country is your family originally from?" This question is less offensive than one that assumes they recently came from another country. People from other cultures living in our Western cities are often citizens, so it's best not to assume otherwise. However, their cultural ties to their families' countries of origin are often strong and fresh. This particular soccer mom had moved to America from China to birth her second child, since, at that time, the Chinese government only allowed one child per family. During those soccer practices, I learned more about her family, her culture, and the way her atheist beliefs mixed with ancestor worship. After one of our soccer games, she took me to what she called "the most authentic Chinese restaurant in town," and I tried cold duck and salt seaweed for the first time.
We can also take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself — or that God arranges when we pray for it. My husband and I bought a used car from an ad on the internet one time and, by chance, we bought it from an international student. As we exchanged the keys and a check, I asked, "Have you ever been in an American home before? Why don't you come over for dinner sometime?" The student came the next weekend, brought friends, and stayed until midnight, playing songs on our guitar with our children singing along, showing our whole family photos of his country, and even calling his family back home to say hello to us.
After we get some experience realizing how receptive people from other cultures are to conversations with a stranger, we can try approaching people we see on the street, in the grocery store, or anywhere, and saying hello to them. When I see a woman wearing a head covering or a hijab, I know she's used to getting stares, frowns, or being ignored, as if she's invisible. A simple greeting in Arabic, "Assalamualaikum" (Ah-sah-lah-mu-ah-lay-coom), usually starts a lively conversation with lots of smiles and welcome. Once, at church, a woman dressed in a traditional Indian sari showed up with her family. My husband and I greeted them with hands folded to our chests in a prayer style and, with bows and smiles, said, "Hello! Namaste!" They brightened, and we talked about our mutual interest in India. We ended up at their house for dinner that night, meeting all their extended family at a birthday party they happened to be hosting. It's good to get educated on universal greetings and use them in obvious situations. People always appreciate that you're trying to create bridges and show interest in them.