Life among the pagodas
“I had found people as different from me as the night is from the day. What I didn’t know then was that the seeds of my own blindness were orchestrating my thoughts. For, of course, in viewing our differences, I thought I was the sun and they were the darkness.”
I wanted to take a moment to praise a book I recently read, in hopes that some of you who are looking for a good read might check it out. D.L. Mayfield writes from her experiences working and living among refugees in underprivileged communities throughout the U.S., particularly in the Portland, OR area. Even though she writes as someone based in the states, I found Assimilate or Go Home to be full of parallels to our life and cultural experiences over here in Southeast Asia.
Moreover, the book was packed with the author’s raw and convicting reflections, and I found her honesty, humility and persistent questioning so refreshing. A great deal of this book challenged me to reflect on many things: upon my own tendencies to want to be the hero in my own narrative; how my own desire to be thanked for the little gifts I give my neighbors is really just greed on my part; on the self-serving and destructive nature of some missions work.
I could go on about these issues, but D.L. already wrote this book in order to discuss them, so I will stop here! If you want a little window into refugee life in North America, and a window into some of the injustices and weaknesses we struggle with and grieve over on a daily basis in our life here, I would encourage you to check out Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith. If I could, I would make this mandatory reading for every summer camp counselor and short term missions group out there.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book, if you aren’t already compelled to get yourself a copy. 🙂
On short-term missions projects:
“We, the do-gooders, stay for a short while, because we crave the knowledge that we have done something of value in the world. And we leave before we have a chance to see how poor in relationships we really are.”
“If you stay long enough you will learn just enough about the brokenness of the world that you will feel completely powerless, mired in your own brokenness and doubting God more often than you care to admit.”
“Once I thought I was going to save everybody. Through Jesus’ love and homework help, art projects and good literature, the church activities and the sheer force of my goodwill. This way of framing life points to the dangerous thinking of the savior complex: I am the sun, and everybody else is just a moon.”
On racial inequality:
“That people prefer themselves and all others like them is no surprise to any of us, but I am consistently taken aback at how often we refuse to acknowledge that our systems might have the same kind of problem. Being the minority where I work and live and play has opened my eyes to the way the systems (political and religious) are intrinsically for me. This never bothered me until I realized what the converse of that equation is: those systems are actively against others.”
“I am starting to understand how unwell I have been all this time. …as it turns out, I am exactly the kind of person Jesus came for. He can only heal us once we figure out that we can’t be of any use at all.”
“I went from feeling like an expert to a saint to finally nursing the belief that I was a complete and utter fraud and failure, and this was the best thing that ever happened to me. It’s the only way I could ever start to learn to be a listener.”
Mayfield writes about the illuminating experience of having a gift rejected, and another friend’s response to that rejection:
“’You expecting someone to open the door and accept your cookies is just another form of oppression. Just another person that wants something from them, is putting something on them, is expecting a certain reaction from the. Don’t do that to them,” my friend told me, no longer smiling. ‘They have had quite enough of that.’”
“… all I really ever wanted was to love on my terms, in a way that elevated me above my neighbor, distinguished me as good and holy, receiving accolades in the most humble way. All I ever wanted to do was oppress people, in the kindest way possible.”
On unrecognized ministries (things such as: playing video games with awkward adolescents, washing dishes unasked, bringing take-out to someone in the hospital, etc.):
“The older I get, the more I realize that the ministries I once thought so trivial I now think are the most radical. I have spent the past few years being stripped of anything that would make me feel lovely to God, and I came out a different person. As it turns out, I never did magically turn into one of my missionary heroes. Instead, I’m just somebody who likes to bake cakes.”
And finally, a beautiful quote that resonates with our own experiences:
“Slowly, I started to enter more fully into the world of my refugee friends. As the days and months blended into years, I experienced strange paradoxes. The more I failed to communicate the love of God to my friends, the more I experienced it for myself. The more overwhelmed I felt as I became involved in the myriad of problems facing my friends who experience poverty in America, the less pressure I felt to attain success or wealth or prestige. And the more my world started to expand at my periphery, the more it became clear that life was more beautiful and more terrible than I had been told.”