Sunday, October 26, 2014

The three things that make a "good foreigner"

Someone I know went off recently about Westerners (mostly missionaries) who come to Indonesia, saying that he wishes many of them would just go home, with a caveat that there are a few who do good and who should indeed be here. He speaks from a unique perspective. His parents were missionaries, so he is technically from the West, but his heart is here, and he moved back to Indonesia, became an Indonesian citizen, and married an Indonesian woman. He has feet in both worlds. I often seek his advice because of his unique perspective.

I messaged him and asked him what, from his perspective, made the difference between those that he wished would go home and the "good ones". He said three things that I will summarize as I remember them.

1. Genuine relationships and involvement in the local community
2. Generosity
3. Morality/Integrity

This came up in my language school a couple of weeks back as well. We had completed an assignment that involved asking our Indonesian friends what the general perceptions of the community were towards various types of Westerners and their lifestyles. It unearthed some surprising resentments towards particular countries, but beyond that I was surprised to find that my friends responded to questions about the lifestyle of Westerners by saying that they really didn't care if the Westerners lived in nice houses or were wealthy. What mattered was what KIND of wealthy person they were. Were they building relationships locally? Were they generously giving to the neighborhood needs, above and beyond what the average citizen gives? Were they friendly?

When I reported these conversations in class my instructor became very serious and put aside his "Indonesian teacher" hat for a moment to give advice. He said that he wouldn't advise us to try to live in relative "poverty" in order to be like those around us. Like it or not, we will be seen as wealthy, no matter what type of house/car/motorcycle we choose to drive. Our heart and attitude matters much more. He gave an example from within the culture of two types of wealthy Indonesians. One who would drive through the neighborhood in his car and roll down the window and stop to talk to neighbors, and would give above and beyond at weddings/funerals and to those he employed. He would still shop from local shops instead of only at the big grocery store downtown, and would still eat at the roadside food stands instead of just at night restaurants. On the other hand, a man who came into wealth and so perceived himself as better than everyone else, putting a fence around his house to separate him from his neighbors and guard his stuff, and only eating and shopping far from his neighborhood - he is stuck up and unappreciated.

I told my instructor about the three points given to me above and he emphatically agreed and asked me to write them out and send them to him so that future students could benefit. I thought I'd post here as well. It's ironic to me that in the US before coming there was so much said about your vision and effectiveness, when it seems that perhaps the most core things are very simple things that (in my opinion) flow naturally out of the core principles of the life of a Christian. Love God, love others.

It does take reevaluating my life weekly to see if I am living this way, because as simple as it is, sheltering oneself, hiding away... that is actually all too easy. But learning to love and live deeply in a community - that is my goal.


Melissa said...

so interesting. i'm realizing the part about generosity is definitely true in China too, and i need to think about that more.

Kacie said...

Yes. I told my instructor that I think we often make mistakes in that area in particular in a well-meaning way. We have been taught not to create dependency, and that is a real thing to be aware of. However because of that we want to just be average, pay a normal wage, pay the usual price.

Both from these discussions and from my reading of scripture right now, I'm thinking we're getting off track here a bit and becoming afraid of generosity.