Physical and Spiritual Ambassadors

P1060419Two years ago I spent the summer in India interning for a nonprofit organization called Educate Girls. One of my responsibilities was spending a few afternoons each week at a nearby upper primary school with a classroom of girls. They shared words in Hindi with me, I helped them practice their English, they drew pictures of their world, and I showed them pictures of my family and home.

My first day at the school, a teacher from the school for boys came and helped introduce me to the girls. He directed each of them to stand up and tell me about themselves. Some of them danced or sang traditional songs. They taught me one of their favorite dances and we danced together. They were all very shy that first day, full of high-pitched laughter, nervous to have a different teacher and me watching them suddenly.

The teacher asked me about myself and he translated for the girls as needed. He let them ask questions to me, so I told them about my parents and my sister, my education, what kind of animals and plants I had near my house, what the weather was like where I lived . . . They asked me to sing a song, so I sang part of “And So It Goes,” by Billy Joel. Mostly it seemed silly, that I that was simply sharing a few aspects of myself so that the girls would start to feel more comfortable around me.

But then when we were almost ready to leave, the male teacher said to me: “Now I know why America is a great and developed country. Everything you did today was beautiful. Your song was beautiful, your dance beautiful. You spoke and smiled with grace. America is filled with people like you, and that is why it is successful.”

At the time I just thanked him and left. But I thought about what he said for a long time after that. I realized I felt somewhat angry at the fact that he judged the way I spoke and sang as important or telling elements of who I am, never mind important reasons why America is a blessed country. The things he valued were not what I valued highly of myself. And I felt embarrassed at the idea of being watched so carefully.

But I began to think that the more significant thing to learn from our interaction is that I had underestimated the power of being an ambassador. I was in a rural town of Rajasthan, a desert area in the northwest of India, and the people there only rarely come into contact with travelers. Everything they saw of me magnified into something rare and crucial, because it was all they knew of a different world. So my responsibility was much greater than I had imagined; everything I said or did mattered.

This is how we should think about our spiritual lives. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says that we are ambassadors for Christ. As such, even though we are living now  in this world, everything we say and do should reflect our spiritual citizenship. Philippians 3:20 and Colossians 1:13 explain that we have been already transferred into the kingdom of Christ, that we are already living under that authority. Because we know that to be true, everything we say and do does matter. We are even now examples and ambassadors of God’s kingdom to the rest of the world.

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4 thoughts on “Physical and Spiritual Ambassadors

  1. Thanks for sharing the lovely story – but seriously I am glad you did present yourself that way. The lovely things he saw may be surface to you but there is also lovely deep within and maybe he saw that as likely. He saw the potential that even more was lovely. That is the work of an Ambassador.

  2. I appreciate learning more about your India(n) summer. Has it already been nearly two years?

    Interesting to me is the power of both a single and seemingly superficial encounter. But, most of us also have the opportunity/responsibility to be ambassadors in residence. Providing an ongoing example of integrity, grace, or diligence is another way to serve Christ. Keeping up the good work is its own challenge–less uncomfortable than the example you cite, but requiring consistent citizenship and faithful endurance.

  3. Wow that’s a cool story. Like you said, the people you encountered hardly ever saw Americans because it was such a rural area. Therefore, what you did really mattered – they had nothing else to compare. And our job as ambassadors of Christ is especially similar in the fact that there are so few of us. The great majority of people in the world, if they ever meet one of us, will only meet one, once. That’s a good kind of pressure!

  4. Kind of insightful in the light of Luke 4:24, “no prophet is accepted in his own land”. To go somewhere completely new and remote, and to meet people you have never met, makes it somewhat easier, but no less important, to represent yourself well. I think it speaks greatly to the idea that, especially with brethren who we’ve walked with a long time, it is important to show grace towards them and always give them the opportunity to put their best foot forward, regardless of their behavior at certain times when they were not at their best, so to speak. Really hard to do, but I think that is where contentions between people often arise in local communities and in our “homeland”. It’s also a powerful reminder to put our best foot forward wherever you are, seeing that we are supposed to be ambassadors for Christ wherever we are.

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