I often feel awkward to be an American as I travel internationally. There are at least three common scenarios that I lack wisdom and/or cross-cultural communication skills to smoothly navigate.
First, sometimes people expect me to defend the American government’s foreign policy. This is awkward because often I don’t understand it myself and I know political conversations are not helpful in light of my larger agenda. Specifically at this time, do I have an obligation to explain the US policy and actions regarding Syria?
Second, sometimes people assume I am much wealthier than I am. In Africa I generally control more material wealth than the people I meet. However, it is not true that I have unlimited funds. For example, it might be hard for them to accept that I have a strict budget that probably does not include expensive purchases or financial assistance for their ill or injured family member. How do I balance my relative greater wealth with my need to stick to a budget?
Third, some people see me as a means to increased opportunities. It is no secret that there are more freedom and opportunities to build personal wealth in the US than in much of Africa. Adventurous young people are particularly interested in finding a way to get to this “land of opportunity.” When they meet me, it is reasonable for them to wonder if I can help them. How do I convince people that I don’t have connections or knowledge that will help them come to America?
In about 48 hours Nancy and I leave to spend a month in Zimbabwe. Our hope is that we will be seen more as representing Jesus Christ than as Americans as we encourage the people we meet by sharing our experience and knowledge about teaching children and leading organizations. Our travel itinerary takes us through an airport in the Middle East. I hope that the international events that appear to be unfolding at this time will not become a distraction from the contribution we hope to make.