“When words failed us, we took action”
In this last chapter, so superbly titled “Speaking Faith as a second language”, Peterson describes the process of living in another country and having her views of both English, and her Christianity challenged and enlightened. Cross-cultural experiences do have the common ability to bring us to the very central core of what we really believe. I love how Peterson relates this to faith, and the necessary deconstruction we all require when raised in a monolithic experience.
It is the holiday season, and this section seems very applicable to those of us in pluralistic societies. We don’t need to fear interactions with people from other faiths or worry that our religion is not being celebrated in retail stores–instead, we can see the crystallizing and clarifying purpose of people forced to live and walk out your beliefs without the benefit of them being unchallenged and upheld as the cultural norm. It can help us, for instance, learn how to celebrate Christmas as followers of Christ, instead of as Americans.
In this last chapter, Peterson makes a point that is profound and relevant: “Letting go of the ownership of the language of faith meant recognizing that I could only speak of it as a second, or learned, language.” For all of us do-gooders, failed missionaries, short-termers, helpers, and teachers–this is the most important lesson we will ever learn. None of us has a lock on the mysteries of God, and there is a reason that heaven will include people from every tribe and tongue. We need our brothers and sisters from around the world in order to begin to see a fuller picture of God here on earth.
Peterson ends the book with an epilogue that contains a palpable sense of both belovedness and a lingering set of unanswered questions. Her story ends in a remarkably familiar fashion to any of us who have experienced a transformative event, when we have both been stripped down and built up by the same people and places. I’m so grateful for this hybrid of memoir/narrative nonfiction that teaches even as it compels us with a poignant story of conversion(s).
Questions for discussion
I appreciated how valuable Peterson found reading the Bible with people who have never read it–this has also been something that has strengthened my faith in incredible ways (for another book on this topic, I encourage you to check out Bob Ekblad’s book Reading the Bible with the Damned). Have you ever had this experience?
In the epilogue, Amy and Jack have a discussion about whether or not working in a school for rich white students is as satisfying or as important as the work they did in SE Asia. Amy says “there is no hierarchy of vocation.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
Peterson also gives advice for those going on short-term mission trips. What advice would you give to someone who wants to go out and save the world?
Thank you to everyone who read along with us! I loved the discussions. Don’t forget–today is the last day to submit your questions for the Q and A we will have with Amy Peterson next week!
Catch up on previous entries here: