‘Where do you come from?’
That’s a question that offends some people. I recently read an article on this topic which made me think: should I change my approach when I meet people from other lands?
Our church has many migrants and refugees who add a richness to our congregation. They’re so friendly, and considering the terrible experiences many of them have endured in their home countries, they’re always kind to me, especially when I can’t pronounce their names! I try to get to know the new people, but am I guilty of hurting them with my questions in an effort to be welcoming? I’m fascinated by the lives they’ve left behind, and interested in the ones they’re leading now. What challenges they face! Experiences I’ve never known.
But does this question, ‘Where do you come from?’, as someone in the article complained, make them feel I’m implying they have no right to be in our country? I certainly don’t mean to. I’m thinking of this because last Sunday night, we had one of our church Culture Nights and the Sri Lankan families shared their history, their culture, their worship, and their faith in God. They sang Christmas carols in their own language…and in ours too! The tunes were mostly the same so we Aussies didn’t feel left-out!
After the songs and the beautiful dances, one of the men preached on ‘Identity’. He said he’s lived in Australia for many years, but is still a Sri Lankan. When he was a boy, his parents made sure he was well educated. He joked that he went to the same school as another man in our church, plus a couple of others there who’d attended different schools, and how there was such rivalry between them, especially in cricket!
So he still has his own culture. But then he explained that he will leave it behind one day, and the new culture God’s given him will last forever. It’s one that we all share in the church. So far, I’ve never been rebuffed by anyone when I’ve asked that question, but I need to be aware that their view of it might be different to mine.
I remember standing by my mother’s bed when a young doctor examined her. She asked him, ‘Where do you come from?’ I watched his face as he hesitated and then replied in his Aussie accent, ‘I was born in Australia, but my parents came from China’. I had a feeling he’d been asked that question many times! My mother wasn’t being racist, as some people might think; she was interested in him. She was more focussed on the other question that goes with it: “Where are you going?’ She was thinking about the eternal culture, not the one that would pass away. That was Mum’s first priority!
So my aim is to consider how the other person feels when I ask, ‘Where do you come from?’ Should I tackle the situation differently, or should I ask it at all?
Many years ago, there was a man who was asked this question by people whose minds were already made up about his origins. His name was Jesus and he’d been born in an animal food trough. His interrogators probably didn’t know that fact, neither did they care. They were out to kill him and he knew it.
If we think about Jesus at this Christmas time, amid all the busy festivities, even in places where he’s still hated, can we ask him the same question? And will we believe his answer? What do you think it will be?