IT’S A DIFFERENT WORLD
I’m not a frequent international traveler but I’ve had my share of adventures in other countries, especially over the past several years. It always amazes me to see both the similarities and the differences between the cultures. People are people, no matter what language they speak, what type of food they eat, or what religion they identify with. Despite all the things that seem to segregate us from one another, inside we all have the same human needs for belonging and meaning.
As I write this I am sitting in a 4 Star hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Here the guests have come to expect nice restaurants, maid service, flat screen TV’s, warm showers, and most of all….AIR CONDITIONING! The heat here is oppressive much of the time, so the AC is a very welcomed luxury.
However, just outside the doors in this thriving city are folks existing in a much different culture. They work at the countless Thai massage parlors, drive the little taxi’s that dominate the roadways, or put up one of the countess little booths that make up the night markets which seem to be a staple of the economy. The first world amenities are only illusions for many of these simple folks that serve those that have the funds to purchase their wares or take advantage of the services they provide.
Yet one thing seems consistent across the spectrum of the masses I’ve encountered here…..there is a hunger for something more. That is evident by a visit to any of the hundreds of Buddhist temples you see around the city. The adherents bring their gifts or hard earned dollars to purchase items to present to Buddha as they seek peace and prosperity for themselves or their loved ones. It is a result of their deep hunger to find purpose and meaning…..something we all have in common.
Despite all the differences between the culture here and the one I normally find myself, I sense a common bond with the souls I’ve interacted with here. Their warm greetings and desire to serve, even for a financial gain, are not all that unfamiliar to me. Their search for understanding the deeper truths of our existence resonate with my own hunger to know God and His direction for my life. Their love for each other, especially their families, and the desire to live in safety and security emulate my highest priorities. In the end, I don’t find them much different than myself. They like different kinds of foods (some which I really don’t understand), they speak different languages, they are much braver than I would be on the local roads, and they actually don’t mind the heat and humidity – which is enough to put this old Oregon boy under the table. But beyond those exterior differences, inside they seem the same as me!
Perhaps that’s not a profound observation, but it’s in stark contrast this week in Thailand…..especially since I’ve gathered here with 1300 YMCA leaders literally from around the world who also may feel a bit out of their element in the surrounding culture. Language, food, and other such regional distinctions cannot hide the commonality of our humanity.
I believe the reason for that commonality is found in scripture. We were all created in the image of a loving God who wants only the best for us. While we have each gone our own way, that basic desire to connect with our creator and His creation is inside of each of us. In more than a sermon or two I’ve used the quote from Blaise Pascal to explain this common bond: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made know through Jesus Christ.”
Make no mistake….most of us live in different worlds! The things that distinguish us from others are undeniable. But as different as we may be, we share this innate desire to know our God, being in good relationship with others, and understand our reason for existence. I unashamedly believe that those answers are found in personal relationship with God through Jesus. But I don’t say that arrogantly. While I think I’ve found the answer in Jesus, I want to be like “one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread”. I don’t want to be condescending to those who are searching for those answers in other places……their hunger is real! I just want to point them to the only answer that will truly bring eternal satisfaction.
This week has been another of those eye-opening experiences where I have had a glimpse of the breadth of God’s creation and the endless variety of expression within humanity. At the core I believe we are all the same, despite those differences. May we all find it in our heart to love others the way God loves us….with the unconditional, never-ending, always compelling agape love Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. Crazy taxi drivers, shop merchants, YMCA staffers, Buddhist monks, or the average “Joe Nobody” from anywhere…different, but all the same!