The dust gathered around us like a cloud and tears glistened in my daughter Madi's eyes. This was our last day in a poor fishing village, wrapping up our ten-day mission trip to Cambodia. We'd been warned about taking a ten year old on a trip like this - out of the country, out of our comfort zone. Questions about how she'd handle the long flight, the food, the new culture, the "squatty potty", but we felt a certain peace that we were doing the right thing. And on this last day in the village we'd all fallen in love with, I'd never been more sure of our decision to take her - honestly, even I was shocked by how exceptionally well she did.
The language was a definite obstacle for the adults to overcome, but within minutes Madi was laughing and playing with children she'd never met and could not say one word to. Within the first day she had a best friend for the week and her ability to play with and enjoy the children only grew with time. Little did she know that just a few days later, she would she pack up memories of her time with these precious children from half-way across the world, complete with nick-names and inside jokes. To say that she left the village with stronger one-on-one relationships than I did is an understatement. Although I, too, fell in love with the beautiful people and had my own tears as we pulled away, I found myself constantly frustrated by the hurdle of language. I wanted to say so much, but could communicate so little. No doubt the people of this village saw and felt our love and the Gospel was clearly spoken through our translators, but leave me alone with the locals and I felt naked. Smile and nod, smile and nod….that was my routine.
Kids are different, though. They refuse to stand around looking at each other, smiling and nodding. They jump right in and get to the point: forget what's different, what's the same? This is the essence of the Cambodian phrase, "Same Same, Different" - we may look different, but under it all we're really the same. What was harder for an adult to see was easy through a child's lens. This much was true when my daughter was asked how she thought these people were different than folks back home. She paused and said, "I don't know. They're kids and they love to play games with me." I must admit, at first my "mother alarm" was going crazy…Seriously? Are your eyes even open? These kids are living in the very center of poverty in a third world country. They've never tasted Chic Fil A, and you don't see anything different? (Thankfully, I held my tongue and didn't share these thoughts!) Through further conversation it became evident that, yes, she noticed the stark differences between her reality and theirs, but that wasn't what she was capitalizing on. Amid the dust, the hunger, the nakedness and the language difference, my girl saw kids who wanted to laugh and play. She wasn't side-tracked by schedules or hand-sanitizer, she was making friends and sharing Jesus with her smile and her hugs.
On our last day, she and I were invited into the home of her newfound BFF, and I took Madi's lead as I looked into the eyes of her friend's mother and I looked for similarities Photos on the wall, a baby on her lap, a sweet banana treat shared between us- the essence of being a mother, we were similar indeed. And as we stood watching our girls hug good-bye for the 18th time, tears pooled in both of our eyes… Same same, different.
This is the heartbeat of missions, whether it is across the world or around the corner. Instead of focusing on all that is different - and let's be honest, that reality is usually glaring - a look at what is the same will knit our hearts faster and more sincerely. When we approach missions with the mindset that we are here only because we have something great to offer, we set up an immediate "us and them" mentality. Many will still be able to do good work for the kingdom but will not be easily able to break the tension between missionary and friend. It will be difficult for those we are reaching to ever see us in the same light as themselves; we put up a barrier, difficult to remove. However, when we approach the same work, with the same things to offer but seek to humanize and familiarize ourselves those we are serving, we make it possible to cross that bridge in our own hearts and in theirs.
What about you? Who is in your life at this moment that you need to see through a new lens? Have you been so focused on all that is different that you find it hard to relate to her at all? Whether it's in the realm of women's ministry, missions or your next-door-neighbor, let's take a lesson from our Cambodian friends and look for the "same same, different".