Xenophobia - noun.
Definition: an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange.
This is a difficult post to write.
As you know, Josh has not wanted to participate in vacation bible school this week, but he has! He has sang the songs, done the crafts, listened intently to the stories. He has done everything I have asked... and more. We have pulled back from Sunday School and kids things the last few months because of how uncomfortable the kids were. Jameson came home several weeks in a row in tears over the subject matter - ie: AIDS, orphans in Africa and hunger... (Duh). I thought VBS would be good because of how easy they make the salvation plan, and I thought it would be a good short term goal for them to attend. I thought this would be a safe place for them.
Today during the large assembly with ALL of the kids in our church, one of the children's directors was explaining that we are collecting soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and deodorant for the international students at MSU. We are doing this because, according to her, some people from foreign countries don't have good hygiene and don't know how to keep themselves clean. I felt Josh's back stiffen as soon as she said it. And it wasn't just once. It was said several times. And it was all about people from foreign countries. I think the final straw was, "Would you want to sit next to someone who didn't know how to brush their teeth?"
I was completely overwhelmed by the superiority of these statements. We think we're so much better than people of other countries because we use deodorant? In fact, most people from foreign countries find our perfumed up, cologned up, sanitized, soapy smells to be disgusting. Once I heard the reference to brushing your teeth, I started thinking about Josh's teeth when he gives you that huge toothy grin. He has the cleanest, best, whitest teeth of anyone I know. The first time we took them to the doctor, the doctor said, "Wow, he needs to teach the other kids how to brush."
When it was time to move to the next area, when we filed into the pews, the pew became full, so Josh went to the next pew, and no one would sit next to him. Then the next pew filled completely with children. So Josh sat completely by himself in the pew. I was behind all of the kids, or I would have done a better job at directing them. I sat next to him as did the older helper for the class, but none of his peers would sit next to him. I could feel my blood start to boil as I sat there. Self-righteous. Fake. Ignorant.
During my break, I went to the head children's director and as soon as I uttered the words, "I need to talk to you," I was suddenly unable to speak. I was so overwhelmed with tears that I'm sure she couldn't even understand what I was saying. It makes me so angry that I cry when I'm mad... and then I get even madder and it makes me cry even harder. So I spent most of the morning as a blubbering idiot.
Once I was finally able to make more than just a groaning noise, I explained that it's not OK to overgeneralize like that. We are trying to get Josh involved in church and to make good Christian friends, and when things like that are said, it just makes everything worse. I explained that EVERYONE must be completely aware of what they say. The woman who said it didn't say it out of spite or even prejudice. She said it out of ignorance. She said, "Well, I didn't even think about him being from a foreign country. He's been here like 6 months." I had to explain that he still thinks of himself as an Ethiopian. His family is there. His friends are there. His history is there. His pride is there. There is never going to be a time when he won't know and feel that he is Ethiopian. I want him to feel pride about his country. I want him to remember. I want him to feel that ethnic pride. It's important to him.
I cannot express how important it is to educate your children with an appropriate worldview. I cannot express how important it is to REALLY live like Jesus would want us to. Our children are going in and out of VBS making crafts and having fun with their friends, but do they really get it? Do they stop and try to befriend the new kid? Would they "have dinner with the taxpayer?" Do they really do what Jesus would do?
As soon as we left the church, I drove to Julie's for an ear and a shoulder and a lot more tears. (Julie's baby was in the same orphanage with ours; she met our kids before we did!) Julie gets it. She understands. Although her baby is small and she's not had to deal with much of this, she still gets it. She understands. She's been there. She's often able to make me laugh and talk me off of the bell tower. What came of this discussion was the fact that so many people don't get it. So many people don't understand, misunderstand or just don't think before they speak. It brought up a lot of questions.
The question becomes: Do we look for another church? Somewhere downtown or midtown where WE would be the minority? Is it fair to the kids to be the only dark skinned kids in the church? (Or close to it... 2 of maybe 6?) Or do we make this our mission? Is it our mission to educate everyone in this white, middle class, Midwest city what it's like to be adopted from a foreign country? Is it our mission to help these kids learn how to really be like Jesus? It is our mission to help make people understand? Is that an impossible mission?
One good thing that came out of this... and perhaps that was what God's plan was all along... I knew in that moment that I was their mother. Not in an intellectual way.... I have obviously known that for quite some time. But in my heart, I knew I would do anything to protect them. When they hurt, I hurt. I think I needed to be reminded of that, and boy was I ever reminded. I felt like someone had tore out my heart as I watched my boy sit there by himself. I felt my heart pound, and I felt the mama bear come out in me. Watch out when mama bear comes out!