Sometimes I long for God to send us somewhere–somewhere other than here. I have this idea that ministering to the nations is ministering far away. How often do I consider that I am part of the nations that Jesus spoke of. That my children are the nations. That if Jesus or Paul or the apostles saw us (as yet unconverted), we’d be some of the most foreign, needy, weird people they’d ever encountered.
I find I can sentimentalize just about anything, from special needs to far away places to the actual people who live in those far away places. It’s easy for me to love the people I barely know and the places I’ve barely been. In my high school years, I traveled to Mexico City, Mexico four times to come alongside some missionaries who’d been there for over 20 years. We helped put on camps and Vacation Bible school and built relationships. What’s interesting is how much more sentimental and glowing it was after going once than after going four times. After four times, I was more invested and less enthusiastic. I was less “in love” with the people and more just learning to like them, having discovered they were just like all people everywhere: containing strengths and weaknesses, warts and beauty.
I suppose that’s true in all our relationships. The beginning of love is always a whirlwind of emotions and ignorance, not without some foundations, but still, it’s irrational and causes us to say and do things a clear head might forgo.
I turned 36 this month, which means I’ve now lived in Minnesota almost as long as I’ve lived anywhere. I moved here when I was 18 for college and, minus two summers in Iowa, I’ve been here ever since.
When I first got here, I loved so much about it: access to the arts, museums, people who cared about education, people who worked hard, better roads, a theologically rich church. But eventually this wore thin as I discovered what seemed like giant barriers to developing relationships with people. For a state known for its Minnesota Nice, I felt like I searched in vain to find it.
To me it seemed more like Minnesota Passive Aggressive, or, Minnesota: Cold Weather and Cold Shoulders, or, Minnesota: Good Luck Trying to Figure Out What We Really Think, or, Minnesota: Refuge for Introverts and Others Opposed to Making Eye Contact. I know this isn’t everyone’s experience and probably says as much about me as anything. I can think of a few less-than-lovely tag lines for myself as well: AntiMinnesota: Ready, Fire, Aim Conversation Starters, or, AntiMinnesota: Adventures in Awkward Oversharing.
The thing is people are people. They’re unique in their strengths and weaknesses and it’s always by the grace of God that we grow in real love (not hype or ignorance) for people who are different than us. After eighteen years here, I can say that God has grown in me a deep love and loyalty for this people group. The nice people group. The can’t-make-eye-contact people group. The group with the strong opinions that they’re afraid to let out. I’m pretty sure I’ve started adopting quite a few of their ways. And I can say that I’ve been well-loved by this people. They endure those of us who say too much, too fast. They hang in there with people like me, who seem to have never met a thought that they didn’t feel the need to express.
I’m SO thankful for those who’ve left home and country to go to the faraway nations. Those who are laboring in places where Christian churches are rare or absent, who are upending everything to take the Gospel and plant it in soil where it hasn’t taken root. Those who are staying long enough to actually know that the people they are there to love are no easier to love than any other people. It is a high calling and I want to do everything I can to support them and affirm that what they’re doing is massively important and essential and set apart.
And for as long as God has me here, I want to look around at this people: the MN Nice people, the melting pot of the Twin Cities, and love the heck out of them, dontcha know.