I sat on a flight that lasted roughly 12 hours, had a few hours to kill in an airport and tried not to fall asleep, and then another short flight later. I arrived in our base country bubbling with excitement. I kept peering out of the taxi window and commenting on how pretty all of the buildings were to my coworker. I was immediately enraptured.
That first night I slept like a baby and woke up refreshed, ready to take on Asia. I went out, had a local noodle dish, then went to walk around the city to explore with one of our students. Not 10 minutes into our walk, we were approached by a small hoard of people who had all pulled out their cameras and were grinning from ear to ear. I looked to the student I was walking with who had already been in the country for over a month and she just laughed,
“It’s ok, this happens all the time.”
“What? What is happening?”
I reluctantly approached them only to be grabbed by one woman who took hold of me so hard I actually fell over. Before I knew what was happening I was squished between about 15 people who were all smiling, holding up peace signs, and posing for a camera. I smiled and went along with it, trying to communicate in broken English with the one man in the group who spoke something other than the local language. Amongst a lot of awkward head nods and smiling he asked me if I was having fun.
“Yes!” I told him, “It is so beautiful here, I love it.”
“Good,” he replied, nodding solemnly. “Good.”
I could tell how much my positive answer meant to him. I could tell how much just my presence meant to all of them. “We are glad you chose this country,” the man told me at one point. I didn’t think much of it at the time, to be honest I didn’t choose the country, I just went where my job sent me, but that didn’t matter. The people there were so open and happy to see foreigners and interact with us. They were honored we chose to be there.
Honor in that culture means so much. Things like a head nod, a greeting, eye contact, and saying “thank you” carry so much weight. People in that culture are intentional with every interaction they have with other people. It’s the little things that mean the most.
What those people taking my picture didn’t know was how much I wanted to respect them and their culture there, all because of how much I believe in a Man who has the power to change them for the better. Not their traditions and way of life, but a deep heart change. But in that moment, the fact that I loved their country, loved being there, and loved them by extension, was enough. That’s how it all begins, after all.