"What did you think of his last point?" asked one.
"That about race prejudice, you mean? About not thinking that because our skin is white, we're better than anyone else? To tell the truth, it seemed a bit superfluous to me. I suppose race prejudice and race pride still do exist, but not in a group like this. Why, we're practically all missionary candidates!"
"Just what I thought myself!" rejoined the first. "You'd think he'd gotten his audience mixed. But he knew he was talking to missionary candidates, all right. That's the strange part. The rest of his talk -- it was the real stuff. But that one point -- I just couldn't make it out."
"Oh, he's just fifty years out of date, that's all," commented another. "That's the way it was when he went to the field -- the imperialistic white man and the downtrodden native -- but times have changed. People wouldn't act like that now. Each race has its own culture, and its own contribution to make to enrich the culture of the world. We realize all this now. The Christian world has come a long way since he was in training. Pride of race! We're more likely to be ashamed of our race, if he only knew it. Look at the state the world's in -- all trouble stirred up by the white race!"
"Some of those old missionaries were imperialistic, all right!" A slight, blond youth joined the conversation. "You should hear some of the tales my father tells! Ordering the native people around as if they were slaves! Such cases were few and far between, of course. But, you know, I don't think that's the sort of thing he was driving at. Times may change, but not the human heart. Pride is just as easy a sin to fall into as it ever was. Thinking that we're better than someone else -- it may not be because of our race, but merely because the other fellow is poor or uneducated -- we can't just dismiss it and say, 'I'm in no danger of that.'"
"Well, perhaps there's something -- "
"Aw, just because you grew up on a mission field -- "
"You know, I think -- " Several began to talk at once. Suddenly a gong rang, and the group scattered in all directions.
"Oh, Ann, I've been wanting to find you! A bunch of us are planning to go to Tong's for a Chinese meal. Do you want to come along?"
"Chinese meal? Dear me, I've never had one. Do you have to eat with chopsticks? Don't they serve you rats and mice and all sorts of horrible things?"
"Of course not, you silly! There are the most delicious things! And you don't have to eat with chopsticks unless you want to. In fact, they always give us knives and forks unless we especially ask for chopsticks. But I adore strange ways! This will be my third time for Chinese food. We always ask for chopsticks -- it's the most fun trying to use them! Though I must admit that we usually give up halfway -- the food is so delicious and we're so hungry we have to. Then you'll come?"
"Well -- to tell the truth, I'm afraid it will be some awful stuff I can't eat."
"I'm surprised at you, Ann! You're a missionary candidate, aren't you? You'll have to get used to strange -- "
"No, but it seems so sort of uncivilized to eat with sticks, or fingers -- and all out of one dish, isn't it? Ugh!"
"Now don't be fussy! Didn't you hear that missionary talk last night? You've got to appreciate other people's ways on the mission field -- can't go around thinking your ways are best!"
"I know." Ann was suddenly very serious. "But there's only one thing about it that bothers me. What if your own ways really are best?"
* * * * *
Chopsticks, or knives and forks -- which are best? Not which are the most intriguing, or cause the most hilarity, but which really and truly are the most useful for their purpose -- that of conveying food to one's mouth in a convenient and graceful manner. Don't condemn Ann offhand. If I were to ask you this question, what answer would you give?
"Well -- really -- " you say. "After all -- " Yes. That's just it. You, and Ann, and millions more can't help realizing (or is it feeling?) that your way is best. But what about the millions in China and Japan? How would they answer the question? Did you ever stop to think that their reaction would be just as immediate, and their answer just as sure? And I think I am safe in saying that a larger proportion of them have actually tried using the other person's implements than we have.
When a group of ex-China missionaries get together at home and go to a Chinese restaurant for a meal, the first thing they do after ordering is to request that the food be served in bowls, and they be supplied with chopsticks instead of knives and forks. Why? Ask any of them. The reply you will probably get is, "Oh, it doesn't taste the same when eaten with knives and forks!" And the strange part about it is that it is really true.
"But," you say, "chopsticks are so difficult to use!" Not at all! You just need a little practice. Even knives and forks are difficult for beginners to manage. You would know that if you had watched as many beginners (adults) try to use them as I have.
"No, but you can't cut anything with them!" Of course you can't. The kitchen is the place for cutting up food. To serve a slab of meat on a plate, and expect the eater to saw off pieces with a dull knife -- it's utterly barbarous! Chinese food is properly prepared, bite-size, in the kitchen.
"Oh? But what about soup or gravy? You can't eat them with chopsticks!" Quite true; neither can you eat them with knife and fork. Chinese eat soup with a spoon, or drink it from a bowl.
"Well, chopsticks are awkward, in any case!" Awkward? What are you talking about? They are just like pincers -- you nip a bite and pick it up daintily, instead of spearing, or shoveling, as you do with a fork.
It's amazing how hard it is for an American (I won't speak for other nationalities!) to come to the place where he will appreciate the fact that the ways of people in other lands are in many cases better for them than our ways would be. If you are going to the foreign field in order to teach "the American way of life," you had better stay at home. In saying this I do not mean that Americans do not have some skills that it might be advantageous for the people on some foreign mission fields to learn. But any missionary who has the feeling that his ways of doing things are better just because they are "civilized" ways, or "American" ways, or just his own ways, is heading for trouble.
When I first went to China I thought I had no feeling of race superiority. Then an incident occurred that showed me I was not as humble as I had thought. It was at the Chinese New Year season. Chinese New Year is the time of preparing all sorts of special foods, and frequently at that time some of the Christian women would send us a bowl of this, or a plate of that. There was a neighborly feeling about it all that warmed my heart. Then one year a fairly wealthy Christian woman, who had just recently moved to our city, sent her servant over with a gift of a different kind. It was not food this time, but money. In purchasing value the amount would have been equivalent to an American dollar or two. It was the first money gift that had ever been presented to me by a Chinese.
I had always been pleased with the gifts of food, but somehow, when I saw what this gift was, I reacted strongly against it. There was something in me that rebelled. "I don't need your money!" was my instinctive reaction. Fortunately I had enough politeness left to realize that I could not refuse it without offending the giver, and so I did take it, mumbling my thanks, which I did not feel, and watched the servant depart. Then I sat down to think it out. Why did it make me so uncomfortable to accept that gift? When I finally got to the bottom of it, I decided that the real reason was that I unconsciously felt that it put me in an inferior position. Accepting a gift of food was different -- that was just neighborliness. But a small gift of money! That is normally given by a superior to an inferior -- a father to his child, a mistress to her servant, one who has sufficient for his needs to one who has not. In this case the giver did not look at it like that, of course. Money gifts were a common thing in her circle, and to her the amount was not too small. But my unconscious reaction was that I was being put in an inferior position, and this was the thing at which I rebelled. How could I, who was this woman's superior (this was my unconscious feeling), take this money, and so accept the place of being her inferior?
The position of a missionary is something like that of a teacher. He comes to tell people something that they do not know; to introduce a Friend of whom they have not heard. He certainly knows more about Christianity, academically and experimentally, than the people to whom he goes -- otherwise there would be no point in his going. He probably knows more about the world in general than the people to whom he goes. He may know better ways of living and working, even for their environment, than they do. How can a person be conscious of how much more he knows than someone else, and still not feel superior? Those among whom he works may realize that he knows much that they should learn, and may look up to him as a superior being. This makes it even harder. How can he overcome the superiority complex that comes from race, or from looking on oneself as civilized, or even just from recognizing that one has more education and experience than those among whom he works?
The first step in conquering this superiority complex is to realize that it is there. Most of us have it without realizing it. If we realize that this thing probably exists somewhere in our make-up, it will be easier to recognize it when it suddenly rears its head, as it did with me. Seeing it for what it is is the first step in conquering it. The second step, I think, is to become thoroughly acquainted with those to whom we go. Perhaps if we know more about them we will not find them so inferior. Go and live their life with them, twenty-four hours of the day. Don't just put yourself in the position of an observer, but try to do the things that they do. You will probably find that you are not as proficient in doing most of the things that they do as are their ten-year-old children! If your people are uncivilized, go into the jungle with them and try to wrest your living from the jungle -- try to find or make everything that you need. If they are civilized, but poor and backward, go into their homes, and live their lives with them. See how they grow their own food, and that without the use of modern machinery; how they grind their own grain into flour, salt or dry their own vegetables, butcher their own meat -- if they have any; how they raise cotton, pick it, card it, spin it, dye it, weave it into cloth, and make the clothes for the family without the aid of a sewing machine. And then watch them (as I often have) make beautiful embroidery for relaxation! By the time you have become really familiar with (I won't say proficient in) their way of life, I think you will have lost most of your feeling of superiority. You will no more think of them as "ignorant savages," or "those from lower cultural groups." Instead, they will just be John, and Mary, and Peter, and Paul -- or whatever their names happen to be -- real people, like you and me; real people, who are amazingly skillful in some ways, and amazingly stupid in others, just like the rest of us.
There is one more thing we need to do in conquering that superiority complex. We need to realize what a difference having Christ makes. Those to whom we minister may live in the midst of filth and disease. Their minds may be dull, and their hearts dark and full of fears. (Were our ancestors any different when Christ found them?) But see them come to the One who is the Light of the world, and watch the transformation that takes place. Then realize more deeply than ever all that you owe to Christ, and the greatness of His power in making the one who comes to Him literally "a new creation." What these people need is not a training that will educate them out of their environment. What they need is not to learn to use knives and forks instead of chopsticks or fingers. What they need is a LIFE that will transform them, and enable them to live a life of victory over sin and the Devil within their environment. This imparted life may gradually transform that environment too -- probably it will; but that is a secondary thing. There is one thing that is essential, and one alone -- the impartation of the life of Christ. It does not matter how low, how ignorant, how degraded the person is, Christ is able to transform him into someone far superior to me; and it may be that that is just what He is going to do. Who am I, a poor redeemed sinner, to look down upon anyone else? Who am I to challenge Christ's power, and refuse to believe that anyone can be made new?
* * * * *
Dear Lord, forgive me for feeling that I am superior to anyone! Open my eyes to see how deep was the pit from which I was digged! Grant that I may make myself one with the people to whom Thou art sending me, and that by faith I can see them transformed by Thy power, even before that transformation has taken place!