America, Meet the World

by Chris Lautsbaugh on March 18, 2016

Hello America. Meet the Rest of the World.

Note: This is not a political post but one of identification.

The closer we get to the election in the United States, the more comments, eye rolling, and jokes I am hearing as an American living overseas.

My journey as an American in missions has spanned over 25 years. When I began, everyone loved and warmly welcomed Americans. I can remember being in the Philippines and everyone shouted, “Hey Joe” at me, referring to G.I. Joe. It was with warmth and not derision.

The looks of disbelief started with the war in the Balkans and increased with the invasion of Iraq.

Upon moving to South Africa under Bush II, I often wished I could change my accent. Things improved remarkably over the last eight years under Obama. His African roots may have had something to do with this.

I will never forget Barack Obama’s first inauguration, which aired live on local television in South Africa. I stood next to multiple nationalities of people who were stunned to witness the peaceful transition of power. Many of their nations changes leaders with bullets and violence, not handshakes and civil exchanges.

As this election approaches, I feel like the 8 years of goodwill is up and I can once again expect ridicule as the circus of the coming election unfolds.

Africans are constantly commenting in my Facebook feed about what they are witnessing. Here is one recent comment:

_”Just love watching the American politics at the moment. Making South African politics look good. Is Donald Trump the Julius (Malema) of America?_”  (Just so you know, most South Africans would consider Julius to be a disruptor and not a positive influence. But it shows the world is watching! )

One constant thought has been running through my mind. This helps me identify with the pain of other nations. I do realize my understanding is still very limited.

The pinprick of pain I feel from the current madness is nothing compared to the agony many nations have been under for years.

While dysfunction is now the rule in America, I’ve never been faced with a dictator or tyrant leading my nation. While there are many inspiring leaders in Africa, her people have also witnessed genocides or imposed famines.

Voting in America is still a choice which is not forced through threat or intimidation.

The pain of a nation does not disappear quickly. I still see German youth cringe when Hitler or Nazism is mentioned. Even after multiple generations, the decisions a nation makes can have a lasting effect.

I have very good friends from Zimbabwe. For years, whenever a bad leader was mentioned, theirs was on the list. The shame of this is hard, even though it is no fault of their own.

It is the strength I see in these people which well help me to endure the jokes and mocking which is sure to follow the current circus in the United States.

In a small, very small, way I feel I am identifying more with my international friends from nations with really bad leaders.


Note: Since this is a post about identification and not politics, I ask that you refrain from leaving political comments and only discuss the issue of identification. Thank you.

Photo credit: indifference via photopin (license)

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About Chris Lautsbaugh

In missions for 20+ years currently in South Africa as a teacher and leadership coach. He serves side by side with wife, Lindsey, and two boys, Garett and Thabo. Blogs at on grace, leadership, and missions. Wrote Death of the Modern SuperHero:How Grace Breaks our Rules.
  • Elizabeth Trotter

    The thoughts stirred in me here are not *exactly* political, nor are they thoughts of identification. I think what this election has shown me is that there are still race problems in America. I grew up in the U.S. Army, which was very diverse. My classmates were of Asian, Caucasian, Latin American, Pacific Islander, and African descent. I thought it was normal to be among so many different lineages, and since I was only a child, my impression was that we were all equal together. (Although I now know my impression wasn’t completely accurate, as there were definitely different ranks among our parents. Though again, I think it’s important to note that in many nations throughout history, military service has been an equalizer of sorts.)

    Anyway, getting out of the Army led us to a place where there wasn’t a lot of racial diversity, but I still carried with me those ideas of equality I learned in the Army. And I sometimes still project those idealistic ideas onto other people, assuming they will think like me. This election is shattering my illusions and showing me that America most definitely still has a race problem. And that is sad to me, because I grew up in a sector of American society where I thought everything was peachy regarding race — though again that was just through a child’s eyes. So like I said, not exactly political, because it’s not about a specific candidate, but kind of political because it’s about racism — but also kind of kingdom-oriented too, because racism is a problem for people in the Scriptures too.

    Also I really understand what you’re saying about an American identity being good in some places and not in others. I happen to be in a place where it’s “good” — though I have no comprehension why, because America did some really bad things in my area of world in the last half-century. But I’ve talked with other people in my organization who are in countries where it’s NOT good to be an American, and that can be really hard, both personally and for the work they are trying to do.

    Thanks for bringing up these difficult topics Chris!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      I should probably add that the last several years of American news have also shown me this gaping hole in the American national fabric, but the election showed me it’s much more widespread than even I thought.

    • I would be really interesting to hear more stories from the contributors of “what is it like to be from a certain nation where you serve?” I have an American perspective. I know my friends and neighbors have a Zimbabwean perspective that has enlightened me. I imagine a Syrian or Middle Eastern perspective in North America would be shocking to many of us.

      • Elizabeth Trotter

        One of my favorite story sets is from a couple where the husband and wife have different passport countries, and they serve in a 3rd, different, country. That host country really likes one of the couple’s passport countries, and really dislikes the other’s. It’s really funny when they tell the stories of how they are received differently in that country, especially in light of the fact that they’re married to each other!

  • MK Noname

    Sorry I am very late coming to this post.
    My wife and I are both New Zealanders and both have had considerable experience living amongst Americans. But our experiences were very different.
    My wife lived in California for about 8 years, working as a high level engineer in cutting edge research. She enjoyed the experience and made many friends easily.
    I was raised on a U.S. based missionary organisation, in the third world. As minority non U.S. citizens we were there to serve our “masters” and do the work they didn’t want to do. If we complained we were thrown out and our homes and possessions confiscated. The local people were treated badly, which made no sense (given that we were guests in a foreign country) until one listened carefully to the rascist theology that was taught in the boarding school and most seemed to embrace. It was a childhood full of physical, sexual and mental abuse.
    I wondered for decades if what I had experienced was a fair representation of the average American and came to the conclusion that it certainly wasn’t. As usual, my wife is right 😉

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