“If you go to there, you’ll be the first brown missionary they’ve ever seen,” warned one missionary to me as I prepared to serve God in South Asia. I laughed at those words, not knowing how much they would affect my daily life when I moved to Asia in January 2017. Being of African descent is already a huge rarity in the “missionary world” and even more so being a Caribbean. I quite frequently hear statements and questions such as:
“You’re from the Caribbean? Is that in Africa?”
“Trinidad? Ahhh… you’re from Canada!”
“Are you from America?”
“I’ve never heard of the Caribbean.”
“You said you’re from the West Indies? Yes, I know the West Indies cricket team.”
Based on past experiences, I’ve learnt that it’s quite common for people from the eastern part of the world to know little, if anything, about the Caribbean. Maybe it’s because they haven’t met many people from that side of the world, or maybe our group of islands are too small and far away to commit to memory. Either way, my nationality is unknown in South Asia, but very known by God as He uses it in creative ways for His glory.
Once I get past the “this is where my country is located” explanation, the next major topic of discussion is my tightly curled, very thick hair, and how my dark skin and physical features are nothing like they’ve seen before. The hair comments usually go like this:
“Your hair is so beautiful. Is it yours?”
“Which beauty shop did you go to get your hair so curly? It can’t be natural.”
“That’s not her hair. It’s a hat.”
“Can I touch your hair? It looks like a flower.”
“Look at her hair, it’s so short, but so big.”
“If you (insert remedy here), you will get very long and straight hair like mine.”
At first, these encounters were very awkward and uncomfortable for me. Many times, people would touch my hair without asking or try to inspect every curl. Though it was surprising for me, I knew that everything they did was out of curiosity and innocent interest. Every day I was the centre of attention on buses, the streets and almost everywhere I went. As people scanned me up and down, their eyes usually stuck on my hair. This is very funny for me because in the Caribbean and other western countries, my hair is quite normal and doesn’t have much of the “superstar” or “so beautiful” impact like in Asia. It took me awhile to figure out how to explain my physical features and passport country to others because I had never had to explain them before.
Over time, as I became comfortable with the discomfort, I enjoyed explaining my hair to people and how far away my home country is from theirs. I started using the stares and shy smiles as an opportunity to share the Gospel and build relationships. I sit sometimes for one or two hours, at first explaining who I am, before putting the spotlight on God and His amazing grace. Usually people here love hearing about foreign cultures and people, so it’s an easy open door to intentionally know and love them.
I thank God that though we are all different ethnicities and nationalities He uses it all for His glory if we allow Him to. When we chose to put the focus on Him we move away from asking, “Why me?” to asking, “Can you please use me more?” Since I started serving God in a different culture I have learnt that every situation: good, bad or indifferent, is for His glory.
Originally published at OM; reprinted with permission
Ava, from the Caribbean, hates to write, but loves having written; therefore she is compelled to write and be God’s voice of power through the written word. She loves to plan for the future, while reminiscing on the past, over a hot cup of tea and a delicious meal.