The Uncomplicated First Step of Entering the Other's World

Suresh the Tamil Taxi Driver

Tonight I was treated to a lovely dinner at at a local Korean restaurant by a Korean friend of mine.  Our dinner party also included three Filipinos, a Japanese and one Canadian.

We split up and took a cab home. I sat in front next to the driver, Suresh.  

I said, "Good evening, how are you?"

He said, "I am good, sir, and you?"

I said, looking at his driver ID, "I am good. Is your name Suresh?" 

He said, "Yes," with a smile.

I said, "Oh, your name means 'God is good'." He smiled wider because he hadn't ever known the proper meaning and had only heard that it was a name associated with a Hindu deity. 

I asked, "What kind of last name do you have?" And I tried to pronounce "Arokiam" correctly.

He said, "Tamil."

We then spoke about his life, his children, his parents, and how he was a third generation Singaporean who had never actually been to India.  We talked of cricket and Hindu peoples in Chicago, and that my favorite Tamil breakfast was idli and podi.

Suresh said, "You need to find a very old cook to give you proper idli.  Young people now don't know real Tamil food."

He also said that my accent was just like an Indian -- that if we spoke on the phone he would think I was Indian.  I told him that I felt that was a great compliment and thanked him.  We reached our destination and he was clearly sad to see me go.

Aliza the Malay Cashier

Several hours later, I gave in to jet lag and wandered onto Bukit Tima Road and over to the 24 hour supermarket.  I man-shopped and ended up staggering up to the check out at 3:30 AM with arms fully loaded with various food items and many bags of dried mangos to take home to my wife.

The cashier was a tiny, hijabbed Muslim lady and she smiled when I approached.  She quietly laughed and said, "You didn't want a cart, sir?"

I said, "You know how men shop, yes? We don't even know what we are shopping for until we see it. And then suddenly we have spent all our money." 

Laughing, she asked, "You don't sleep, sir?" 

"I'm jetlagged and decided to go for a walk.  I'm visiting Singapore from Chicago."

Then I asked, "Are you originally from Singapore?" She said she came from Malaysia and explained that she took a bus daily into Singapore about one hour to work the night shift at the supermarket.  We talked about her family and mine and my work with coffee and how  God is good to give us many blessings that we never expected.  

She said her name was Aliza.  I said mine was Cody.  And the tiny hijabbed Malay woman extended a soft, timid hand for me to shake.  We wished one another a good evening and both thought we would likely meet again.

Let's not over complicate this

There is much that is and will be complicated as we attempt to live a borderless life by entering the world of the other. There is much that is complicated about changing the world. But one thing that is entirely uncomplicated, is beginning the journey.  I don't live in Singapore, but if I did, I could easily have asked Suresh to take me to a place for good idli.  I also can easily go back to that supermarket a few times a week and slowly get to know Aliza.  And the three of us have already agreed that (1) God is good and (2) that our ethno-religio-cultural differences are not barriers big enough to keep us out of one another's worlds.

Entering the other's world is just as simple as beginning the conversation.  No advanced missiological or cross-cultural training is necessary.  There are little things that you can learn to help you, but you cannot really be taught to actually do it.  You eventually just have to do it.

And all our hopes to change the world begin there -- with  a simple, first conversation with Suresh and Aliza.