In our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.
Acts 2:11b (NRSV)
By the time I was 3 years old, I was living on my third continent! I was born on a wintry January day in Louisville, Kentucky, where my father was completing his seminary degree and my mother was teaching nursing. As a 6-year-old, my mother had felt a call to be a foreign missionary and now my parents were preparing to be appointed as missionaries to serve in South America. We arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica, where my parents attended language school for twelve months. At the end of this training, it was decided that they would not serve in a Spanish-speaking country so we returned to the United States, uncertain of the next step.
Within a few months, they received a call to go to Africa where they would each be involved in medical missions. We boarded a freighter headed for Nigeria, arriving there in October 1953. I turned 3 the following January. Nigeria became my home until I was 16 years old. I became a “third culture kid,” meaning that I was born a citizen of the USA, but grew up in another culture. In a way, I was not fully part of either culture, but I was formed and informed by my life experiences in each one.
Reflecting back, I realize that most of my early worship experiences were in the context of another language and culture. My mother and I sang hymns as we traveled the roads of Nigeria. On Sunday mornings, I would sing the English words while most of the other worshipers sang in their language. Often the sermon would be preached in one language and then translated into English. All of us worshiping God together “in our own language” as we learned “about God’s deeds of power.” Pentecost still happens!
These experiences of worship, as well as many other aspects of my life in Nigeria, taught me openness and respect for others. I learned to be flexible and to value different expressions of faith. I saw evidence of God at work in the larger world and I rejoiced. Many times, I saw the joy people knew in spite of the circumstances of their lives. Out of the seemingly little they had, they shared with a generous spirit. It was always interesting to hear the response of new missionaries to this dynamic of worship and welcome in a different context, while realizing that all of us were united by the same God. Boundaries of known faith expression often gave way to a larger and more inclusive context.
Were there struggles? Has the journey sometimes been hard as a “third culture kid”? Yes! Yet I would not trade the opportunity to be at home in the world. My world view began expanding when I was 2 years old. My prayer is that my world will always be expanding as I continue the faith journey to which God has called me.