After being on the island for almost a month (including my two-week survey trip) I’m used to people calling me white man. While that may sound racist, I don’t mind since I happen to be the only white person in town. In fact it’s kind of funny since “white man” is the only words understandable when they speak their island language as I walk by 🙂
Yesterday I visited the shop of a Church member and after walking in a lady shouted down to her friend “island language island language island language island language WHITE MAN island language island language. I stepped towards her and jokingly said “now I know you’re talking about me!” She laughed and explained since most people didn’t know my name they just called me white man. After learning it was John she repeated the statement to her friend, making sure to replace white man with John.
Now the truth is I will be known as white man (or American) no matter how many people know my name’s John which is fine. However my standing in the community must start moving past the idea of “white man.”
You see the word white man is about a lot more than the color of my skin
- It brands me as a visitor (somebody who has only been there a short time)
- As someone who isn’t truly part of that community (comes from outside of it)
- As someone who people don’t know a lot about
- And as someone who doesn’t understand how things work on the island
Honestly there is no shame in being a white man at the beginning because it’s impossible NOT to be! However if I allow myself to stay in that kind of relationship with the people of Barrouaille, it doesn’t bring Glory to God
So I have to become part of the Island culture
Adapt to their way of doing things whenever possible
And take the initiative in conversations or greeting people
More than anything though there is one sure-fire way to move from the white man perception…stay for six months
A foundational part of being viewed as a white man on the island (not in a racist way, but that sees me as someone who isn’t part of the community) is they are always visitors who stay a few weeks, a month at the most. So when I tell people in Barrouaille I will be staying for six months their jaws drop open.
A big reason the Lord led me to request a six-month placement on the island is because I knew it would take that long to actually become part of Barrouaille by developing relationships, understanding how things work here, ministering to the needs of the people with the Gospel of Christ, and not quitting when things get tough.
The bottom line is the white man’s somebody who leaves when things get tough. John’s somebody who stays when things are hard and earns their respect. Not because of the color of his skin, but the character of his life.
I have no doubt that people will call me white man the whole time I’m here which is okay, as long as they don’t view me as one.