Today I was asked by my good friend Elsa (who currently happens to be studying abroad in India) how I thought this trip has impacted me. I had to sit back and think about that for a moment, it's quite a loaded question. I responded with: I think I've gained a better understanding of humanity. We think Rochester is diverse, no way. Everyone has such a unique path in life and a way of doing things. I think I've become more tolerable of that.
My eyes have really opened to the various ways we as humans do life. I've been influenced this semester to think of humanity from an evolutionary standpoint, both culturally and biologically. I've come to find my previous views being challenged and new ideas enlightening me. I'll elaborate a bit on both.
This semester I'm taking a few cultural anthropology classes including an intro course, comparative religion, and a course on how we eat. Our focus usually pertains to primitive societies such as Netsilik Eskimos where we analyze how they used to live vs. how Western civilization has impacted their way of living.
With this, we discuss the ethnocentrism (superior culture mentality) of western civilizations and how that has changed some of the most remote of cultures. A common example of this act being religious mission work.
As an active church member in high school, I've been everywhere from Los Angeles to Guatemala, spreading what I believe to be the truth; Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. The experiences I've gained from mission work have been life changing. No doubt, my most humbling of times have been from going to areas of the world where I am able to serve people less fortunate than myself.
But that's the thing, are they less fortunate? Are these people suffering because I'm not helping them? Or do I just find satisfaction in doing good deeds?
Many 3rd world cultures have "adopted" Christianity because of the work of missionaries. They engage in Christian rituals such as baptism and communion, but is there a true understanding to them of what these traditions symbolize? So many factors contribute to miscommunications, language being one of the main obstacles. Often times, primitive cultures will hold on to their animistic beliefs; attribution of a soul to plants, objects, and natural phenomena.
I wouldn't go so far as to say mission work is a bad thing. Good intentions and a passion for Christ are what drive most Christians do engage in such acts, from what I've experienced. I just question whether or not it is my place to impose my beliefs upon someone else just because I think they are in need of my help.
This photo was taken 5 years ago, just before entering my junior year of high school in a rural part of Guatemala on a my first international mission trip. The caption I wrote on Facebook is "Who do you think is the whitest?" As I said earlier, good intentions. Very much so a caption meant to provoke laughter at myself. But there's so much weighted interpretation of that phrase and this photo, it's nuts.
Food for thought. More to come.