What Are Your Eyes Reflecting Back?
“When a suppressed people looks into the eyes of the majority culture, they see reflected back either their own worth or inferiority.”
As a student, I never gave my ethnicity much significance. I came to faith through a white evangelical church and got involved in Cru my first semester of college. It wasn’t until late in college that I got to know any Latinos that were older believers. For me, Christianity lived out was a Christianity connected to primarily to white culture.
Then I met Eric. He was one of the first Caucasian people in my life to ever really see my ethnicity as interesting and special. It kind of made me uncomfortable at first because no one ever talked to me about it. But it also was refreshing to feel like he saw me for all of who I was, including that I was Latina. Many of my good friends didn’t even see that as a part of me. While wholeness in my ethnic identity was still many years away, my relationship with him was the start of me acknowledging that I was different than others and that this difference was a unique blessing, rather than a liability. Being Latina was a part of being fearfully and wonderfully made, and I was able to begin to embrace that because when I looked in Eric’s eyes, I saw my worth, not my inferiority.
This idea of reflecting worth comes from a book by John Heinrich, “The Psychology of a Suppressed People“. When I read the quote in this blog post earlier this week it reminded me of why I love my spouse so much. I wanted to share how Eric’s eyes have reflected worth to me and to others as we’ve served in ministry.
I’ve seen him do this over and over again in any culture we’ve entered into during our years as missionaries with Cru. While labeled different things by different people, ultimately Eric knows that honoring and dignifying people as made in the image of God involves acknowledging the ethnic background. He truly believes that all cultures are valuable and reflect a part of God’s character.
On a Destino summer project our first summer on staff in the states, Eric was coaching a Destino intern that was Latino. I remember this staff guy saying to me, “I’ve never met a white person like Eric that is such a learner of our culture. He shows a heart that I haven’t seen in any other leader I’ve ever known.” What he saw was the same thing I saw when I first met Eric. He saw worth in his ethnicity reflected back to him where as he had probably mostly experienced inferiority reflected in the eyes of majority culture.
“Learning from someone is a very existential way of telling him that he is important and has something to offer.” — Fr. Virgilio Elizondo
This is what it means to reflect back worth. When you are willing to learn from someone, you are implicitly recognizing that they have something to give to you. It is just as much a statement about yourself as it is about them. You are saying that you don’t have it all together. You don’t have all the answers.
So, for majority culture ministers working with ethnic minorities, what do your eyes reflect back to the people you are seeking to serve? Do they see their worth or do they see their inferiority? It is a subtle distinction but is easily detectable by the minorities you interact with every day. Do you see them as worthy of dignity? Your heart posture will always be reflected outwardly.
Our eyes can tell a bigger story than even what we speak. What do your eyes say?
photo courtesy: rebor