As a people, we are protective of our hometowns. We all know the secret spot for the best food. We know where to go to really understand the history. And we know where to go for the best “moonlit stroll on the beach.” We pride ourselves on “Locals only” spots and town secrets that you only get by being immersed in the culture. On the other side of that, we hate being a tourist in someone else’s town. The idea that we’re all but wearing a giant “tourist” badge that makes locals immediately shut us down or stereotype us as “less than” makes most people shudder with fear. So when we travel we tend to stick to the tourist spots that have the biggest and brightest signs offering “The world’s best cheesecake” or “Most authentic deep dish this side of the Mississippi,” often to the cost of the true experience of something new.
2 years ago Ashley and I both celebrated our 30th birthdays as well as our 5th wedding anniversary. As a gift, her whole family chipped in and sent us on a trip to New York City. I had never been but always wanted to go. The Broadway shows, the food, the shopping, the landscape, the culture and the idea of so many people’s stories converging in one place had drawn me to experience this city for a long time. Just flying into the airport was an experience in itself. It was a city like no other and it was a place one can easily get lost in the shuffle. I wanted to experience everything and I figured the best way to do that was to experience it through the eyes of a New Yorker.
I learned a lot about the people of New York while I was there but I also learned a lot about what it looks like to love a place and a people enough to dive in. In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul says:
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
While this trip was far from a mission trip, and my desire to look, act, and walk like a local was not focused on advancing the kingdom but on having a memorable experience, looking back on it has taught me that as a believer it is my job to meet people where they are. It is my responsibility to communicate the truth of His love in a way that people understand. We are called to speak the truth wrapped in a covering of grace that inspires people to respond in a way that glorifies him. So let’s ask ourselves, “who are we missing because we aren’t willing to meet them where they are?”
This is part one of a series called “How to Pretend you’re from New York.” You can follow this blog by clicking the gear at the top of the page and providing your email address.