Some of us have been on reconnaissance missions similar to the one Moses launched in the desert of Paran. We may serve in the military or work for international businesses. Or we may be academics or human rights’ workers. We may even be tourists. In my case, as an anthropologist, I was sent on a reconnaissance trip to South America to engage in a preliminary survey to better set up a study abroad program in Guyana and a foreign exchange program in Brazil. This was some time ago before I came to Creighton. My trip was funded by a small grant from the U.S. government to further scholarly exchanges between the U.S. and countries with whom our contact was limited.
When I travel to Latin America, the people with whom I interact see me as wearing three hats. They know that I am an American. You know that I am an anthropologist. I also readily acknowledge that I am a Christian. I seek to blend my professional ethical obligations as an anthropologist with my Christian beliefs. I also have the added responsibility of representing my own culture as an American. I have no difficulty with the first two. To me being an anthropologist and a Christian are compatible roles. Both stress respect for others and their interests. Anthropology, in particular, stresses learning about other people from their perspective, not from our own. Christianity stresses compassion and caring for other people. But in my opinion, too often being an American means imposing our view of the world on others with little regard for their interests, particularly when they differ from ours. That part of my identity is in conflict with the other two. I am not the only person who experiences this tension. This is a common challenge for faculty and students here at Creighton who study abroad or who go on service trips. We work to prepare students for the challenges of being men and women with and for others in the world and to support them in their choices.
As I write this reflection, I am praying for all the students, business people, military people, human rights workers, academics, health care workers, teachers, journalists, technicians and others who visit and work in foreign lands. I pray for those individuals who seek to help others by bringing skills and resources that are so much in abundance here in the United States. Often these people are not appreciated because America and some Americans have extracted resources, imposed their cultural values, and done harm to local peoples. Our image is not always what it should be. I also pray for all the politicians who are seeking a just solution to the problems associated with Latin American immigration. I do not know the answers to these problems but I do know that many intelligent and caring people are working through the democratic process to find answers. There are others, however, who approach the issues from the perspective of their selfish interests. I pray that those legislators who place the Gospel message of acceptance and caring for other people above American self-centeredness will be the most influential in that process.
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