I have always been taught that you want to make a good first impression – to put your best face forward. There are all kinds of quips such as “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” to illustrate the importance of starting a relationship well. People’s first interaction with you will color how they view you from that point forward.
When our family landed in Jamaica to start our lives as missionaries making a good first impression was a priority in our minds. We were called to live on that beautiful island and wanted to be as effective as possible demonstrating and sharing the Gospel to its people. During the first week we began to learn our way around the rural countryside where we lived. One of the places that was most intriguing to me was a local boy’s home. So, when I felt adventurous enough to drive on my own I headed to the boys home to spend some time with the guys just hanging out trying to get to know them a bit. Driving through the gate I parked under a mango tree, jumped out of the van with real enthusiasm and began to introduce myself while trying to catch their names through the unfamiliar Jamaican accent.
It wasn’t long until the new white guy was no longer a curiosity and they started to stream back to what they were doing, – playing football (soccer to me.) As I tried watching the game through the fingers of the smaller boys climbing on me and running their fingers through my hair one of the older ones, about 16 years old or so, came to what I thought was my rescue. He approached barefooted in ragged shorts and a holey t-shirt and said “want to play football?” I jumped at the chance! What a way to get to know these kids and to make a good first impression. Back home I had been pretty active playing basketball and softball while working as a landscaper. I was in decent shape and a credible athlete.
As I got out on the field I soon found out the sense of humor (they claim) or the cruelty (I claim) of teenage Jamaican boys. You see this field was that, more of a field, not a manicured athletic turf like I played American football on back in Indiana. They had this way of steering me toward the rocks sticking out of the ground or the holes that they never filled in. I would like to think I could claim the descriptive word “clumsy” as to my level of gracefulness but I would be bragging if I did. I shifted from the white guy being a curiosity to gathering a whole audience as a spectator sport. I do not know why I fell for this again but the same young man came to me flashing this incredible toothy smile asking me “would you like to play goalie instead?” Seeing a chance to redeem myself I jumped at the chance as they escorted me to stand between the two steel posts driven into the ground at the end of the field.
I do not know to this day how this happens in Jamaica but a crowd seems to grow out of nowhere. As I looked toward the road people were standing along the fence and all of the staff of the home were sitting on the verandah of the dining hall watching the boys having a delightful time playing football or maybe they sensed something else? As I began concentrating on the action I saw that the boys let a new player into the game – Anthony. Everyone called him Oney, a pet name, because he only had one leg. Oney comes out on the field dressed like everyone else but with only one bare foot and two homemade wooden crutches. It was not long until to ball was screaming down the field toward my end as the boys passed it back and forth. There is Oney, moving like a sprinter on his crutches pushing the ball ahead giving an incredible kick right past me through the posts and, SCORE! You would have thought that every Jamaican there was simultaneously shot by a sniper as they dropped to the ground rolling in uncontrollable laughter. The young man who invited me to play retrieved the ball (I think it was right over near my dignity) then swung by saying “thanks for playing” as he escorted me back to my van for the drive through the gauntlet of laughing admirers.
In my mind I was humiliated and upset because of the first impression I made. What a bad start! How would I ever earn the respect of these people? But the opposite was what really happened. They actually respected me more because of how I handled this. They did not need a person to come and to drag them out of their poverty or to show them a “better” way of doing things, but someone willing to be a good sport, to care about the things they cared about and to be willing to learn from and about them. As I spent the next few years in Jamaica the boys never let me forget my first day but also I was accepted to be a part of their lives because I was humbled.
Jesus, according to Philippians 2, humbled himself and took on the appearance of a man. And He did this in the most simple of circumstances being born as a baby to lowly parents. Because he loves us he left heaven to spend time with us; God coming robed as a self-humbled servant to experience everything we do – joy, pain, contentment and heartache. This passage also says we should take on the same attitude of Christ – “to think of others better than ourselves.” Do you stereotype people by race, appearance, behavior or the like before you know them? Or have you learned to approach people in humility, seeing them as a person made in God’s image for His purpose? Humility is the attitude that allows us to build relationships and ultimately share the Gospel. Work hard to take on the humility of Christ; lose yourself a bit so that He might gain others. What is more humbling than birth in a manger? But what is more magnificent then God loving us so passionately that He chose do this?
This daily devotion is written by John Key