I spent an evening last week with a roomful of Nigerians. Yeah, Nigerians—here in Milwaukee. There is a surprisingly large community of expatriate Africans here. I had a blast. The buffet had some standard American fare, but it included also steam trays of goat meat and quite a bit of stuff that I had never seen or smelled before. The DJ blasted music that sounded like a cross between Caribbean steel drum, salsa, and Bob Marley. The beat made me want to jump and shout. I couldn’t understand a word.
The room was thick with heavily accented English (they probably thought I spoke with a heavy accent). It reminded me of the days when I was living in Mexico and then in Colombia and brought back some uncomfortable memories of feeling like an alien and stranger day after day.
It can be hard to have a home in two countries, two continents. The “natives” can make you feel like an outsider in both. I would imagine that the feeling is similar to being biracial. If you don’t manage your identity well, you can feel rejected by both cultures. The trick is to emphasize the positives of both—to see yourself as an heir not of neither culture but of both. A black/white child can enjoy and claim both her white and black heritage and actually understand both perspectives. A Nigerian American could feel like a man without a country or a man with two.
People who travel a lot, have lived in various places around the world, and are at ease in various cultures and languages are somewhat rare. I prize people like that. I call them “Bridge People.” They can be explainers and interpreters to one-culture people. They are particularly valuable in a congregation to help it connect with people not like the original group. Donald McGavran, the father of the “Church Growth” school of missiology, may be right when he said that churches can grow only when they are monocultural. I take the contrarian view. I like to move around in the buzz between cultures, and I love my diverse congregation.