By Paige K Slighter
“I think it’s so important to approach each other with love as Christ has love for each of us.”
John has spent most of his life seeking to understand others, and has been fortunate enough to travel around the world meeting people from all different backgrounds. He echoes Woodland’s thoughts that tribalism is a problem in our culture, as much of the world is becoming polarized and divided into like-minded segments of people. As Greg puts it, “We’re losing the capacity to talk with one another. The division is incredible.”
In a 2013 WH sermon on tribalism, The Jesus Tribe, Sandra Unger summed it up with a quote from Aristotle: “Tribalism involves thinking you know what other people are like without knowing them. Lacking direct experience of others, you fall back on fearful fantasies.” John combats these “fearful fantasies” by connecting with people from all walks of life.
His fascination with travel and other cultures began in elementary school when he saw a giant globe in the library and wondered what kind of people lived in each country. From then on, he devoured books about the world and daydreamed about traveling. When he was a teenager, his knowledge grew as he met foreign exchange students that his parents hosted in their home. In college, he gained international experience living overseas through an organization called BUNAC (British Universities North America Club). It was a student exchange employment program that allowed him to live and work in England for six months. John has visited Europe four times, traveled to Central and South America, and spent nearly a year and a half in Asia. Along the way, he’s learned a lot and met some really kindhearted people.
When he was traveling in China, he ate a vegetarian meal with a wise old Buddhist who shared an enlightening parable. The Buddhist asked, “If you were shot by a poison arrow, should you first find out who shot the arrow, what kind of feathers were used, how big the bow was or other facts about the shooting? No. The first thing to do is to remove the arrow.” John later learned that this story was about compassion. The arrow represented ignorance and selfishness. He took the parable to heart and instead of assuming he knows everything, he’s diving deeper with others and listening to their stories. He said, “I’m trying to follow God’s rule of loving my neighbor. I can’t love my neighbor if I’m afraid of them. The way I see it, if you’re afraid of your neighbor, how likely are you to invite them to your church or a barbecue or simply to share a cup of coffee?”
So, how does John make so many friends from all over the world? One modern tool is the Couchsurfing app, which connects him to a global community of hosts. Those who have a couch, a spare room or an air mattress invite him to stay. Couchsurfing is all about sharing life together in the spirit of generosity. John said this app has changed his life in so many positive ways. He’s even hosted couch surfers in his home.
When he’s not traveling, John is still seeking out new experiences and rubbing shoulders with those different from him. He’s a member of MADA – Make America Dinner Again – a nationwide movement of small groups that share dinner and conversation in order to bring Republicans and Democrats together, to reduce political division. During COVID, he’s also attended several COMMA meetings in person and online, where Christians are reaching out to Muslims. He said that this group breaks down fear of “the other believer.” He has no problem building relationships with his Muslim neighbors and was even invited to attend Eid-ul-Fitr, an Islamic holiday that celebrates breaking the month-long Ramadan fast. John said, “I was greeted with hospitality and treated to piles of delicious food including rice, mutton stew and kebabs.” John also participates in an interfaith group where believers of various religions come together for good: sponsoring a day of prayer, raising funds for nonprofits and hosting events. The most recent event he went to was called Night of Gratitude, where several people from different faiths spoke about what they were thankful for.
So, what’s John’s advice for learning how to understand others? He said the first step is listening, “Find out WHY the other person believes the things they do and WHY they take the actions they do.” He also believes it’s good to be thoughtful of others by asking ourselves questions, like, “Where does my image of this other person come from? What has shaped my views to see the world as I do?”
We love learning about John’s story and all of the colorful adventures he’s been on. His love for the world and passion for others is so apparent! Though not all of us can travel as he does, we can seek out those who are different from us in our own contexts. We can change the world with our love.