One weekend in May, three front page news stories especially caught my attention and that of my wife, Deborah. Why? Because we'd been there.
In Bethlehem, Israeli soldiers and Palestinians were still in a standoff at the Church of the Nativity. I could picture its dark interior, the lights on long chains hanging into the sanctuary, and see the street outside lined with money-changing shops leading to Manger Square.
In Havana, former President Jimmy Carter was about to visit the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. I remember the shining building, the modern-looking equipment and the serious scientists who addressed us with passion for their work before they toured us through the facilities.
And in Birmingham, Ala., a fourth former Klansman was on trial for the Sept. 15, 1963, bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, in which four black girls had been killed. Just this spring we visited that church and stood by the stairway where the bomb had been placed. We also visited the Civil Rights Institute and the municipal Park of Remembrance and Reconciliation across the street from the church.
Visits such as these put us in touch with both history and current events. From Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, from Mount Rushmore in South Dakota to Dealey Plaza in Dallas, people and places beckon to us to learn more about our country and our world. Yet U.S. citizens are among the world's least informed about other people and places. I remember waiting in a London airport, watching the international flight departure board and realizing how few destinations I recognized. Overseas newspapers carry far more news about the United States than our papers do about other countries. As the old joke goes, you call a person who speaks three languages trilingual; two languages, bilingual; and one language, American. One sad consequence of this is that we begin to think that "our way" of doing many things is the only way. As a nation, we become narrow-minded and provincial, and discount other people's ways and values.
We in the church can help nurture peoples' experiences of other countries and cultures. After all, our theology teaches us that God created one world and that all of us, wherever we live, are God's people. As we read in John 3:16, "God so loved the world"—not just the United States—"that he gave his only Son ..."
We can keep a globe or a world map prominent in our homes. (That hole in the ozone is where? Over Patagonia in Chile? Where's that?) We can encourage schools to teach a second language and youth to participate in student exchange programs. We can plan vacations in other parts of our country or even overseas. We can invite missionaries on home tours to speak at our churches. We can urge our local church to correspond with and pray for a missionary family by joining the Missionary Relationship Program (contact Afia Griffith at email@example.com; 317-713-2571; P.O. Box 1986, Indianapolis, IN 46206-1986). Or urge our congregation to support the work of a missionary overseas (contact Jane Sullivan-Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org; 317-713-2558; P.O. Box 1986, Indianapolis, IN 46206-1986).
In our shrinking world, opportunities abound for us to relate with people in many different places. Just do it! Whether you go there or connect with those who are there, your life will become enriched in the process.
The Rev. W. Evan Golder is editor of the national edition of United Church News.