Early last year, I sold my aquarium on Craigslist and ended up having an interaction with the buyer that has stuck with me ever since. This elderly man showed up to look at the aquarium. As we were making small talk, he mentioned that he’d lived in a small South American country for many years.
My ears perked up at this, and I said something like, “That’s great.”
Before I could continue, he said, “You can’t imagine what it’s like to live in a third-world country as an American.”
I stifled a laugh at this point because I know exactly what that’s like. I answered, “Actually, I was born and raised in the Philippines.”
“Well that’s different,” he interjected and proceeded to tell me about the prejudice he encountered, how the people tried to take advantage of him, and how the missionaries were ignorant and controlling, etc. We agreed to a price on the aquarium, and as I took everything apart and cleaned it, I continued to engage him.
I was searching for what exactly to say, but couldn’t seem to hit on a path that would break through his bitterness and cynicism.
As he was getting ready to leave, I offered him a copy of my book Three Ring Circus, which is about my experience growing up as a missionary kid in the Philippines with eight siblings. I was hoping that something in it would enable him to see Christianity and missionaries in a different light.
However, the word missionary was so repugnant to him that he refused to take the book.
I wish I’d thought to tell him that the missionary writer I went to for an endorsement—a man I still hold deep respect for—refused to give me an endorsement and basically said the book shouldn’t be published, but I didn’t think about that until later.
I wished the man the best with the aquarium, and he drove away. I haven’t seen that old man since, yet our interaction lingers in my mind, like a fish bone caught in the esophagus. There are a few thoughts in particular that stick with me.
It’s amazing the lengths people will go to in order to preserve their status and identity, real or perceived, as a victim.
Most, if not all, people have been a victim at some point in their life, though certainly some people experience far greater injustices. Still, it’s dangerous to cling to our status as victim, especially to the exclusion of others who might be able to relate.
Satan is in the business of isolation.
He used temptation to separate Adam and Eve from their Creator, and he will likewise tempt us to leave or avoid fellowship. As Ecclesiastes 4:14 attests, “A cord of three strands is not easily broken,” and Satan is ever trying to unravel our connection with God and with other people, who are made in God’s image.
When we wallow in our victimhood, repel those who might understand, and dwell in bitterness and cynicism, we help build the cells were we spend our solitary confinement.
To anyone wrestling with victimhood, I would encourage them to do three things:
- Look to the story of Joseph (Genesis 37, 39-47, 50:15-21). Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused of rape and imprisoned, and forgotten in prison by a fellow prisoner he helped. Yet at the end, he recognized how God used the evil committed against him for good.
- Read and wrestle with the book of Job in the Bible. It’s a hard book, but delving deep into Job’s suffering as a man of faith has transformed how I view hardships in my own life.
- Study the life of Jesus. The Bible presents Jesus as the only righteous man to ever live, yet he was tortured and killed. Still before and after the resurrection, Jesus never describes himself as a victim. Rather his suffering is used to alleviate the suffering of others.
My experience with that elderly man was no accident; I think God was using me to extend the hand of fellowship yet again. There’s a Bible verse that I often remember:
“For God does speak—now one way, now another—though no one perceives it” (Job 33:14).
No matter the past, no matter how old, no matter how bitter and jaded we may be, God still reaches out in fellowship.
The trick is learning to put aside the barriers that keep us from hearing.
(For more from Luke, visit his website https://postjadedmk.com.)