Fighting stereotypes is hard work, especially when they have taken root over many years. I grew up with a stubborn stereotype about Russian people, thanks mainly to all the Cold War propaganda I was fed during my childhood. I remember having nightmares as a child about nuclear war. I remember thinking Russians were the personification of evil in the world because all they seemingly wanted to do was destroy America. The fact remained though, that I did not know one Russian person, all of my information about them was second and third hand.
As an adult, I have come to the point where I would sincerely love to visit Russia someday to get to know some real Russian people. The main purpose of a trip like this would be making an intentional effort to change my negative perceptions of Russians. There is something powerful about investing in a one-on-one relationship with someone who is different from you, especially someone who belongs to a group of people against whom you have harbored negative feelings. I remember the simple, yet profound challenge from a Promise Keepers conference I attended in the 1990s. The 50,000 men in that Indianapolis stadium were challenged to find a man from another ethnic group and to start an intentional friendship—for walls of prejudice and racism come down one person at a time. Think what could happen between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, Jews and Muslims in Israel and Palestine, or Democrats and Republicans in America if this challenge was taken up.
It is easy to see people through a “group demographic” lens instead of as individuals. I have often looked at “homeless people” this way. I used to struggle with what to do when I came across a homeless person on the sidewalk, thinking What should I do? What should I say? Then Don, a friend of mine, told me, “Mike why don’t you just treat them like an ordinary person? Look them in the eye, and talk to them normally?” His advice was helpful and profound. Life is too short not to treat every person I meet as a fellow member of the human race—a divine image-bearer of God. Since we will be hanging out for all eternity with people from every country, ethnic group, and social class, shouldn’t we get to know as many different people as we can during our short time on Earth?
REFLECTIONS Take the Promise Keepers challenge: Find a way to purposefully begin a friendship with someone from a different ethnic group or from a group against whom you have held a negative stereotype. The next time you see a homeless person on the street, don’t ignore or avoid this person. Walk up and look him/her in the face, asking their name and introducing yourself. Talk to that person just as you would any other person, treating him/her with dignity for being a member of your race—the human race.
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”