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Love dissolves cultural barriers

From the August 6, 2018 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

I had been looking forward to this trip for months. I would be traveling to Ecuador, where I’d be volunteering as an assistant teacher—teaching and tutoring third-grade students—and doing some sightseeing. I couldn’t wait to experience everything the country had to offer: the people, history, sights, natural wonders, food, and so much more.

I felt especially fortunate that I would be living with an Ecuadorian couple and a few other volunteers. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to immerse myself in Ecuadorian culture and traditions, and I was excited about everything I would learn.

My homestay family and I got along very well at first, and they welcomed me in as part of the family. We enjoyed conversing in Spanish in the mornings and evenings over yummy Ecuadorian meals.

But then one night I was served a rich soup made with ingredients I don’t really enjoy. I didn’t want to be disrespectful, so I ate what I was served. The next morning, however, I awoke with some uncomfortable stomach issues and couldn’t seem to keep anything down.

While it was tempting to stay in bed, two things motivated me to challenge the problem instead of succumbing to it. First, as a student of Christian Science, I knew that I could pray about this and be healed. Plus, I had an exciting day of sightseeing planned in Quito’s historical center, and I didn’t want to miss out on that. 

As I began to pray, I remembered a passage from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy: “Truth has but one reply to all error,—to sin, sickness, and death: ‘Dust [nothingness] thou art, and unto dust [nothingness] shalt thou return’ ” (p. 545). It was clear to me that this stomach distress could be likened to the dust—to the nothingness referred to—because it had nothing of God, of Truth, in it. With this spiritual understanding, I had a complete expectation that I could be free from the discomfort, and I instantly began to feel better. I was grateful to be able to explore the city that day. 

However, while I felt better, I still didn’t have much of an appetite or feel ready to eat normal foods again. But when I tried to explain that to my homestay mother at both breakfast and dinner that day, she became offended and insisted that I eat. We didn’t seem to be able to communicate. Rather than create more tension, I agreed, but became very annoyed and frustrated. My frustration increased when, as a result of the meal that night,  my stomach was greatly upset once again. I knew that my host mother was just trying to care for me and express motherly love, but her way of doing so seemed harsh and different from what I was accustomed to. I went to bed in tears.

Understanding each individual’s relation to God can move us beyond cultural barriers.

The next morning, I awoke still feeling uneasy. I had an intense, all-day hike planned to a very high-altitude volcanic crater, Quilotoa, and I knew I needed to be feeling strong if I wanted to complete the hike. The dynamic with my homestay mother was also still unsettling. But instead of accepting this turmoil as an inevitable part of some kind of cultural divide, I knew I had an opportunity to see the whole situation differently. One thing that has always helped me in praying about misunderstandings or divisions of any kind is understanding more about the presence and power of divine Love. I knew I could rely on Love to help me love my homestay mother, and I began to think about the way God created her and sees her. It was easy to recognize her many God-given qualities, including goodness, compassion, patience, joy, and understanding. By loving my homestay mother this way—as a fellow child of God—I was able to see more clearly that there could be no cultural or communication barriers that could interfere with our natural, harmonious relationship.

I also prayed with the beginning of Mrs. Eddy’s poem “Mother’s Evening Prayer.” It reads, “O gentle presence, peace and joy and power” (Poems, p. 4). Even though I felt caught up in mental and physical turmoil, I knew I could still experience God’s, my divine Mother’s, gentle presence. It was Her “peace and joy and power” that were governing me—and everyone.

I prayed with these ideas throughout the day and ended up having a wonderful and freeing time on my hike. I found my appetite returning, and when I arrived home late that night, my homestay mother welcomed me warmly and prepared a delicious snack for me—which was rather uncommon, but which I really appreciated. I ate freely and basked in this woman’s tender love.

Over the next week, I saw more blessings from this healing of our relationship. I was even invited to a special Mother’s Day celebration with my homestay family. My Ecuadorian mother was now going out of her way to envelop me in love and include me as a member of her family. 

The last piece of this healing occurred a few nights later, when the stomach problems returned with even greater severity. Once again I was on a weekend excursion, but this time I was more than four hours away from home. I became very afraid, so I called my mother and a Christian Science practitioner for help. The practitioner and I had already been in touch about the emotional and physical upheaval I’d been working through, and this time we prayed with the idea that I could experience no regression in my progress. My God-given perfection was, and had always been, completely intact. The practitioner’s conviction of my spiritual perfection was so clear and strong that I went to sleep peacefully that night, and woke up the next morning completely free of all pain and other symptoms.  

From that moment on, I had no more stomach issues and shared a special, loving relationship with my Ecuadorian mother. I learned the importance of being persistent in my prayers, as well as how understanding each individual’s relation to our Father-Mother God, as one of His children, can move us beyond linguistic and cultural barriers. I’ve continued to draw on this insight when working and communicating with people from cultures, backgrounds, and life experiences different from my own, and the same power of divine Love that helped dissolve the obstacles with my Ecuadorian mother continues to show me more about our inherent, universal unity.

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