In 1999, when my husband Jimm and I were on our way to Halle, Germany, to help start a community of believers, we did our research.
We learned that Halle was one of the least desirable parts of Germany to live in, and that its people were stone-cold toward outsiders. One website even went so far as to say that Halle was known as the "armpit of Germany." Undeterred by this information (we were missionaries, after all), we decided we would forgive the city its faults and go live there anyway.
Imagine our surprise when we found a beautiful city center full of buildings with majestic facades, a charming river gracefully skirting the old wall, and a people group with a rough exterior, but very warm hearts. We quickly made friends.
Living in Halle overturned everything we thought we knew. Did the city have its underbelly? Of course — but it was no worse than the other cities we'd lived in.
More recently, I met someone whom I had heard about from others. "Well, she isn't going to be sympathetic to your way of thinking, that's for sure." "If you ever meet her, be ready to defend your position."
You can believe that when I met her for the first time, I was steeled for the worst. But our chat was a sheer delight! She was warm, engaging, has the same triumphs and struggles as me, and even put into words some of the deep feelings I have about life.
I am learning that relationship alters perspective.
Negative opinions seem to swirl around everyone and everything. Ignore them. Walk in anyway. Until you build a personal relationship or have a personal experience, you do not know anything about a person or place.
It's especially easy to make the mistake of believing bad "knowledge" when we have the opportunity to build friendships across cultures.
Many people in my home of Lancaster City do a brilliant job of entering into relationships so that they can start to see through the eyes of someone from a different culture. I am proud to live in a place that makes this statement. But it requires overcoming many deep fears.
What if a new friendship changes me?
What if I become more like the person I didn't trust or agree with when I was observing them from a distance?
What if I find out that some of my own deeply-held assumptions are wrong?
Sometimes we even have these same fears about building a deeper relationship with God.
But if we are to enter into real relationships with people and God and allow them to alter our perspective for the better, we cannot approach the relationship armed with so-called "knowledge."
So I am practicing new disciplines of the mind:
Surrendering the flimsy protection of a preconceived opinion.
Being okay with not having the answer — with not knowing.
Approaching new people and places with this mindset.
And humbly allowing the truth to speak for itself.
Kaylene was born into a large farm family of mostly boys. Her earliest formation consisted of family meals around the kitchen table, being teased by brothers, and learning the art of storytelling from her father. These three important ingredients have shaped her into a follower of Jesus who places a high value on communication. Now her love of stories and storytelling enhances her role as Development director at EMM. Along with her husband Jimm, Kaylene lives in Lancaster City. She loves practicing Sabbath, enjoying long woodsy walks, preparing and eating great food, and inviting others to her table.