Last week I gave my kids a writing assignment. I wanted them to describe the pro’s and con’s of living life in a place where every thing is watched and often critiqued. Think I’m kidding? A few days ago a customer came into the restaurant and told David that he lived in the building next to us. He went on to say that he watches our family in our home from his window nearly every day. (Oh yeah, I’m buying curtains this week.) Then this morning, a grandmother saw me talking to one of my girls. She told me that she couldn’t believe how much my girls had grown since we first moved to this apartment four years ago.
A lot of the stares are nothing more than curiosity. They’re curious about our groceries, our trash, our junk in the garage. Nothing goes unnoticed. Forget trying to sneak anything past them. They know when David sends me flowers. They know when my kids are outside playing. They know the name of our dog, actually one of the neighborhood grandmothers named her. Sometimes, you just feel like you are on display in a life-sized museum.
Rachel has a different perspective than me. She was born in S. Korea and her whole life has been in this environment. When she’s not in Asia, she’s often in the spotlight as we travel. I thought you might enjoy hearing thoughts on the issue.
Life in the Fishbowl
by Rachel Etter on Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 8:40pm ·
Think of the movie Finding Nemo. At the Dentist’s office, there is a fish tank. Enter the little girl who pokes at the glass in wonder at the creatures within. That’s me. No, no, not the girl — the creatures within.
For my entire life, I have lived in a “fishbowl.” Being Caucasian in Korea and China may have something to do with that fact. My family and I are always being stared at, pointed at, and being stopped so somebody can have his or her picture taken with us. When I was little, pre-teens, teenagers, and college-age students constantly showered my sisters and me with attention. We were the cute little blonde headed, blue-eyed girls and everyone wanted to have pictures taken with us. I was relieved and excited when I passed the “cute” stage. I didn’t mind that my sisters were the primary attraction. Unfortunately, before long, I entered “a different kind of cute stage” as my dad puts it. College students and young adults suddenly decided they wanted pictures with me again. I just can’t win!
There are a couple of negative aspects to living in the fishbowl. However, there are also positive ones to it.
One such negative aspect would be that having people stare, point, and stop you for picture taking every five steps (supposing you even get that far) can become veeeery tiresome. For example, when you are touring The Forbidden City, you want to be able to look at the different attractions, not become the primary exhibit on display. When my grandparents visited a few years ago, a popular song which was sung among us went like this: “Just keep walking, just keep walking, just keep walking, walking, walking. What do we do? We walk, walk, walk.” (Sung to the tune of “Just Keep Swimming” from Finding Nemo.) If you don’t want others to stop you, you don’t stop at all.
Ever get the feeling you’re being watched? “Always” would be my answer to that question whenever I’m outside of my house in Asia. Another negative aspect is that somebody is always watching you. If they are not taking your picture, they are pointing at you. If they are not pointing, they are staring. There is no privacy when you are out and about. They observe everything about us: how we act, what we say, how we say it.
The previous example can be twisted, though, into something positive. We are always being observed. How we act, how we speak, how we interact with each other and with other people we come into contact with — nothing goes unnoticed. Now think for a second. Just a moment ago, I showed this very point in a negative light. So how can I view this positively? This is where the thinking part comes in. Are you ready for this? Here you go. What an opportunity God has set up for my family to shine the light of Christ! It really is set up perfectly.
Now, my family is far from perfect. When we are swimming around in our fishbowl, it is easy for people to notice we are imperfect. But it is our imperfection that allows other individuals to relate to us. It helps them to understand that we are just like them in many ways. And yet, despite our failures, people can sense something different about us. One young lady came up to my mom and asked, “Why is your family always so joyful?” This girl had pretty much seen each of us at our worst. And yet she noticed something different in our lives, something that she greatly desired. She saw the joy that only comes from Jesus Christ.
As I was thinking about my fishbowl predicament, I suddenly had an epiphany. Christians should always be living in a fishbowl. Now, I’m not saying that you should go out into the street expecting a hoard of people to rush at you in hopes of a picture. But those of us serving in a foreign country should not be the only ones who stand out. There should be a definite difference between those who follow Christ and those who do not. People should be able to observe us and notice something different about you. Those of you in your home countries can do just as much standing out as those of us who happen to live overseas.
I once heard it said that we as believers are the only Bible some people will ever read. Hard for that happen when there is no visible difference. Sobering thought, eh? So how about we stop being minnows out of water and hop back into our fishbowl. It’s where we’re meant to be, anyway.