When you’re used to being surrounded by people with the same skin color as you, it’s a unique experience to be in a large crowd and nobody around you is the same color as you. I am thankful I have had that experience.
The first time I went to India it wasn’t hard for the people meeting me at the airport to know who they were looking for. I stood out in a sea of dark Indian faces.
When I visited Jesse Long and Ben Jore in Tanzania we went to a remote village in the bush. They didn’t have electricity or running water and it was probably the first time they were visited by any white people. The lightness of our skin color was a pretty unique thing for them to see.
It is good for everybody to have the experience, at least once in their life, of being surrounded by people who don’t look like them. It can be a little uncomfortable. We may say we want to stand out, but the reality is, we often try to blend in. Most of us don’t like to have people stare at us and wonder why we look different.
I had the feeling in that village in Tanzania that some of the people were looking at me and wondering what had happened and where had all my color gone. We all do that kind of thing. We wonder, and sometimes make terribly wrong assumptions, about those who are different from us.
Having the experience of being in the minority can help us, when we’re part of the majority, to sympathize with those who are not like the rest. Walking in their shoes, even if only for a short period of time, can help us to understand it is not so easy to be different from the majority around you.
Sometimes people who are healthy will spend a day in a wheelchair or disabled in some other way to see what it is like to get around and experience how people treat the disabled. They find out they are treated differently and looked at differently. They don’t volunteer to do it for a second day.
Finding out the nature of somebody else’s struggles is often hard and painful. Jesus, however, out of love for us, chose to experience what our struggle is like.
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.” He shared in our trials and challenges. He is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 2:14, 18, 4:15). He understands this life can be hard. He graciously walked the path we walk. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). Choosing to become familiar with rejection, pain and suffering – that’s grace.
Even if we look like the people around us, we still have times when we wonder if anybody understands our hurts. We give thanks that Jesus does. We can cry out to Him and always find a sympathizing ear. He chose to become One who sympathizes so that He could be the One who sacrificed His life to save us from our sins. By faith in Jesus we go from being outsiders to being welcomed in as beloved children of God.