What do energetic middle-schoolers, immigration, and thick wool socks have in common? These were 3 things carefully and humorously threaded throughout JP Sundararajan’s story of settling into life in America. On Monday, November 15th, JP had the amazing chance to tell his story to a room of over 70 middle schoolers at Zeeland Christian and to empower them in their own journeys.
JP shared the challenges of leaving India after 18 years to attend school in Iowa at Northwestern College. For him, this was not just a nudge out of his comfort zone but a leap into an unknown adventure that would become his life story. With the clothes on his back and a deep trust in God’s faithful provision, he stepped forward in faith. Sharing of a prized possession from home, a pair of thick wool-socks from his parents, JP spoke of the many cultural hurdles he found himself face to face with on American soil. Asked to play a casual game of basketball with a few new friends, he showed up to play in a dress shirt, cut-off dress pants, and his prized wool socks, unknowingly breaking many cultural norms. Though he entertained a few curious grins and laughter that day, his friends graciously offered to go with him to buy some new clothes and helped him transition into American culture.
As anticipation rose and laughter scattered around the room, we watched as a group of bright-eyed and energetic kids made the connection between JP’s life story and their own. These colorful and humorous stories brought God down into the practical hopes and fears of a group of middle-schoolers who just wanted to belong. In a more precious moment as JP’s talk rounded to a close, a girl shyly approached JP to quietly thank him for sharing. Later we discovered that this girl was on home assignment in the US and came from a family of missionaries. The transition had left her struggling, but these stories had given her a glimpse of the courage she needed to claim her own story.
Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon that we can use to change the world.” For students and young people alike, education about the world of missions, understanding cultures different than your own, and getting to hear someone’s journey has the power to expand your perspective. Blasting cultural stereotypes and breaking down the walls that divide, it becomes clear how alike we are in our journey to find meaning and confidence in the story God is writing regardless of our background or ethnicity. Here at ASM our dream has been to reach those whose lives remain untouched by the gospel across the globe and to motivate people to step out of their comfort zones to see God show up. Whether you are a shy middle-schooler or an adult seeking to find your way, our hope is that stories like these will engage and propel you into your role of bringing the Kingdom where you are.