We both grew up as missionary kids in Burma/Myanmar where our friends were Burmese/Karen kids, so we were very conscious of not being like our friends. Every day, we wished that we had brown skin and black hair and that we were not white foreigners.
Although our childhood in Burma/Myanmar and India was an “adventure beyond adventures,” we struggled with not being in the majority race culture, painfully experiencing “otherness” very deeply. We longed every day to “fit in” with our friends and the culture. Yet, being white, we also were forced to wrestle with white privilege and the benefits we inherited from this power differential in the context of poverty and injustice all around us.
Our parents had come to Burma/Myanmar to combat this poverty and injustice by building the “Beloved Community.” Why should we have these benefits and not our friends? So, yes, we were especially aware of racist structures of otherness, exclusion and injustice as teenagers returning to America in the 1960’s.
We moved to Haiti in 1983 as a Baptist Missionary Family. Since we had both grown up in another culture, we looked forward to having our three little girls (and, later, three more children born in Haiti) live a similar cross-cultural experience. Although Burma and Haiti had very different cultures and languages, we believed it would be an enriching experience for them as it had been for us. We were eager to have them leave the American scene and experience another culture.
We have learned much from our Haitian brothers and sisters. Their faith has been an inspiration to us. Their prayer life is rich and a part of their everyday lives, deepening our own faith in Christ.
Steve and Nancy James, co-founders of the Agape Community, are members of Agape’s Mission Council and devoted to their Baptist, Haitian missionary experience since their recent retirement.