Have you ever noticed something unexpected and new in the midst of familiar surroundings? A few days ago I was walking in an area of town I usually only drive through. The walk gave me a chance to notice some things I hadn’t seen before – a coffee shop, a repaved road, a little statue nestled in the corner of a city park. Some of the things were actually new, but most of them were things I’d simply never noticed before. It gave me a new appreciation for an area that had become Too-Familiar.
At the beginning of the summer we hosted our first Student.Go intern, Josh Cleveland. Josh, a film student at Georgia State University, came to help us with filming and putting together some videos on the music of the Roma people. He arrived just in the busiest season of the year for us. These months – May and June – are typically a season of excitement and tiredness all rolled into one. Visiting mission teams, the anticipation of time in the U.S., the closure of ministry activities… it can all blur together into the Too-Familiar. By the time Josh arrived, we were feeling all this, plus our nervousness about being able to fit all of the filming into an already busy schedule.
But Josh brought us a gift that we didn’t expect – questions and new perspectives.
He stepped off the plane curious and engaged with the culture and the people, and his questions sometimes took me by surprise. We are usually prepared for a stream of questions from visiting teams, as people try to understand the differences they notice in an unfamiliar environment – “Why do these Roma people live in a completely separate part of the village?”
Josh asked these kinds of questions, then typically paused for a moment and asked a deeper one – “Would they move to the other part of the village if they could?” From time to time he’d ask something that completely surprised me, and I’d have to say, “let me think about that…” or, “we’re going to have to ask someone about that!”
Sometimes we get so used to the way things are, that we stop questioning why things are that way. It’s a gift – if we’ll accept it as such – when someone comes in and helps us think about those Too-Familiar places and relationships, and helps us think about them in a different way.
Symbolically, Josh helped us see things from a different perspective, too. As we made our way through this familiar city and ministry locations we visit every week, he would frequently whip out his camera and take a photo of something that seemed mundane to us. When I’d see those photos later, I was struck by a different way of seeing – finding beauty in the lines and angles of Socialist-era architecture, or in the shy smile of a child’s face.
This is just one of several reasons we love hosting short-term teams and visitors here – as we experience these familiar people and places through fresh eyes, we are made aware of things we hadn’t noticed before. Maybe it’s a new way God is moving… or maybe it’s something God had been doing long before, but we’d forgotten to notice it in the Too-Familiar.
What relationships and places have become Too-Familiar for you… and how can God help you see them in a new and fresh way?
Below are some more of Josh’s photos from his time here – all photos in this post are © 2019 Josh Cleveland Media. Want to see more? Check out his Instagram Feed – joshcleve_media