After such warnings, you might be surprised to know that I have met many friendly, welcoming people here. They are quick to invite me—a stranger—into their kitchen, under their tent flap or onto their rooftop for food. Pleased that we have chosen their city as home, they are happy to help us with the language. They speak with me in their best English, though the onus is on me to learn the local language. These are a few general, positive experiences I've had with people here.
In particular, I think of drivers who charge an honest rate and wait patiently when we do errands. I remember our cleaner, who does dirty work with a wide smile and a good attitude. I admire interviewees who openly share their dreams and lives with us upon our first meeting. My teacher's generous spirit and respect for her parents is commendable. I've interacted with kind people who have that last name and seen kind faces on that side of the river. This is what I'm learning: when you meet individuals, the generalizations almost seem contrived. There may be some difficult or dangerous people here, but the vast majority of the people I meet are not those people.
My parents taught me to be cautious with the words “always” and “never.” Used incorrectly, those words can cause great damage. It's not always hot here; nor is our city always noisy. The red chewing tobacco stains are not everywhere. The beggars don't always pester you; dust and dirt don't enter every orifice. The people aren't always late...and on and on it goes. If you must generalize, choose your words wisely.
How often are relationships broken, or aborted before they begin, because of careless generalizations? We ignore or distrust people because others have misrepresented them with their words. We speak confidently about things we do not really know. A coworker once made a comment about how I “always cause such-and-such a problem.” It stung, because it was not true and I felt defrauded: I made that mistake sometimes, but not every time. But isn't it easier and quicker to be general than specific? It's like treating a problem area with a wooden mallet when tweezers are required.
People are everywhere here. Their limbs hang out of buses; their backs carry heavy loads; their eyes stare from side streets. I see why it is especially easy to generalize, to survey, or assume. Getting to know people—especially in a culture so different than my own—expends more effort than painting them all with one brush. But the calling is to love in a way that is not only corporate, but individual. I don't want to judge them based on the generalizations people make about the culture, on reading I've done, or claims I've heard. Each person is an individual Image-bearer. Their circumstances are particular. They no more want to be Brown Person #2043 than I want to be White Person #1097. People may be everywhere, but there is only one of each person.
The Father “so loved the world”, but He also loved the individual. Did you see how He comforted Hagar in her time of need, called out the sin of Achan, met Elijah in his suicidal anguish, or provided for Ruth of Moab? “In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son,” who took time to chat on a rooftop, by a well, or near a graveside. He didn't disregard a person due to his haircut or her heritage; He saw the heart. His call was general, but also specific: whoever is thirsty, let him come. Yes, He loves all, but He also loves in particular. Would we follow Him?