“Hey Ali, Ali, Ali!” I heard this but didn’t react. “Halima, get Ali”. I suddenly realised that it was me that they were calling. We were in Morocco for mission experience trip. We were training missionaries in Argentina and also in other parts of Latin America. A lot of these students wanted to be missionaries in the Muslim world but neither of us had any experience there. Wilma had been in Taiwan and I had been short term in the USA. So we decided to spend a month in complete immersion in Muslim culture.
A Latin American organisation, working among Muslims organised a trip for us. A former student, now a missionary in Morocco organised for us to spend time with a couple of Muslim families. When our friend told the family our names–Pablo and Wilma–they said, “Oh that’s too difficult to say, he will be Ali and Wilma can be Halima”. (I only realised later that I got called “Ali” because I had a ginger beard and Ali Baba was red bearded.) The problem was that I didn’t possess an “Ali” identity so didn’t even realise I was being called.
I did, however, develop a “Pablo” identity. I spent 30 years being Paul before going to Latin America and got called “Pablo”. It was slightly weird but I did prefer it to “Pol” and “Pool” which I did get called at times. Wilma was variously addressed as “Vilma” or “Bilma”. There was another a missionary who was very irate with Argentines because they could not pronounce her name right.
I often say the first part of my identity that I lost in Latin America was my name. In cross-cultural work, the successful missionary will give away a lot of his or her identity. You cannot express yourself in the way you normally would do. If you do then you are likely to be misunderstood. You need to find ways of expressing yourself that are culturally appropriate.
The big challenge is to stay me but be me in ways that are understood by local people. This is why it is so important to know who you are in Christ primarily. Child of God, saved sinner, chosen, holy and loved.
Lord help me to know who I am in you, not relying on my success or even my name but on your love for me.