The Power of Perspective
There's a big, a big hard sun Beating on the big people In the big hard world
— Eddie Vedder, Big Hard Sun (Originally by Indio), Into the Wild Soundtrack
By: Joe Webb
I was looking through some of my photographs today from my visit last year to Ivanovo and St. Petersburg as part of an Orphan’s Tree team. It’s been a year ago this week that I hopped on a plane bound for Russia, and so a bit of nostalgia is setting in.
As I was scanning through the nearly 500 photos in my album, a thousand memories rushed into my mind. The overwhelming sense of history I felt standing in the middle of Red Square the day we arrived in Moscow. The powerful experience of God’s spirit moving in a small Orthodox church on the outskirts of Ivanovo as I listened to a liturgy in a language I didn’t understand. The awe of being surrounded by works of Rembrandt and VanGough as we toured The Hermitage. The aromas and flavors of Antonina’s kitchen in the Ivanovo Ministry Center.
Of course, the most powerful memories are of the people. It’s a rare privilege to forge nearly instant friendships with people in your own neighborhood, let alone with someone from an entirely different cultural background half a world away.
In fact, that may be one of the most enduring lessons I took away from my experience in Russia. The undeniable truth that God works most powerfully through relationships. It is in our shared conversations and experiences that God most clearly reveals what it is he’s up to in this world.
The relationships I built during that all-too-short week are among my most treasured. Not just because my Russian friends are such amazing people (and they are!), but because of the way they transformed my perspective.
When I accepted Brooke’s invitation to join the team last May, one of the reasons I did so was that I knew I needed to stretch myself. I come from a very culturally homogenous context. Small-town Appalachia is a wonderful place to live and raise a family, but it is not a place where you’ll experience much in the way of diversity.
The ability to see the world and the human condition through a lens entirely different than the one to which you are accustomed is a tremendous gift. Even my brief glimpse through the eyes of my newfound Russian friends opened my mind, heart, and spirit in ways I could never have imagined or anticipated.
I guess there’s some truth to the old cliché that people are people, no matter where you go. We all experience love and longing, laughter and heartbreak, joy and doubt.
But we’re also different. We are shaped in so many ways by history and culture and a thousand other influences that even our common experiences can come from very different places.
And that perspective is now shaping me in ways that still sometimes surprise and amaze me. It is helping me view people differently than I did just a year ago. It is helping me see my own place in the cosmos in, I think, a more holistic way. It has made me more patient, more compassionate, and more eager to understand more deeply where others are coming from.
It is making my existing relationships stronger every day, and it is making me more open to new relationships. And it is making me more comfortable in my own vulnerability.
But more than all of that, the really cool thing is that it’s also changed—and is still changing—my perspective on the gospel. It has helped me orient myself more and more every day to the living, breathing kingdom of heaven as it breaks in all around me through all the hundreds of ways I interact with other people every single day.
It is helping me see the stunning reality of what author Dallas Willard calls “the kingdom among us,” and it is helping me articulate that kingdom experience in my own ministry contexts.
I guess that’s the really amazing thing about the power of perspective. It rubs off. Each relationship influences all of our other relationships.
And so, of all the amazing memories of the amazing experiences I had and the amazing people I met in Russia a year ago, the one that I carry with me the most is this new perspective. It quite literally was and continues daily to be a life-changing force.
It is a gift I am most grateful to receive, and most anxious to give.