Friday, December 28, 2012

Me and my negligbile knowledge of humanity

This week I'm at Urbana 2012- a huge missions conference hosted by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I wrote the following post (minus a few edits) 3 years ago, after I went to Urbana 2009.

Image source.

Me and my negligible knowledge of humanity

(Or, what I learned at Urbana 2009. Part 1. Part 2 is here.)

I have no idea about the answers to these questions: What are people like? What is the world like?

I only know what Americans are like. (308 million people, out of 6.8 billion in the world. That’s 4.5%. Source: ) Or maybe I just know what white middle-class Americans are like. (74% of Americans are white. That’s 3.3% of the world’s population.)

So basically I have no clue about 96 ish % of the people in the world. Good job perfectnumber.

(Hey Canada is kinda the same as the US, can we throw Canada in there too? That brings it to 5%. Hooray.)

Seriously. Who are these people? There’s so much diversity in culture and ethnicity and language and EVERYTHING.

And I hear things about poverty and problems like that and it all seems so far away, so different than my life, so it seems impossible. Apparently 1 billion people do not have clean water ( ). That’s 15% of the world. Compare that to the 4% of the people in the world which I claim to be familiar with.

And I’m like, “Really? People don’t have clean water? Oh come on, everyone has clean water. Just get it from the sink. Duh.” Yeah I don’t believe it. Okay I believe it in the sense that, ya know, that’s what the statistics said, okay sure, but no it doesn’t feel like it’s true. It’s unimaginable to me to not have a sink. Are there people who have never SEEN a sink? Are there MILLIONS of people who have never seen a sink?

And I can make statements/questions like that, to try and grasp the magnitude of the world and what life is like for people- it’s just so UNBELIEVABLY different than my life. And I say “unbelievably” quite literally. I don’t believe it. But that’s how the world is so I should believe it. (I hope this believing-and-not-believing thing is making sense to people...)

What if I truly did believe there are hungry people in the world? (1 billion undernourished That’s 15% of the people.) What if I truly believed poverty exists? (3 billion live on less than $2.50 a day. That’s 44%.)

I’m afraid if I actually believed this stuff, it would really mess me up emotionally. Like okay I can dig up these statistics and go “OH MY” and be shocked about it for a few minutes, but the thing that happens next is I forget about it. Well not entirely- I am mildly aware of some vague idea about suffering people in the world somewhere, but it doesn’t seem real. But what if I lived with knowledge of the magnitude of the world’s problems and injustice?

Wow. I like people, so I hate to hear statistics about people suffering and starving and such. Okay but if I really loved people, wouldn’t I care instead of shutting myself off from their pain?

And it’s confusing because I can’t do much to help people so far away with such big problems I can’t even comprehend, so what’s the use of me getting upset about it? Doesn’t it make sense for me to forget about it and live my life?

I don’t know. Maybe this time I will resolve to NOT forget about it.

But not understanding the world isn’t just about people’s needs. I’ve also realized I kind of don’t like it when people are different from me. As if all the experiences in my life and the way my family does things is the “correct” way to do it.

This comes out in the form of witty sarcastic comments which could be interpreted as insults. You’ve never seen Star Wars? What rock have you been living under? Wow, making cake NOT from a box? What an unusual new theory. Haha isn’t it funny when people have attached ear lobes? It’s like there’s no ear lobe there at all. Oh right you’re from California where they don’t do weather correctly- so have you ever seen snow? And seriously why does everyone have a heated debate over “soda” and “pop”? Clearly they’re interchangeable. So I made a joke about relativity and then I realized I was hanging out with all these people with lame majors like psychology and business so they were all like “?” You’re crossing the street HERE? Don’t you see that route is so much less efficient? Engineers cross up there. How are you wearing shorts when it’s this cold? You didn’t watch “Magic School Bus”? What did you do for your entire childhood?

I don’t think it’s bad to make witty sarcastic comments, but I realized at the root of a lot of them is “you are different from me, so you’re doing it wrong.” FAIL FAIL FAIL FAIL FAIL.

And thinking about people all over the world whose lives are totally different than mine, well I pretty much just think “some people don’t have the internet? How do they live?” It seems to me that everyone’s life must be terrible and amazingly boring if they don’t have all the stuff we have here, most importantly, the internet.

But no. It just means I don’t know very much.

If I go somewhere and live with people whose culture is totally different from mine, they know what they’re doing and it works. So I’d have to learn to do things their way. (You could think of it as “they’re right, I’m wrong.”) There’s a lot of beauty and stuff in other cultures. And I love people. I totally want to understand and know people.

That reminds me: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ) At Urbana (big missions conference with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) they said, “Know the world that God so loves.”

And I don’t know the world that God so loves. That means I see so little of God’s heart. How can I know God if I don’t know his extraordinary love for so many people? How can I know God if I am totally unaware of the beauty and creativity he set up in diverse cultures all over the world? I see such a small part of God and I hate that.

Who is my God? My Lord Jesus- he’s the God of the epic worship music and lights and crowds at Urbana. He’s the God of the back seat of the car where I sat alone on April 20, 2008 and realized the epic greatness of my sin- the God who used that to bring me out of heartbreak and the greatest hopelessness I have ever experienced- he changed my life in one week and the only thing I could say was “God is good.”

Okay multiply that by a few billion. God rescued me, and God rescued a few billion other people. I can’t understand that. There were 17000 people at Urbana and God knows them all and God spoke to thousands of people there AT THE SAME TIME and God spoke to me. It’s overwhelming and I can’t comprehend it. He knows so much more than I do. (People tell me “Perfectnumber, you know everybody!” Just trying to be like Jesus. ;D )

My Lord Jesus is the God of so many people in so many countries that I know nothing about. My Lord Jesus is the God of people I do not know and events I will never understand. But I want to know. I want to know what the world is like and what people are like. Okay perfectnumber, the internet. Ever heard of research? Ever heard of going places and meeting people? But I’m so busy... am I really gonna research? It’s a nice idea, but am I actually going to put time into it, to know the world God so loves? I hope so.

Speaking of God’s love for the world: So I learned about “unreached people groups”, which are ethnic groups which have very very few followers of Jesus and actually most people there don’t know about Jesus at all. says 41% of the world’s population is in “unreached people groups”. Aka 2.75 billion people. (As mentioned earlier, 4.5% of the world is American. Just so you can get a sense of the numbers here.)

Wait, some people don’t know about Jesus? They’ve never HEARD of Jesus? And I’m looking at this 41% stat and I’m like “no way it’s 41%... at Urbana they said it was more like 30%...” but I guess that depends on definitions and stuff. Anyway, whoa.

For me, the idea of people who have never heard about Jesus was always just a philosophical argument. You know, say I’m talking to somebody about God, and explaining heaven and hell, and how we all need Jesus to rescue us, and he’s awesome, and then the question comes up “What about people who have never heard about Jesus? So do they just go to hell?” And the answer is, “oh, drat I don’t know. Good question. Uhhh... I guess God judges people based on what they did know, or something...”

I didn’t see them as people God loves, people that Jesus died for. People with creativity and intelligence, created in the image of God. People with weaknesses and fear, people who need Jesus desperately, just like I do. No, I saw them as a hypothetical objection I’d have to refute in order to convince someone about Christianity.

Perfectnumber, what were you thinking? In my defense, I didn’t know such people existed.

I’m sorry. I know so little, and in a lot of ways I do not love people like I should.

Okay yeah that’s pretty much it. I realized I know so little about the world in terms of people’s physical needs, spiritual needs, and the beautiful diversity in cultures all over the world.

What is the world like? I want to know. And there are two options: just forget about it, or actually try to learn things.

When Jesus instructed people to “love your neighbor as yourself”, someone asked him “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10. ) And that’s what I’m asking now. Who is my neighbor? Jesus responded by telling the story of the good Samaritan. A Jewish man was robbed and beaten and the good Samaritan helped him, despite the racism that existed between Jews and Samaritans. The point is, my “neighbor” includes people who are so different from me.

God, I want to love people like you love them. I want to know you more.


  1. :D I like this, (even though I read it waay too fast and you ended up with squirrel voice ... )
    Its one of the things that I'm looking forward to about heaven is meeting people with such different experiences ... I mean I've grown up in Australia and when I've had the opportunity to travel overseas their lives are just so different from us. I spent a month in Cambodia just over a year ago and its been so easy to just forget what it was like there and slip back into my own lifestyle.
    And on the other hand - I know personally that I really need to set up that World Vision subscription thingy. Hopefully my little bit can go along way.

  2. Thanks! It's overwhelming to me to think about how different the entire world is, and how little I know- and I love that picture in Revelation about every nation and language together worshiping God.