My uncle, a lover of travel, history and culture once called me a "citizen of the world." I was taken aback, flattered by the phrase. It seemed a high title for someone who simply enjoyed seeing the planet and its people.
As the world gets smaller economically and socially, however, more and more people are becoming citizens of the world. They are thinking globally in terms of business, politics, service and all sorts of other issues.
The other day I received a Facebook message from a dear old friend. I lived with his family for two years when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa in the mid-1990s. During that time, our village house had no running water or electricity. Most mornings I went with the other women to pull water from a deep well and carry it back to the house in a bucket balanced on my head.
At night, a kerosene lantern illuminated the house where we ended our days with a simple dinner, bucket baths under the stars and fading conversation. Fifteen years later, my old friend can reach me online to say: "Hello. How is your family?"
Now that's keeping in touch -- over time, through shifting cultures, across oceans.
Last week I received an e-mail forward from a college friend in California about a young woman she knew in Chattanooga who had gone to Haiti for the week. I read the e-mail, recognized the girl, then received a call from one of her friends a few days later who had been on the same trip. She works with a lady in my writing group who thought we should meet.
There are people who travel the world and stay with friends along the way.
Yet, I am aware that there are others who have never left their own city, small town, or even neighborhood, for very long. I have been dismayed on more than one occasion when asked to speak to youth about overseas work and travel, only to discover that they were not fascinated with other places of the world, had no desire to explore, and weren't interested in other cultures and people. Their appetites had not been whetted, their minds remained closed.
How do you develop global consciousness in the mind of a child? Stories of far off places helped open my awareness, both in books and in the tales of my father, who had been a missionary as a single man. He showed my siblings and me pictures of people in distant lands and told us about their interesting cultures.
My mother encouraged us to think about children in other countries and to reach out to them by selecting a child to sponsor through Compassion International. Our sponsored child lived in South America, and we sent her money each month for school and lunch. Her picture was a fixture on the refrigerator throughout our childhood. We read her letters and prayed for her.
When I wanted to go to school in California, my parents didn't bat an eye. They put me in touch with some relatives in the area and sent me packing. They figured I could learn and grow far from them as well as close to them. And so I did.
Shaping a consciousness of brotherhood and awareness begins early but can span a lifetime. It can promote peace, shared resources, adventure, and humility in others and ourselves.
Tabi Upton, MA-lpc, is a therapist at CBI-Richmont Counseling Center. To continue the discussion on international service, the Peace Corps, or missions, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.