Living in India as an expatriate for several years, I’ve personally experienced many variations of an allegory I recently heard. The allegory centers around Uncle, a working expatriate living in a large Indian city. It goes like this.
Every day when Uncle left his house to go to work, the kids from the neighborhood were always in the park playing cricket. Every day when he came home from work, the neighborhood kids were in the park playing cricket. And every day, both morning and evening, the kids would call out, “Uncle? Come play with us!”
But Uncle always replied, “Oh, sorry boys, I can’t. I have to go to work.”
Before school and after tuitions, the kids were there.
“Uncle? Come play with us!”
“Oh, sorry boys. I want to but I can’t. I’m really busy.”
Then one day Uncle thought to himself, “You know, I’m not that busy today. I can play for a little bit!.” Right on cue, the boys called out, “Uncle? Come play with us!”
“Ok boys, I’m in!” Uncle exclaimed.
The neighborhood boys were very excited. Uncle was also, but there was an obvious problem. Uncle was from the United States and didn’t know the first thing about cricket. He had much to learn. The neighborhood boys excitedly began explaining the rules.
“Uncle, it is not very difficult. There is a bowler and a batsman. The bowler bowls the ball from that wicket and the batsman hits the ball from this wicket.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Uncle. “It’s just like baseball, except in baseball we call the one who throws the ball the ‘pitcher’ and the one who hits it the ‘batter’. You boys would love baseball.”
The boys, only slightly fazed by this interruption, continued to teach excitedly. “Uncle, after hitting the ball, run to the opposite wicket. You run between the wickets as many times as possible before the ball touches the wicket. That is how you score runs.”
“Yeah, yeah, very similar to baseball!” interjected Uncle. “Except in baseball we have 3 ‘bases’ that you have to run and touch and only when you come back ‘home’ do you score a run.” You boys would love baseball, we can play that too!”
Uncle continued to talk excitedly about how great baseball was. Unfortunately, he was oblivious to the indirect, nonverbal cues the boys were practically screaming. Finally, the boldest of the group said, as respectfully as he could in his second language, “Uncle, we want you to play with us, but you have to play by our rules. In India we play cricket, not baseball.”
“We want you to play with us, but you have to play by our rules.”
I have seen this story play out so many times in my own life. Me, a westerner, desperately trying to play baseball in the cricket grounds.
How many times has my Hindu friend excitedly invited me into his world, and I sent back my RSVP on star-spangled stationary? I was thrilled to participate, but I unconsciously responded in ways that shift and change the culture and context of the occasion. Instead of receiving my friend’s invitation to join his life and adapting to the situation with humility and open-mindedness, I (often unconsciously) forced my friend into changes to make it be on my terms.
Don’t get me wrong. It is a worthy aim to initiate and build cross-cultural friendships with our Hindu friends. And it is very natural and good to be excited to share what is meaningful and familiar to us. Genuine friendships involve giving and receiving from each other.
But our Guru, Muktidata Yeshuji, displayed time and again that His heart is to meet people where they already are, not force them to change to adapt to his own preferences and comforts. Imagine co-creating the entire universe from formless nothingness, and then finding yourself repairing the walls of your Nazarene neighbor. Or being “the Word that was God”, and finding yourself sitting in Torah class. Yeshuji chose to come be with us and live like us. This can empower us to do the same.
I would highly encourage us to change our posture to embrace discomfort and clumsiness. We can humbly decide to follow Muktidata Yeshuji’s example. We can learn to play the game of ‘cricket’ so that we can join our Hindu friends where they already are. Just like Uncle, who didn’t know the first thing about cricket, we have much to learn when participating in Hindu culture. But also like our friend Uncle, our friends are eager to teach and share!
 John 1:1 ESV