by Chloe Sun
This May, I had the opportunity to teach a two-week intensive course in Paris. My students were primarily blue-collar Chinese immigrants. Some work at local restaurants in Chinatown, some work at clothing stores and others have no steady jobs. Some left their families in China and came to Paris in search of a better life. Others came with their families, and are waiting for years and even decades to become legal residents. Most of them have not integrated into the mainstream Paris structure and culture. They live on the margin of society both socially and physically, subject to the rules and regulations of Paris’ government for their survival and welfare.
There I was, in the City of Light, a place renown for its romantic scenery and beautiful historic sites. I lived in a mixed neighborhood in the city center with local French, African-French and Middle Eastern French neighbors. By contrast, the place where I taught was in Chinatown, full of Chinese shops and restaurants, similar to chinatowns in San Francisco or Manhattan. Every day, I commuted between my home and the church, between the center and the margin.
My sense of center-margin dynamics shifted throughout my trip. I had always thought of the United States or the English-speaking culture as the center of the world, and felt out of place teaching at an ethnic seminary. However, while I was in Paris, I saw how the French did not like to speak English or even like the Americans at all. The church in France is in decline and many churches are empty buildings. It made me wonder: Is America or the English-speaking world the center? Or is France or the French-speaking world the center? Then there were my students in Paris — they occupy the lowest rung of Parisian society, but their devotion to God, their sincere faith in the midst of various difficulties, their desire to learn God’s word and obey Him place them in the center of God’s kingdom.
I also learned from the trip that it is our human nature to want to be part of the center of the visible world. If we are at the margin, we feel like a loser or a failure. However, when I think of Jesus, the Son of God, who came as a marginalized person, lived a marginalized life and died a marginalized death, I have to ask myself, “Why do I want to be at the center?” Being at the margin enables me to share the experience of Jesus’ marginalization and adds meaning to my own multiple aspects of marginalization. And as I’ve learned from my students in Paris, being on the margin can drive and empower us to live in the center of God’s Kingdom and will for our lives.
Chloe Sun, PhD., teaches Hebrew Scriptures at Logos Evangelical Seminary. She lives with her husband and son in Southern California. To contact Chloe, please send your inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.