The story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11 is usually interpreted this way: when the people tried to build a tower which could reach up to heaven, God punished them by giving them different languages so that they could not understand each other. However, there’s another way to understand this passage. God had said that he wanted people to spread out all over the world (Genesis 9:1). But they wanted to stay where they were and follow their own ambitions rather than be obedient to God. It suited them that everyone spoke the same language, for it meant that they could delude themselves into thinking they were the only people that mattered. God, however, knew that it was not good for them all to be the same – they were becoming insular, selfish and disobedient. So, rather than being a punishment, the fact that we have different languages and cultures is a blessing. It’s good for us to have to engage with people who are different from us and to learn from them.
One day at the Child and Family Centre, we had a wonderful example of this. At the mother and toddler group, Jenny’s little girl loved to run around the hall, trying out all the toys that were on offer there. She played happily with the other children, who came from many different backgrounds; cultural differences mean nothing when you are two. But for Jenny, things were not so easy. Her first language is Chinese, and she found it difficult to talk to people.
One way to help overcome barriers is to find a common interest – and we are all interested in food! So when Jenny offered to teach us how to learn to make a simple Chinese meal, we jumped at the chance.
The ingredients were simple, fresh and cheap:
Bean sprouts (1 packet)
Egg noodles (1 packet)
Jenny chopped the onions very finely, and made fine strips of carrot. Then she fried these both very lightly. She added the packet of bean sprouts and stir-fried these for a short time, until heated through. Lastly she added the egg noodles and cooked them for a few minutes till they were heated through too.
It was a simple as that.
Then we sat and ate together, discussing where we could get the ingredients and what could be added to the dish. “I’d add chicken” said one. “I’d add prawn”, said another. Chillies, soy sauce and peppers were also mentioned. Not only did we have a nutritious meal, we learned about Chinese cooking, and enjoyed each other’s company. Jenny gave us a wonderful gift that day, and she gained in confidence as she shared her knowledge.
The story of the tower of Babel teaches that our differences as human beings is a blessing. It is unhealthy for us to think that our way of doing things is the only way, refusing to look beyond our own lives. Without our different cultures, Jenny would not have had something new to teach us. She was able to step out of a place of vulnerability and to enrich our lives. Barriers were broken down. We learned something of her culture, came closer together, and we all had a delicious meal in the process.