Being the White Minority

By Erin Pettengill, May 2, 2017

In Honduras, there was no doubt we were the white minority.

That being said, there are a whole lot of missionaries in Honduras. There is an entire Mennonite community smack-dab in the middle of Honduras. We were in the minority, but white people weren’t an uncommon occurrence. According to the CIA Factbook, it lists whites as being 1 percent of the population. I could find hair dressers to cut my hair, clothes that would fit, American restaurants that would whet my appetite, and tons of American import foods at the grocery store because of the big missionary presence. So, yes, we were the minority, but there, blaring differences weren’t so dramatic.

Here, in our little African country, things are dramatically different. In the city where we live, I would suggest there are probably about 10 white people. The CIA Factbook doesn’t even list “whites” as part of the demographic make-up as there are so few of us. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other immigrants—from China, the Middle East, and other parts of Africa­—but European white, or U.S. white? Yeah, about 10 of us. The grocery stores are filled with foods from all over Africa, the Middle East, China, and more, but I’ve yet to see any “American food.” And, let’s face it, beautiful African hair is nothing like my very white-person hair. At every hair dresser’s I’ve walked in to, they’ve taken one look at me, shaken their head no, and out I go. Having been here for over a year now, I’ve never found a place to get my hair cut.

We don’t own a car, for various security and practical reasons, so we take taxi’ wherever we go. In I go, and more often than not, if there are children in the car, I am stared at for the entire ride in the taxi. The look of sheer bewilderment on the children’s faces when Spanish erupts from my lips is quite humorous to watch. When we walk into a new church, every head turns, when we go to the grocery store or the market, people watch us. When I put on a clinic, or go to schools to give parasite meds, silence ensues as people watch and try and figure me out. If children are bold enough, they touch my skin, and pet my hair. Personal space is nothing like it is in the U.S.—be prepared to be intruded upon, sat on, kissed, hand-shaken, and to have people showing off their “white friend.”

I buy strange things, and people always look at my cart wondering what in the world I would be making with that. I sport colored tattoos on my feet—my feet are stared at all the time as I walk from place to place. My weird accent, my strange hair, my white skin, being a 6’1” woman, I start to understand a little of what it means to be a minority.

But for the most part, people are kind. They help me when I look lost, or need help finding something. Drivers stop the car to let me cross the street, and people first ask me if I’m from Spain as there are so few North Americans here. 

Being here, in a very foreign land, helps to remind me to always be kind. I struggle, almost daily, to figure out how to live here. Not speaking Fang, I struggle with those who don’t know Spanish—and I get a taste of what it’s like being a foreigner in the United States. In my mind I always thought, how lucky the refugees or immigrants are who are able to find shelter in the U.S. It has so much to offer, but it will never be “home.” No matter how long a refugee or immigrant lives in the U.S., there will still be familiar sights, tastes, and people from their original home that they will forever long for. It helps me be a better person, I think, being a foreigner in a foreign land, not even being a statistical presence of a white person in the land of Africans. To be a white minority.

But God is not quiet in all of this. 

1 Peter 2 tells us that we are foreigners in a strange land, that we are aliens and strangers in the world.

Leviticus 19:33-34
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

Exodus 23:9 
“You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt." 

Ephesians 2:19
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

Colossians 3:11
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. 

So whether you are the minority, the majority, the foreigner, or the national, let us love one another in Christ as Christ loved us.


Erin Pettengill served as a missionary in Honduras for eight years. She now serves in Equatorial Guinea. 

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