“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Colossians 3:1
Our adopted Ukrainian children had to learn a new culture, a whole new way of life. On the way back from Ukraine, as they experienced their first plane ride, the kids were fascinated to discover that the seat covers on the plane were Velcroed on. They immediately began removing the covers on the seats in front of them to the amazement of the people who were sitting in those seats.
Susan had to immediately begin teaching new social boundaries. The children had little awareness of personal space. They had never experienced any personal space. They started life in a single room with as many as eight people on a dirt floor with no plumbing and no electricity. They went from there to an orphanage with forty beds in a single room.
We do things differently from what our children had experienced in Ukraine. Many of the differences are not about right and wrong. It’s just a different way of life. Personal space is important to their new family and to Americans in general.
The summer after our Ukrainian children arrived, a Slavic congregation from Atlanta began using the facilities at the Ranch for a summer camp experience. The Ukrainian pastor, his wife and their friends came from the Slavic congregation in Atlanta, sponsored by the church I had pastored there. They came up to our house to discuss the logistics of their summer camp for immigrants from the former Soviet Union. They asked, “Are there things we should especially be aware of?”
I said, “One cultural thing we have introduced to our new children is swimsuits. We wear swimsuits to swim.”
Swimsuits were not common in Ukraine. People who were very modest in their attire in other settings, including the wearing of head coverings for worship and very modest clothing in daily life, stripped down to their underwear when the church family went on a picnic by the river. They would never be seen in any other context that way, but when they swim, they simply remove their outer garments.
Many American swimsuits are less modest than underwear. Americans are not more modest than Ukrainians, but Wears Valley Ranch, as a subculture, is more modest than either. Our students and staff, as well as females who come to our summer camp, are told to wear modest, lined, one-piece suits. The word lined is important. There are two-piece suits that are considerably more modest than unlined one-piece suits. I explained to my Ukrainian friends that swimsuits are just an example of the kinds of things requiring cultural sensitivity.
The first time Susan took our children swimming in Ukraine, it was their first experience in an indoor pool, actually in any pool. They stripped down to their underwear, and while Susan was startled, she thought it was cute, innocent and sweet. But she knew it wouldn’t work in America. If our nine-year-old girl went swimming in nothing but her panties, the kids at the Ranch wouldn’t know how to deal with that.
When our children arrived in America, we bought swimsuits. We wanted to take them into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to swim in the Little River. They dutifully went upstairs to change into their swimsuits. When we got to the river, they quickly removed their swimsuits and jumped into the river in their underwear. Later, when our older boys took them for a swim in the Ranch pool, they made sure that their new siblings understood the social boundaries of proper attire.
Our little girl embraced the idea of new clothing, especially shopping. We bought them lots of new clothes. They weren’t used to having much clothing. This was a reminder for me that God repeatedly uses clothing as a metaphor and repeatedly says, “You have to put off the old garments and put on the new garments.” You and I are supposed to be dressed in a certain way.
God calls us to wear robes of righteousness. Jesus told a story about a fellow who was invited to a wedding feast, because the original invitees had turned down the invitation. The Lord had sent his servants out to compel people to come in from the streets.
One man came, but he was not wearing the wedding garments he had been given. The host said to the man, “How did you get in here without wedding garments?” The man was bound and thrown out into a place of suffering.
You and I cannot come into the presence of God apart from the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We have no other hope. We can’t come on our own merit. We can’t come on the basis of our good deeds. We have to come on the basis of his righteousness and his alone.