Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Pride Uncovered

[what's brewing today: a double shot of myself]

The first time I ever stepped foot in my country of service was two years ago. I was spending the summer there, living in a room full of girls at the orphanage that my future in-laws had started nearly 12 years prior. I had just completed graduate school and was anxious to get out and use my training in counseling in this setting. I was soaking up the culture and was passionate about understanding the lifestyle of the people here. I ate whatever I was served, I took ice-cold showers, I shopped in the local market and learned to stomach the odors and gory animal parts that lay across the cold tables in the ‘deli section.’ We traveled on cheap buses and bought food off the carts of local vendors. This is what international work should be like, I often thought to myself.

My husband was raised here, so he has come to know many missionary couples and families over the years. That summer we would occasionally run into them and subtly evaluate their lifestyles—the nice neighborhoods they lived in, the supermarkets they shopped in, and the American-style restaurants they preferred over the local cuisine. As we dreamt of our future together that summer we strategized ways to preserve our connection to the local people. We will live among the people. We will shop at local markets, not the fancy supermarket that had come to town. We would never eat at the Burger King or the KFC that had recently been opened. No, we were going to live like the people we were working with.

And so we returned to build our life here. As we were looking for a place to live, security became a concern—we wanted to live in a neighborhood where we would be safe. I wanted to live in a place where I would have the freedom to walk alone, and that was not in the area where the orphanage was located. Break-ins happen frequently there and we are high-risk targets simply because we are Americans. We wanted to reduce our risk, and thus we began looking for a home in a neighborhood where other missionaries had lived before. The small, solar-powered hot-water tank on the roof of our home was an enticing indulgence that we would never have in the area where we work.

I still frequent the local markets and enjoy that connection with the women selling their goods and the camaraderie with other patrons seeking the best quality at the lowest price. I have made a game of having my national friends guess the prices of my purchases and gaining great satisfaction in my ‘gringo’ bargaining skills when I have paid less than they would expect. But with time I have been enticed by the ease of loading my goods into a shopping cart that glides around the store rather than hauling my bags of potatoes, fruit, rice, etc. from one vendor to the next. I have strolled the aisles of the local supermarket, basking in the joy of convenience. I have secretly hoarded four Betty Crocker brownie mixes into my cart, knowing they will sell out soon and may never return again. Set prices ring up on the screen; I make one simple transaction at the check-out stand, and I am happily on my way out to catch a taxi.

I look back on that first summer I spent here and am ashamed at some of the judgments I made about the missionaries who were living here at the time. I always thought that living here permanently would be just the same as living here for a summer, but somehow life within the glass-shard-protected walls of our orphanage compound, cold showers every day, never walking alone, and devoting an entire morning to shopping at the markets has settled in on a new level. I understand why these families made the choices they did, and we are now making similar choices ourselves. We still do not eat at Burger King or KFC, but we did order a pizza from Domino’s the other night and cherished that taste of home. Perhaps it was a taste of humble pie as well.

10 comments:

Rodger and Lynne Schmidt Mozambique said...

Hi,

I've just read your blog for the first time and, as I read, I remembered feeling the exact same emotions you are now experiencing in our early days on the field. Now, 5 years and 1 month later, it feels like home and we love it! hang in there!

Bakingfreak said...

Thank you soo much for writing! As a new missionary-to-be I'm going through a lot of what you have been writing down in these posts...

just a heart felt: Thank you.
Thank you for writing honestly,
thank you for letting me feel like I'm not the only one going through it.

CA RN to Honduras Missionary said...

Ah...humble pie...I've had a lot of that lately! Have finally made it to our host country - and are in the trying to find a house, shop, live stage ourselves. It's humbling, tiring, and exciting all at the same time!

jackandellasmum said...

Humility is hating McDonalds in the States, and then realizing the joy it brings your children when they see the golden arches for the first time in a strange country!

Kara said...

Yes! Thank you for exposing the subtle judgements that we make about each others' choices.

We all make hundreds of choices about our lifestyles as missionaries. And we won't make the same choices as anyone else about anything. So, we have to decide to not judge even if we wouldn't make the same choice!

Coffeegirl said...

Subtle judgments - that's exactly it. And the judgments go far beyond our lifestyle choices, don't they? Christ's call to unity is so clear and so strong, yet we silently tear each other apart with judgments and comparisons. I remember feeling nervous to invite a fellow missionary to our house for the first time, wondering what her thoughts would be. I expended so much energy worrying, and assuming she would be judging me, rather than focusing on the encouragement we would draw from being together. What is that about?!

By the way, Ella, I love your comment about McDonald's! I recently heard a story of an MK that moved overseas as an infant. Upon arriving in the US for the first time at age 4, he saw those golden arches and said, "Look Mom, they have McDonald's in America too!"

Ellie said...

This year, I went to the beach. Interesting thing for me since it is not something we often get to do. I noticed there, that I was self-conscious - no surprise, I think most women are. So I carefully looked around and found a comfortable spot. I found a spot where the women near me were fatter than me! Then I relaxed.

When I came home, I laughed about that when I told my friends. I said it is not really about how skinny we are, as long as we are skinnier than the people next to us.

After years of living on the mission field in vastly different circumstances, I have come to the same conclusion. It is not about how "adjusted", "self-sacrificing", or "culturally appropriate" we are that we judge ourselves on. Only that we are more so than the person next to us.

Unfortunately, as you said, that brings competition, judging, and pride into the precious few relationships we do have that could be really positive things.

Different people, different missionaries have different callings and different requirements. For years we lived with a minimum of "help" - only a cleaning lady once a week, and we looked down at others for having so much help. Another place found us running an informal guest house with usually 12-20 people in every day for a meal and most weeks overnight guests at least five nights of the week. I got a couple to help cook and clean. It was not a different heart attitude, just different requirements and needs.
Now, I don't need them... but do I miss them at times? YES! :)

Other people got more "imported things" that we didn't. At times, I was tempted to be jealous or judging, but then I needed that friends help for a regular medical procedure. I got to know her, her heart, and her love. When I knew her, I could relax in her nice home eating brownies or chocolate chip cookies, depending on her help, and being friends. What are a few cookies between friends? It really wasn't enough of a reason to put division between us. I needed her more than that, and she needed me, too.

Amy said...

Thanks for writing about this. I think we all experience this to some degree in Christian community, but missionaries are even more sensitive to making sacrifices and who is roughing it the most. In the US we compare who has a nicer house. Overseas, we want to see who can suffer the most! We were judgmental about what church people attended. We looked down on people who attended an English speaking church. We attended church in the national language for 3 years. Finally we really needed a change and I really needed to worship and fellowship in English. That was only one slice of the humble pie I was served in our first term. But how sweet that pie is!

Theresa said...

thanks coffee girl & mozambique for letting me know I'm not alone...just in my new country for 3 months now and definitely in the "how do I find everything" stage. I was wondering if I would follow the call to be here IF I didn't have some of the luxuries from home .... I mean, aren't we suppose to adapt to the culture we're in? Or is that naivitee talkin?

Dana_Marie01 said...

I totally enjoyed the Pride Uncovered... I remembered feeling those same emotions early on then realizing that other newer missionaries had those judgements towards my family and I...God's grace is truly amazing. When my family and I first lived in our host country we lived in a remote village house like everyone around us and we got so increadibly sick it was unheard of... my youngest child had malaria 4 or 5 times within the first year and people watched us for 24 hours a day literally. My husband and I decided after much prayer that the only way to really be able to stay in the country for a longer time was to make sure we could reasonably maintain health, had a measure of privacy, and good nights sleep...so walls on our house became a necessity. we also decided that good clean water was a necessity as well as comfortable beds. We had more "things" than those around us but we were not extravagant by any means. It was a difficult first two years though until we came to an understanding and peace with our Lord about how we were to live in our new country. we gave up a lot of the cultural American ways but some of them made our stay better and healthier. What we had to determine was, what was the Lord asking us to do, and how was He asking us to do it... once we had those answers it was easier to do those things and not feel abased or abounding just blessed...

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