Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Does your mother know?!"

I was at a friend’s house recently, for a movie night, where I was a complete stranger to everyone else who showed up. I was introduced as a fellow church member who had been working abroad for the past eight months or so in Nepal. One young lady’s reaction was particularly intriguing.

“Don’t tell me you went by yourself!” she exclaimed rather unexpectedly.

I assured her that I had in fact gone by myself.

“Did your mother know? What did she think about it?!”

I assured her that mother had in fact been quite excited for me, since she had raised me there as a child. She thought it had been a wonderful opportunity to return and reconnect with friends from my family's previous time there.

The young lady didn’t seem to have anything more to say, but looked at me with blank, almost hysterical, amazement.

What perplexed me more than anything was this young woman was probably not much older than I; what business did she have to scold me so? Looking back, I was in jeans and my college sweatshirt, and introduced as a UCR student. She probably thought I was much younger than I actually am. Note to self: I should emphasize graduate student, and apparently need to work on looking older. I guess that means wearing make-up and heels regularly. Bleh.

People’s reactions to learning that I was about to spend eight months on my own in Nepal had solicited similar reactions. Was it politically stable? What did people think of Christians there? Was it safe for young, white women? Many assumed I would be shot or kidnapped. I assured them that I had more of a chance of getting shot or kidnapped here in the States than in Nepal. I was welcomed back to Riverside from my stint in Nepal in 2009 with text messages from UCR’s security warning everyone that an armed robber was running rampant on campus, and newspaper headlines about shootings on Perris Blvd in the neighboring town, which I drove passed at least twice a week. I’m glad I’m covered by the prayers of my Nepali brothers and sisters every day I’m outside the country of Nepal.

When people ask me what I did in Nepal, I reply that I worked at a small NGO involved in language and literacy development. My jobs mostly entailed editing English documents—annual reports, drafts of grants, my Nepali boss’s articles, various forms that are supposed to amount to ‘accountability’ for foreign donor agencies—but I also re-did bulletin boards, made photocopies, collected and edited material for the website, phoned liasons at embassies, mingled with linguists and politicians, and made numerous trips to various partner agencies in and out of the Kathmandu Valley, where I was based.

After a confused look, they usually tentatively ask, “…and you said you were a missionary?”

Who do they think does all this necessary footwork? Is my usual thought. My work for this NGO wasn’t too different than what office staff at my sending agency back in the States do everyday. At least once, I should take a friend’s advice and tell inquirers, “Well, you know, I performed miraculous healings and cast out demons on the weekends; all that office work was just a cover for my real work.”

However, another friend’s wise advice rings loud and clear during these times of temptation—“Grace, Tori, display grace”—bringing me back to the reality that I, though justified, am still in the process of santification myself. I should be the one thanking these people for being instruments of God’s sanctification in my life rather than nashing my teeth at them on the inside…