Over three and a half years ago, driving from the airport to the place we would stay for our first six weeks in country I sat looking out the window, soaking in all the impressions of the country in which I expected to live for the next decade or two of my life. The women, especially those in the suburbs, were wearing head scarves and dresses with pants underneath that didn’t match. Some also wore quilted robes as warm around-the-neighborhood dresses, the kind of robes we would use over pajamas back in the States. God, I prayed, am I going to have to wear pajamas for the next ten years of my life? It looked so sloppy!
The next two years were challenging to say the least. We located in a smaller city, and sure enough, most of the women wore what looks like pajamas to us, when at home or in the neighborhood. As with most newcomers we were wondering exactly how we should live. What should our home look like? How should we dress? The answer isn’t simple in a cosmopolitan setting where several cultures and dress standards exist side by side. We chose to identify with the majority-the main stream among the un-reached group. Next, convicted by the fact that these people had never seen what a believer or a believing family in their culture looked like, we felt burdened to show it to them as much as we possibly could. That meant becoming as like them as possible. This approach however was not without its costs. And I began to feel the cost pretty quickly-in the price of my identity.
I had a two year old and a two month old. Disposable diapers weren’t available, neither was a washing machine (as we define it). Our main goals were language learning and relationship building. How was I going to do either?! We moved in with a local family to entrench ourselves in the language and culture. As a busy mom this was the only way I was going to get the exposure I needed to learn. Just about three weeks after moving in, I found myself squatting on the concrete floor of the bathroom washing thirty diapers one long morning. My role in the States had been one of thinking, strategizing, analyzing, planning. Who was I now? And who was I going to become in order to identify and relate with these women? At that moment I didn’t like what I would become. I wanted to go home. Or did I? God began ministering to my heart and mind. I remembered I really did want to be there. I wanted to do what it took to reach these people, but I was finding it extremely uncomfortable, even distasteful.
My baby screamed and once again my work was interrupted. I walked my baby and through tearing eyes glanced out the window to see a neighboring woman standing in 9 inches of snow, pouring warm water over her husbands head as he washed his hair. It occurred to me that she cooked out in the snow; she did her laundry out in the snow; her little shack of a home was not very warm; her life consisted of working to keep her family clothed, warmed and fed. It put my sufferings and complaints into perspective. I remembered that I had been one of the privileged 15% of the women in the world who lived with modern day conveniences and comfort. Most of the world’s women live lives that mostly consist of manual labor on behalf of their families. If 85% could do it I could too, by God’s grace. God spoke to my heart: He hadn’t called me to call these women to a more comfortable life; He had called me to demonstrate and bring them joy and abundant life in the midst of their circumstances. That meant I was to move toward them just as Christ moved toward us; and it would all be worth it! He also comforted me with the fact that I was in an adjustment phase, and that never feels good. But in time it would pass. I didn’t need to worry about who I was becoming or what my identity was. I just needed to BE for Him–with joy and contentment, to keep plugging away in life, in language learning, and drawing close to these women, and some day I would find my identity changed and find it not so bad after all.
Two years later I found myself sitting in my living room laughing with a dear local friend as she told me a joke. I realized I wore a scarf and “pajamas” most days of my life and it was okay. My identity was much more “housewife” than it had ever been before, and that was okay. For two years I had pushed to put language learning and relationship building first, seeking every opportunity to just hang out with the local women. Pealing off our Western-ness and adorning the local ways was a hard adjustment. What had it all amounted to? I still felt so limited in my language, so tongue tied when I tried to share with my friends on an emotional level. I felt so pressed to keep trudging the uphill path of language learning. But I had local friends who came to see me, laughed with me, trusted me with secrets, woke me at 2 a.m. in a crisis. I hoped with all my heart that some day they would share with me their spiritual hunger and I would be able to share the love of God with them.
Within another year it was happening! Thanks to God, I’m still tongue tied at times, but I’m able to share the Good News and discuss with my friends their spiritual states! My days are filling up with “ministry”, something I at times wondered if would ever happen. It’s God’s timing. He’s bringing women with open hearts into my path. I just happen to be here, available, with a little language and cultural bonding under my belt.
Following Christ may mean laying down your identity, everything you’ve perceived yourself as, and that hurts. But after all, when Jesus “who was God emptied himself and became man” wasn’t that the ultimate in sacrifice of identity? I lost one identity but gained another. God will never take from us something without giving us something better. Why hold onto this life, our identity, our conveniences, our safety, our security when we’ll lose it all some day anyway? In releasing those things, in losing our life, in throwing it all into the trustworthy hands of the One who gave up all for us is when we find the fulfillment and life that we will never lose. Challenges come and my complaints pop out; but I quickly remember how truly glad I am to be where I am, doing what I’m doing. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!