I turned my head just as the tinny motorcycle darted past. The schoolboy’s taunt echoed in my ears. “It’s Misses!” I wanted to scream, but forced a clenched-teeth smile instead while willing the frustration back down into my breast. How could I ever love the people here?
As I slunk into the grocery store and snatched a red shopping basket, my thoughts drew me back to language school and my first impressions of my new home. We had lived in a large university town where the national people were more used to seeing Westerners. Since our move to the tiny island, I felt like I had been plopped into a fish bowl. I was uncomfortably conspicuous and had suddenly become a “Mister”.
A few weeks later we invited another MAF global worker over for dinner. He had lived on the island several years before and was returning for a visit. “I really enjoyed living here,” he was saying as we munched on chicken creole and biscuits. “The people here are so friendly.”
My mental jaw dropped. “What?” I thought. “How can he think these people are friendly? They’re so rude!”
“But Larry,” I ventured out loud, tempering my not so polite thoughts, “didn’t you ever get sick of getting ‘Hey, Mister!’ shouted at you all the time?”
Larry smiled and nudged his glasses farther up his nose. “Now that’s what I loved!” His carrot stick waved wildly, “Because it gave me a chance to talk to them. If you view it as obnoxious you’ll never get anywhere with the people here, but,” the sincerity peeked from his eyes, “if you think of it as a plea to be noticed, you’ll have a great reputation on the island–and opportunities to win souls to Christ.”
His words slapped my sense of reality. Suddenly it occurred to me that I had been choosing my reaction to the people of the island. And, if I had been choosing to respond in a negative way, maybe, with God’s help, I could choose to respond in a positive way. I could view the nationals’ cries of “Hey, Mister!” as a command from the Lord: “Hey, minister!” As if the Lord were saying, “Hey, minister to her by noticing her and responding with a smile,” or, “Hey, minister to him by introducing yourself and asking about his family.” All the while grasping God-given opportunities to develop relationships with the purpose of sharing the gospel.
I began to understand that Larry’s attitude mirrored Christ’s, who never allowed himself to be frustrated when people clamored for his attention – even up to 5,000 people (Luke 9:10-17); but affirmed their worth by acknowledging them, like blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), and the leper (Mark 1:40-42); and compassionately ministered to their needs.
Since Larry’s visit it hasn’t always been easy. Many times frustration still threatens to overpower me when I hear the echo of “Hey, Mister!” But God is patiently teaching me that only through His Spirit’s empowering can He minister to people through me. He is the ultimate “Minister”.