Dinner at Eight: Serving Cross-cultural Fare with a Side of Reality
We have had dinner guests nine out of the last ten evenings, and we have joined friends for other meals; our eyes are glazing over. A couple nights ago, two visitors to our hospital compound, Todd and Sherry, joined us. They eagerly told us that they are celebrating their 20th anniversary and chose to do so with a two-month trip to see missionaries. We are the fourth country on their list, and they are delighted with all the differences in ministry methods and all the cultural insights that world travel affords. Our lives all seem wonderfully romantic.
Secretly shooing a cockroach away, I smiled, trying to convey a mix of romance and delight. At some point, however, we all acknowledge that this life is far less romantic and far more real than they think. In fact, I remember reading a biography of a missionary lady who worked in China decades ago; she wailed, “Have we no rights?! Sure, we have elephants, hornbills, monsoons, and curry here, but would you say it’s ‘cheery’ to give up having our own way? ‘Dreamy’ to give up rights? ‘Upbeat’ to die to self?”
Our new cook, Ronnie, felt our car was too close to the carport poles for him to park his bike. He sneaked our car keys, assuring the gardener that he could drive, then backed the car hesitantly onto the driveway, shifted to forward, and released the clutch. Our shiny car leaped forward, crashing headlong into the pillions and bouncing sideways into another pole. Cement shattered to the ground. Onlookers screamed and fell backwards. The car door could no longer open. Amazingly, my husband laughed when he saw it (yes, of course, Ronnie will need to pay, and no, we will not recommend him as a chauffeur), but it is so painfully typical—broken fridge, dysfunctional fans, frequent power outages. It is now the expected: we give up the right to a normal standard of living.
Yet the song whispers reminders to us, even us:
Oh, how He loves us!
Oh, how He loves us!
How He loves us so!*
Pouring rain drenched the final game of the hospital’s soccer tournament. Even so, a band played buoyant tunes, and two elephants marched across the field. My husband was seated with various community dignitaries under a sagging tarp. A hole over his head drizzled non-stop water into his lap. He shivered. At halftime, steaming cha was served to all dignitaries, but the waiters forgot to give any to him. When the Out-Patient Department team won and the cheering subsided, he was asked to speak to the muddy teams and the mobs of bobbing black umbrellas; he nobly commended the teams for healthy lifestyles and good sportsmanship on the field. Unfortunately, when it was time for the hot curry feast, my husband could not spot me in the crowds. Dejected and cold, he splashed through puddles and ate with the dignitaries in the teachers’ conference room. I joined the dripping crowds in the kindergarten room and laughed with a friendly servant girl who ate next to me. This too should be expected: we give up the right to sitting with people of our choice, and we give up the right to normal romance.
But we know that:
He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane; I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are and how great Your affections are for me.
Oh, how He loves us so
Oh, how He loves us
How He loves us so.
We sweated and talked with our dinner guests as resident toads caught bugs and a large scarab beetle hit the light and fell upside-down on the ground. Sherry burst out laughing and wiped her dripping brow when she heard that I wear a baggy shalwar-kamiz in which to jog. And Todd, the ‘green’ architect, said he was appalled at open sewers by the hospital laundry department, at seeing hospital patients and passersby spitting on the path, and at observing young boys (child labor?) using dirty cloths to willingly wipe down wet plates for customers at the bazaar’s snack shop. It is true that we give up rights to wear what we wish; we give up the right to ordinary safeguards of good health.
And yet—our joint meetings with expat colleagues last week were heartening, and interactions with our national friends affirm God’s grace. We have told each other stories of His recent work: I tell mine as I sit with Anna and Monika, watching their preschoolers sneak up on egrets and marvel over long earthworms. Together we discuss children’s church ideas and website plans. Then Menrum arrives with encouraging news about the Mru work. Pastor Robi urges my husband to come cheer on the baptisms. Alok hands me a stack of pages he has translated from Leading Little Ones to God; tribal ladies are telling me how God is providing for their college-aged children. My husband discusses literacy classes and new village schools, then writes official letters; in between phone calls, he prepares to preach this Friday. I bring him a cup of cha and wink. Do you remember Jesus’ words? I came so they can have real and eternal life, more than they ever dreamed of.
So we are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes.
If grace is an ocean we’re all sinking!
As Sherry marveled at the projects surrounding us here, she exclaimed, “We are standing on shoulders of giants!” Her eyes teared up, and I thought, Giants? Where? Long ago, we gave up the right to feel superior. National ladies adjust my sari. Neighbors correct our incorrect grammar. I help new language students, then ask the nationals how to say things myself. We miscommunicate. We procrastinate the dreaded inevitable. Unaware, we offend; we have to humbly apologize daily.
We gave up the right to run things. So my task-driven husband sits for hours through meetings run by event-oriented tribals. They exit the meeting looking refreshed and raring to go; we leave feeling bedraggled and wet. We are all needy people, yet we are thankful people, living the gospel—God’s grace to sinners.
So heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest.
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way
That He loves us,
Oh, how He loves us
Oh, how He loves us
Oh, how He loves!
* How He Loves, David Crowder Band.