So three things I know. One: All of my social, cultural, and emotional training comes from being embedding in a society that prides itself on independence. Two: My personality is prone toward withdrawal. Three: I’m in a place and profession where interdependence is necessary for survival.
Just one question. Why is Jesus doing this to me?
Missionary Life and an Interdependent Society… AKA All the Ways I’ve Needed People
Here’s just a random sampling of all the ways I’ve needed people in the last few weeks.
Leaving the airport. I was met at the airport by a conference lay leader who showed me where and how to get on the ferry that would shuttle me to Freetown. Upon arrival two members of the Conference staff, representing the bishop, picked me up at the ferry and drove me in the dark to the Leisure Lodge around the corner where I am still staying two and a half weeks later. I knew none of these details before I exited that airport. I just had to trust that Global Ministries and the church connection would get me where I needed to go. And they did.
Transportation. It’s not a good idea to take public transportation here. The bishop assigned a member of the conference staff, Olivia Fonnie, to take time out of her vacation to take care of all my needs and be my driver. She’s done this not just with grace but joy and pleasure. In the process she's become a good friend. The assistant to the bishop (number two person in the conference) has also been my driver on more than one occasion. It was suggested that even with a car, I don’t drive for at least four months until I get used to the craziness that is Freetown driving. So for at least four months in town and maybe forever out in the Provinces, I am dependent upon somebody else to get me around.
Car. Olivia won’t be able to drive me around forever, especially once she’s back to her own work. A car is necessary. The bishop made this clear in October when I met him at my commissioning. This was a surprise to me. Since I got here, I’ve been working with a Christian company based out of Europe to find the right one. They provide cars to non-profits doing humanitarian work in Sierra Leone because cars are hard to come by here and VERY expensive. We have exchanged no less that 15 emails in the last two weeks going over my high-maintenance needs. Lots of time and energy given to me. On their website I saw a post about a car here in town that this company would make NO money on the sale of. Three days later I bought it.
I did not pay one. single. personal dollar for that car. Just writing that makes me squirm. It was all provided by the people at First United Methodist Church Round Rock and maybe a few others connected to me. I don't actually know. A lot of people have a hard time accepting the grace of God. I never thought I was one of them until now. It is so hard for me to accept this kind of grace as a gift from God's people. I should have worked for this and earned it. But I didn’t. It was a free gift. Given in love. It’s made me realize just how much pride I take in taking care of myself. Not the good kind of pride. I am humbled.
Apartment. Members of the conference office did the apartment search for me, negotiated down the price, made edits to the contract for my protection, and inspected safety. They are using their connections to find me some house help that is trustworthy because I "shouldn’t by myself all the time". They always say we need to find someone that we know. The driver must be someone that we know. The hotel I’m in is owned by a United Methodist lay leader who goes to church with Olivia. Always someone that we know. Why? Because relationships define who you are here. And when you know someone, you don’t cheat them. The bishop said that as a part of finalizing the apartment, he was going to need to meet the landlord in person. Can you imagine an American Bishop insisting that she or he meet the landlord of members of the conference staff? But here relationships hold so much more power. And I’ll tell you, it’s a huge comfort to know that even the bishop is so invested in taking care of me.
Hotel Staff. This one I didn’t actually need…but it’s an example of how much kindness you get when you let yourself depend on others. Last Sunday I came to breakfast wearing my clerical collar. It made quite a splash with the hotel staff at breakfast. They didn’t fully realize that I’m clergy until they saw the collar. Word spread quickly apparently because Jeremiah, the evening waiter at the hotel restaurant, mentioned it that night with a big smile on his face. He said, “I’m so glad to know that. We need more women like you to serve the church.”
Last night, a week later, I asked for a large water after dinner. They were out of the big ones so I ordered three small ones instead. When Jeremiah realized I wasn’t quite ready to go back to my room, he said he’d put them back in the refrigerator and carry them to my room when I was ready. I told him that there was no need. I don’t mind warm water and I can certainly carry three small bottles of water back to my room on my own. I do have hands. But he put his foot down. So ten minutes later, he and I walked back to my room, him carrying a tray of my three little water bottles. It felt very silly actually. But we chatted on the way. When we got to my door I took them from him with a thank you. And he said with the sweetest smile, “It is a pleasure for me to serve a servant of the Lord.” Lord, my heart!
I don’t deserve this kind of attention or help. And I don’t deserve this kind of grace. But... I think that is actually the point. Funny how often that’s a lesson that needs to be learned again. And again and again. Funny how often we forget how much we truly depend on one another. We cannot do this living thing alone. And if we can, we cannot do it well. I’m reminded of how much we kid ourselves to think that what we have or do is all because of our own merit or hard work, especially in the US. That’s a lie.
I'll be honest and say that three weeks in, the interdependence is beginning to wear on me. I spend a lot of time waiting around on rides and asking people to show me how to navigate the grocery story. I yearn for the good ole days when I could just get in my car and drive myself to target. Seriously. That is a legitimate fantasy that I have on a daily basis. It's not an easy thing to learn a new way. But still, I’m looking forward to letting this kind of interdependence make it’s way into my every day and get into my bones. I think it’ll lead me closer to life.