Foreign –> Familiar
By Gemma Creasy
The New Arrival
As I walk down the streets with crowds of people all around me speaking words unfamiliar to my ears, it all blurs together into background noise. Between those murmurs I hear people calling out to me, saying hello, asking my name, telling me I’m beautiful. I share an awkward smile and continue to walk, watching the pavement carefully to ensure that I don’t step in anything, or fall down one of the many open holes into the filthy drains below. I walk by the buzzing stores where people sit day in day out selling anything they can to merely ‘get by’. Sweat drips constantly down my back and my umbrella shelters me from the sweltering sun. I wear jeans and a t-shirt despite the heat in order to remain modest, but sometimes I wish I could just go out in a singlet and shorts. I crave familiar food that is not full of MSG and sugar. I miss steak and salad. It takes all my strength just to leave the house because the colour of my skin leads to many eyes being on me. I feel as though people don’t truly want to know me, they are just interested in me because I am different to them. I don’t understand why their first questions always seem to be so personal. They ask if I’m single, or where I live. I never know if they truly expect me to answer their probing questions, so I just reply ‘secret’ and walk on by. As I walk I see groups of friends laughing together, children playing on the streets, and families sharing meals. I look beside me, and am reminded that my friends are far away, continuing their lives in New Zealand. My family too are at home, working hard to allow me to be here, home, where I could have been, too. My ministry is discouraging. The students who I came here to serve are so shy and move away from me whenever I sit down, which leaves me sitting alone. I don’t know how I can be of benefit to them as an extrovert who can’t handle silence and needs to have a flowing conversation in order to feel comfortable. I don’t speak or understand their language or their tribal culture. I return to my house where I dwell alone. I lock all the doors for fear that someone might realize that a white girl is living there by herself. I gaze out the window at night, on edge because there are so many boys living in the house behind me and every time they open their gate it sounds like mine. I look out at the cloudy skies and wonder what I have done with my life. But then I remember, I chose to be here. To be amongst these unfamiliar faces, in the unbearable heat. I chose to sacrifice living in a safe, clean country to go and live in a far off land. I chose to follow the calling of God and step into the unknown. I chose this unfamiliar and uncomfortable life. And I know God has a purpose for me here.
The Familiar Foreigner
These streets have become familiar to me. I know where the cracks and holes are, where not to step, and where people have likely gone to the toilet against the walls. As I walk I can understand most of the conversations going on around me, and I have learnt how to respond to the probing questions. When the men on the street ask me where I am going I know to reply “diyan lang” and they have met my fiancé, so they now only joke about wanting to be my boyfriend. I can hold a conversation with the little kids on the street who greet me, and laugh when we can’t understand each other. I have made friends with my neighbours, teachers, and teammates, and I no longer have to walk alone. When I go to the supermarket they greet me by name and I look forward to saying hello to them all when I get my groceries. I am no longer an unfamiliar white face to these people, I am a friend. They have heard my story, they know my desire for people to come to know Jesus, and they are wanting to truly get to know me. The smells don’t bother me anymore, I don’t notice the stench of burning rubbish or rotting meat at the local market and dried fish is a smell I quite enjoy. I’ve learnt to adapt my eating habits to the food that is available to me, and my McDonalds visits are now more for the air con than for the comfort of western food. The sweat doesn’t bother me; in fact, it’s helpful because despite drinking so much, I don’t need to use the public facilities that have no toilet paper. I have adapted to sleeping without a fan at 29 degrees, and sometimes it feels so cold that I use a duvet. I have no fear when I am alone in my house because my neighbours know me and look out for me, and even better God provided me with a lovely flatmate. My ministry brings me great joy. The students come around after school and I am able to teach them skills such as baking, photography, and English. I am still not fluent, but we have fun together and they look forward to coming around. When I go to where they live to teach them English on Saturdays, I see how they have grown in confidence and understanding. I see that my time here was not spent in vain. God has provided all I need. It’s not a comfortable life, but it is familiar to me now and I know how to cope well. I have of course learnt so much and grown in character and understanding of the world. Even as I write this there is a power cut and a typhoon on the way, but that doesn’t bother me, I have all I need. God doesn’t call us somewhere without reason. There may be discomfort, and actually there should be. Discomfort takes us beyond what we thought we were capable of, where we grow in character and understanding. This past year has been far from easy, but it has been so wonderful. To know that I followed the call of God, persevered, and thrived, gives me confidence that no matter how impossible things may seem, if it is His will, He will make a way.
Gemma has spent a year in the Philippines, serving amongst indigenous youth in Mindoro. This article first appeared on Gemma’s blog at gemmacreasy.wordpress.com.