Serving abroad, for me, comes with the caution to not be ‘the foreigner who comes in thinking they know it all.’ It’s a temptation; after all, Christians here honor me as a missionary, thinking I’ve made great sacrifices in order to be here. I have a masters degree from the USA, so I’m treated as a scholar. I speak several languages, have some free time now that the boys are in school, and seem to have an endless amount of resources that could help the local church and people.
But I’m still so clueless. This week I started on a project meant to help pastors with preaching and thinking about theology after they leave seminary. A quarterly preaching newsletter that offers ideas for sermons, reflections on scripture texts, and a short theological piece. For our first newsletter, Eric took two of the topics (the cross, and Easter) and I thought, I’ll cover the topic of doubt, using the story of “doubting Thomas.”
I went to the library and immediately found tons of material. (Did you know Thomas meant “the twin”? Maybe doubt is a twin of worship – the two not opposites, but connected?) On my way out of the library, with all my handy research, I asked a local student if people here talk about “Doubting Thomas.” No, it turns out that there might not be a Malay word for doubt. We could translate belief and unbelief, trust and distrust, but doubt to me is something in between – “finding it hard to believe.” Wanting to believe but hesitating. That’s not as cut-and-dried as belief or unbelief. It just didn’t translate.
And so I was plunged into again realizing that I am a foreigner. I don’t know language or the art of translation; I don’t know what stories from Scripture are the biggies for people here; I don’t know how local theology approaches belief. I end up feeling like I don’t know much.
But, I didn’t give up. Today I went backwards: find a good story (Zacchaeus) and a theme in it (promises). And I ended up having a lot of fun, downloading the Malay language Bible on my phone and writing a draft of a topic that I think will be at least comprehensible. That’s the key in all of this, not giving up. An arrow has to be pulled back, and back, and back, before it can be “flung forth” towards its target. Yesterday I was a little down, today I’m a little hopeful. Cade’s French lesson yesterday was “comme ci, comme ca.” It comes, it goes. Sometimes I feel right at home here, sometimes I feel like a clueless tourist. The key is being open to the idea that tomorrow might be better.