Phiona had her phone stolen a month ago. The police caught the one who was using it and called her into the station to identify it. She was gone all day with this problem and it turns out our landlord is the one who took it. I was so concerned that we would have a struggle and get evicted but Phiona assured me that she would handle it without the authorities and solve it like grownups. When we say you can’t trust anyone here, we really mean, don’t trust anyone. It is so disappointing and often discouraging because the very people who are your friendly acquaintances are plotting to make what is yours become theirs. Working in this culture with this struggle is exhausting. It could be so easy to slip into the slimy mire of bitterness. I once was always so sunny and glass half full, but here, I am in danger of becoming hardened. I must remind myself over and over to love and forgive those who wish to use and abuse me. That is one tough task for my heart to overcome. But if I fail, I lose my peace and joy. I’m not willing to let those heart treasures go. I must persevere and find the way to love my enemy and forgive the worst offenses.
Robert and I had a long talk about forgiveness and how it relates to trust. He asked me specifically when we saw a former friend turned enemy pass us on the road, and another person whose van was parked outside his friend’s house if I had forgiven them. Big slow swallow. Before I answered Robert he asked, would you give them a second chance? It seemed to me he saw the two as the same, and I see them so differently.
I think yes I’m nearly completely through the hard work of forgiving them. I can think of them without rising emotion. I honestly hope they are restored with God for what they have done, and that they turn to good so they can honor God with their good talents. I really do feel that. (even though I have much intellectual doubt that they will, though a strong faith that God can do anything with anyone, I am living proof.) However the second chance to participate in our ministry? No. I would be an absolute fool in the eyes of man and God to allow that. Forgiveness doesn’t mean going straight back to the beginning from where we were when the problems began. It means a fresh start prepared with new knowledge. Perhaps if I was asked for a job it would never include the handling of money, not even the management of our animals. It would be something manual with hand labor and I know that would not be acceptable because they thrive carrying the title of boss.
Trust is earned over time, never immediately restored. Forgiveness can be given in the moment of a breath to come in and go out completely. They are not the same things. The reality is that it doesn’t matter what I say, it will be how I act that demonstrates the proof of my forgiveness. I’m still not sure I could be polite and greet them in public. When I watch old british movies they do it all the time and I shudder. In this culture polite manners are so extremely important. Robert told me in the villages where cultural practices are stricter, a woman who wears a cap, sunglasses and trousers won’t even be acknowledge as present because her attire is so disrespectful. No one may greet an older person with sunglasses and a cap on their head.
With all these excellent manners the deceiving and stealing are as natural as pulling a blanket around the body for sleep. One of the qualities of this culture I admire so much is the use of good manners, but when I see how one can never really know who to trust behind the good manners I am so disappointed and confused.
I am a see what you get kinda girl. I suppose I can pull out the fluffy manners but I don’t usually do it to overcome how I am in the moment. I find it easier to be real all the time. I’m not fooling myself, or anyone around me this way. When I am in danger of being rude, I remain alone. And with this I can learn to control my emotions not mask them. So yes, I am saying perfect manners can be a mask. By putting on a mask, there might be no need to change what is behind it. The two can coexist. There’s the Ah-Hah.
What I am struggling to learn to do is love those who deceive, could deceive or have been a repeat offender. My instinct is to reject and turn away. I also like a little justice. When I sit with God on the matter I often see he knows everything all the time and he still chooses to love us while disciplining us to become more of who he wants us to be. Finally, the justice part is in God’s hand. His plan is better than mine and he says revenge is his. So I can surrender to that arrangement peacefully.
During this trip I have compared myself now as I work in Uganda with who I was two and a half years and ten trips ago when I was in Kampala seeing it all for the first time. While I want to hold onto my initial appreciation for this culture, I have been seasoned, educated and trained in the hidden culture here. I sought it out. I delved in deep to find it. While the discovery was fascinating I have been wounded along the way. I think the fact finding mission has been completed and it’s time now for me to make some decisions about my frame of mind and my action plan to go forward.
Phiona is so used to the underside of the perfect manners. She shrugged and was just happy to have her phone. I’m still horrified by who did it and how it happened. Where I live this doesn’t happen every day. I would never expect to have my necklace ripped off my neck if I go to the riverwalk in San Antonio. With more prayer I am going to observe Phiona’s good management of this problem and try to practice it myself.
I think these matters I have grappled with today are how to define what it feels like to be a foreigner. My knowledge base of social interactions here is useless. How much am I willing to give up to set a new foundation so I can be effective and honor God as I work in this culture? Apparently a lot because I continue to reach beyond the corruption to the need here to help children. My passion to make even a drop of change occur for orphaned children who are in the hands of desperate adults grows daily despite the education I receive about the belly culture. That’s my trump card. I love the children with the outpouring of God’s love, I am equipped to help and willing to give that my full abilities….even at the risk of being injured in my tender heart. To do the good work for the children I must endure the grit of society without hardening my heart. It is so much easier to say than to do. But like the good adventurer I am, I hoist my pack full of spiritual gifts, prayers and intimacy with God and take another step forward.