confessions of a culturally stressed missionary….

by mendibpng

Some days come and go without any cultural stress at all. Other days, there is a choice to be made and an opportunity to show grace with boundaries…

We employ people from the valley close to our training center for two reasons: we need the help because it takes so much time and effort to live here, and we are able to give an income to people who might not otherwise have a way to buy food or pay their children’s school fees.  Along with employing someone comes a relationship, where we are obligated to them for more than just a paycheck.  So, we employ a man who works in our garden.  He is really soft spoken and does an amazing job with the flowers (I will post some pictures of our garden soon!)  His wife comes and helps me in the house one afternoon a week–hanging up clothes outside, washing dishes and mopping my floor.  She is polite but a little more direct than he is.  We often have coffee together and discuss our families. She brings her baby and a babysitter because her baby is still nursing, so I happily provide tea and bisquits and lunch  for both of them.

So where is my stress coming from? I give the maximum wage to the lady who works for me, plus I also give her something every time she works: a bag of rice, salt or several packets of noodles.  However, she often asks for dinaus (a loan).  I feel conflicted sometimes when she asks me for an amount that will take her weeks and weeks to pay off, and sometimes I give the money outright.  I usually always give her the full pay she earns because she needs to feed her family somehow (an afternoon of work is the equivalent of $3, which could buy at least some rice and some canned meat).

This week she nearly had paid off the last dinau because I had given her extra work and a Christmas bonus (which she had taken to buy linens for her grandma’s funeral) and then she asked for more today because her baby was sick.  In a split second, I decided to go ahead and give the money again, without question (as I have done every time she has asked) because….look at me….if my child was sick, I wouldn’t hesitate to go to the doctor. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy medicine that he or she needed!  The $3 she would have earned today would not have even paid for the clinic visit, much less medicine if she needed it.

On the other hand, because this happens so often, it feels like I’m being taken advantage of.  I wonder if I am helping her by giving her handouts, and is she is going to keep asking me until I get really stressed? I have decided that for today, I made the right decision by giving her the money she needed (actually I gave her more than double what she asked for because I had no change!)  However, for future references…I may tell her “let me ask my husband” and Ben and I can decide together what is the best course of action, because anyone who knows Ben knows that he has a lot better boundaries than I do!  And if truth be told, I cannot help every person in the valley. But at least I can help the people I am friends with, especially those who work for me.

This brings me to a question. How important is my stuff and my money? What IS generosity really? And when is it a good time to start having good boundaries? I think I know the answers to these questions…but this topic is one that I often hear talked about by other missionaries because living in this culture and  being so Western in our thinking can be hard to reconcile. In some cases it has caused so much stress that the relationship cannot continue. I am choosing to live with the tension because I care about my friend AND it is a good opportunity to practice being loving and having boundaries in my own home.


2 Comments to “confessions of a culturally stressed missionary….”

  1. Hi Mandy,
    I really enjoy your posts, keep writing! This one brings up interesting issues about friendship & money as well as boundaries. As someone who is STILL paying off school loans, I’m often struck by the fact that a debt is a type of bondage. Because of that, I often feel that if a friend needs money & I can give, than I just try to give it. Then again, even a gift can cause one friend to feel indebted to another & that isn’t always good for a relationship.

  2. I love your blog and your heart. Amazing how much we are learning on this journey. Thanks for sharing. Sending you a big hug from another big island!

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