It's so easy to slip into thinking that my work here is a job, instead of a ministry. To start focusing on the work, instead of the people. And today I messed up. When I went to the slum to teach reading to one of the moms, it was a job. I went as a teacher, not as a friend.
And I'll try hard to not make that mistake again.
I have my literacy class for an hour every Monday inside one woman's home. Lets call her M. She is my age, a mother of 5, and is learning the sounds of the letters in order to learn how to read. My time with M is actually my favorite one on one time throughout the week. The class lasts an hour, and we usually end with me reading the Bible out loud to her and praying.
Her motivation to learn how to read has come from her confusion about religion. She believes in God, but and feels that if she can read the Bible for herself, than she will be able to decide if she really wants to follow Jesus or not. She is in search of truth.
I didn't realize that my hour with her was over until my phone rang, and I looked at the time. Realizing I was late, I stopped what I was doing, told her that I had to go, and that I would see her again later in the week. I started packing up my bag and she awkwardly walked towards the door to let me out. I hadn't finished up the lesson, read the Bible to her, or prayed. I just packed up and started to leave, thinking she would understand I was 10 minutes late for the next class I was teaching.
"Karen," M said, "I want to apologize to you."
"What for?" I asked.
"I don't know what I did to make you get up so fast and want to leave. I'm not sure what I did that has offended you to the point that you have to leave my home, but I'm so sorry. I hope you will still be my friend, and that you will come back."
I was shocked. I was on a schedule and had to leave. But my actions of getting up quickly, not explaining, and having M on a time schedule was offensive to her.
My culture is time-oriented. Costa Rican culture is relationship oriented. And even though I'm not Costa Rican, in order to impact this culture and community, it is necessary that I change, and leave parts of my culture behind- including the emphasis on time. Even if it means being "less effective," according to the standards of my culture, it is the only way to be effective in the community that I'm living.
I'm one of the few people in M's life that represents Christ, and today, because of my cultural issues, I did a terrible job. God always has time for us- he never walks out on us in order to help someone else.
I sat back down on the couch and apologized to M. I did my best to explain myself of having someone else waiting for me in a different location, and she began to understand that she had done nothing to offend me; I was the one who was rude.
She said, "Well at least before you leave, can you pray for me? I need God's help in different areas of my life, and I would really appreciate it if you could just pray."
So we prayed together. I prayed for God's presence to be in her home, for wisdom to make good decisions, and for Him to be close to her. I gave her a hug, and then went to my next class feeling terrible.
It was a good lesson to learn, and I can change things around to be able to spend more than just one hour with M on Mondays. But I felt really bad. There are moments when I realize how different I am than the Costa Ricans around me and when I realize the mountains of cultural differences that lie between us. It's only the grace of God, and the fact that He has truly called me to this community and culture for this time, that I am able to do anything right at all- that I am able to get past myself and my culture, and really be His hands and feet in the communities we work with.
"Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now." - Saint Teresa of Avila