Monday, June 30, 2008

a much-needed distraction

Yesterday morning's sermon text was from Genesis, the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac.  My supervisor preached a wonderful sermon about God not just being warm and fuzzy, but demanding and awesome. It was a convicting sermon, but I could still sense that I was letting myself get in the way too much.  I prayed during the early service, and asked God to send me a distraction, something to get my mind off of myself.  I asked God for an opportunity that would shed some light on what it means to be a true servant of Christ because I was feeling irritable and selfish. 

I was by myself in the office in between services, and a member of the church, looking confused, walked past and pointed into the office.  She was talking to someone else, and I soon saw who it was.  Into the pastor's office walked a young woman from Kryzykstan, whom I will call Nadia in this entry.  It is a Russian-speaking country close to the Chinese border.  She needed help, and so I asked her to sit down and tell me her story.

Nadia began to tell me about her journey to the United States this summer.  She and her younger sister came here to work and see the States, but they have experienced something very disheartening instead.  The woman who made their arrangements is mistreating them, so much, that Nadia and her sister feel they have to leave the Outer Banks, maybe even the country.  They were told that they would have private living arrangements for the summer.  Upon their arrival, the woman showed them what she meant by this.  Nadia and her sister have been crammed into one tiny room, with another roommate.  At night, they are kept awake as they feel bed bugs eat away at them.  They are to use this same space as their living area, and for entertainment, they have a television set that does not work.  And, it's not as if these ladies are staying for free.  They are being charged monthly for their stay.

This same woman decided that because gas prices had gone up, that she would no longer drive the girls into work anymore, that they could take a taxi.  They are living on the other side of the Wright Memorial Bridge, and working in Duck.  Taxi rides are expensive and hard to come by in this part of the country, and the bridge goes over an entire sound, not a tiny creek.  Everywhere the girls have gone for help, it seems that this woman was two steps in front of them, telling other employers that she was giving them plenty of hours and nice accommodations.  The fast food establishment across the street from the church has been letting Nadia and her sister work, in spite of their original employer's efforts.  The manager at this fast food restaurant told the girls that the woman with whom they are living has a reputation for being cruel to the exchange students who come and live with her.  Nadia met a friend, who early yesterday morning, pointed across the street at the church and told her that "they help people there."

So there Nadia was, sitting in the office, asking for a way to get to the bus station in Norfolk, VA on Wednesday morning so she and her sister could travel to New York City, and eventually, home.  She also needed a ride to Wal-Mart, to buy a temporary phone so that she would be able to contact her parents.  I knew that Duck UMC had helped other exchange students get to the bus station before, so I told Nadia that we would wait until the pastor returned to the office to work something out.  When my supervisor arrived, he was troubled by the situation and told Nadia that we would have things set up for her this (Monday) morning.  Having misunderstood Nadia, he handed her a $20 bill to help her buy a phone.  Nadia put the money back into his hand and explained that she could not honestly take his money, because it was transportation that she needed.  Stunned, he looked over at me and said, "Can you take Nadia to get her phone after the late service?"  I agreed, while years of training circled in my head, reminding me not to talk to strangers, not to be alone with them, to be suspicious of those who ask for help because they always want something more.

After the 10am service, Nadia and I departed on our journey to Wal-Mart. She bought her phone and 240 minutes for the rest of the summer so that she could contact her parents.  I asked her if she wanted to get lunch, and she mentioned that she had found a Chinese place across the street and loved eating there because it reminded her of home.  She allowed me to buy her lunch, and it really was an honor.  After a few quiet moments of eating our food, Nadia looked up at me and asked, "Why is it that people in that building are people who help others?"  Nadia had no experience of Christianity, and so we sat for awhile and talked about what it means to be a Christian, what it means to see people as human and not as cheap labor.  We drove back to the fast food place and sat in the parking lot programming her phone.  I gave her my number and told her to call me if she and her sister wanted to do something fun and relaxing for a change.

I was thrilled when Nadia gave me a call.  I also had great news.  My supervisor had agreed to let me drive Nadia and her sister to Norfolk.  We decided to go see a movie that would make us laugh.  Before the movie began, Nadia's younger sister showed me her leg that was covered in bites from the bed bugs.  I felt what some might call a righteous anger at that point.  We went for more Chinese food after the movie, and the sisters told me more about themselves.  Nadia is majoring in business administration, and her younger sister is majoring in law.  Here, they are not treated as humans because they have accents and at times, broken English.  They are called lazy for not being able to be ten places at once.  Nadia asked why I am going into ministry.  I was then able to explain what it means to be called to do something.

The sisters will be staying with me Tuesday night and then we will drive to Norfolk together.  I'm looking forward to it.  What is troubling about this situation is that I know some people think that too much help is being provided for these two girls.  Questions like, "What if every student in trouble depends on the church for help?" are being asked.  How sad.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if the church was a place to depend on?  Wouldn't it be great if the church always practiced radical hospitality?  Isn't that what we are called to do as Christians?  I am thankful for the support of my supervisor and my family in Virginia as I help Nadia and her sister.  I am even more grateful that God placed these two wonderful people in my life, so that I could be distracted--distracted from myself and my dwelling on things I cannot change.  Nadia and her sister have provided me with more than I could ever pay them back for.  Praise God.

No comments: