I’m absolutely certain that my least favorite thing about working here is cleaning up puke out of the car after giving someone a ride. Imagine taking your Grandma, who was alive before Ford, for a ride through a rock quarry in West Texas. That’s kinda what it’s like giving someone from one of our villages a ride here. Most of them have never ridden in a car and definitely not that fast or that bumpy. The end result is not pretty, and smells worse.
I’m going to try to explain why I get one part mad and two parts desperate when someone tosses their cookies in the backseat . . . but it’s complicated:
#1. People here are desperately in need of help.
Almost every time we get ready to leave a village a stream of people make a run for the car with their luggage. It’s hard to get between villages and so taking advantage of someone going anywhere close to where you are (especially in a car!) is top priority. And we have one of the only cars.
Many of them are sick and need to get what little medical attention there is here. Many of them are trying to buy food because they are unable to grow any. Many of them are on their way to bury a loved one. There are almost always good reasons why they are imposing on us.
Yet we know we cannot solve this desperation. We can’t solve their problems; we are finite and their problems are infinite. So even though we want to help and see that they are desperate, we feel we are not really helping. The problem is bigger than us, and I’m not helping the problem because . . .
#2. I am a sinful American who wants his privacy, cleanliness, and control.
I am American: I like my privacy. I don’t mind riding back alone (though that is impossible for our Malagasy friends to understand) and decompress the day with some English songs, a podcast, talk in English with my wife, or just plain non-linguistic silence. But I don’t get to make that choice–not when every person in a village of a 1,000 has a family member who needs to take a 5-hour car trip with us.
This last bush trip we arrived in town from one of the villages, I opened the door to let the eager, old woman out of the car. She immediately threw her lunch at my feet. I don’t care who you are, missionary or not, cleaning ick off your toes gets old. I did not intentionally choose a career path that included this. I have not yearned for this close, messy community. I like clean, healthy boundaries and not being thrown up on.
And yet it’s not the physical challenges that really get to us here. For sure, the disease, the poverty, the gross, the heat, the grind, they all do their part in making it difficult. But the hardest part is a complete lack of control. As I said, we can’t change a thing here. We can do some good, throw a starfish back in the sea or whatever, but at the end of the day things are only getting worse for these people. And then when they mob me for a ride in my car my first thought is for myself. Because I am part of the problem.
Essentially, every time someone hurls I am reminded of the gross injustice of sin in this world. It has corrupted everything in this world from bacteria to governments to my heart. And there’s really only one thing I can do to help: I can let Jesus change my heart and lead others to him for the same. Jesus has been guiding me for a while now and I’ve thrown up on him quite a few times. He knows I’m desperate, and he doesn’t shy away from helping.
We’re not here to be superstars or better Christians or something. And this is hard for us. But we are not alone.