BY BON JIN KOO
Here I am for one year with a bunch of Africans in the middle of nowhere. Can’t tell Mom and Dad exactly where I am for security purposes. Get paid a little, feel good about myself, and put something fantastic on my resume. Sounded easy at first but it’s already day three and I’m dying from the heat. The villagers are nice, but they’re wary of me. They started to trust me once I cleaned up a kid’s nasty knee wound. Oh, and I’m stuck with some old missionary named David. Great.
Today was filled with a lot of nothing. Just sitting around, waiting for something exciting to happen like a dog catching on fire (it happened a few days ago). I know most of the villagers’ names now. I asked the missionary about his reason for being here, and we talked at length about it. He’s been here for forty flippin’ years! His name’s David Lancaster, but he insisted that I call him Dave. He also has a wife that came all the way here with him (bless her soul), but I have yet to meet her. He also invites me to the Bible studies he holds with some of the villagers. I politely refuse; I’m not much of a religious man. But he still invites me. Every. Single. Day.
Bored. Prevented several infections. Funny case with a lizard(?) thing. Getting the hang of the villagers’ language though! Just one of the things I decided to pick up to pass the time. Oh, went to Bible study for the first time. I guess it was fun. Who knew the Bible and dancing could go together?
So between my day and evening clinical shifts (well, I wouldn’t call them shifts since I’m the only doctor here) I just go around and talk with the villagers to pass the time. Makes this whole gig a little more tolerable. I have a knack for languages, so after a couple months or so, I learned most of their dialect. It’s really fascinating. No writing system of any kind. And seven different ways to express the word “love!”
After Dave discovered that I learned most of the dialect, he asked me to help him develop a writing system. He wants to translate the Bible for the villagers. I reluctantly agreed (what else do I have to do?), but I told him it would be an immense task. He told me that he’d ask his organization to pay me extra, but I felt bad so I refused. He asked me whether I loved the people here. Of course I do! I have to when I’m here. Dave seemed disheartened at my answer.
Today… today was… yeah. I finally met Dave’s wife, Abigail. The reason why I never saw her until now is because she’s in advanced stages of… several diseases. By the time Dave noticed something and sent for a doctor, Abigail was too poor in health to be moved. I was amazed she was even alive at all. Today, she stopped talking. After asking for the previous reports and making my own diagnosis I Dave told me she didn’t have very long.
I had a very brief conversation with Abigail. By the end of it, I asked her if there was anything I could do. She said she was proud of me for helping Dave translate the Bible. She humbly asked that I would see the translation through to completion. She closed her eyes before I could reply.
Rest in peace, Abigail.
Burying someone in the village was a bit complicated since the villagers have multiple superstitions about death. A good friend of mine, ZZ, was the only one from the village who agreed to help Dave and me. It was really difficult… Dave would periodically stop and stare at her coffin when we were carrying it. When we finally buried her, Dave broke down in tears. When I tried comforting him, ZZ had a look of surprise on his face. I thought I did something wrong or sparked a superstition, but ZZ ran off yelling, “White man! White man cry like us!”
Dave remained depressed for quite awhile, but he’s looking a little more cheerful now. When I asked him how he was, he said something about God strengthening him. Forty years of missionary work and not a single follower or disciple or whatever? I asked Dave how he could keep this up, especially without Abigail. I asked him how he could believe in a god that doesn’t reward him for his hard work. He answered: “I have been given the supreme pleasure that is the grace of God. Despite the sin that makes me wholly unworthy, God sent his son Jesus to die for me and make me wholly worthy. He then called me to love others as he loves me. How then can I moderate my love even after all these years? Love by definition is wasteful. Can moderated love be even called love at all?”
I thought long and hard about that question. Was my love for these villagers moderated? Hell, was my love for my own wife back at home moderated? Can moderated love be called love at all … I mean, the answer is obvious isn’t it? But why does it bother me so much?
Dave grew very ill. I agreed to help him conduct Bible studies along with the translation effort. I thought his depression would come back, but I have never seen him more cheerful. He still tries to evangelize to the villagers every day. All I can think of is how unfair God is. If God is real, how could he be doing this to Dave?
Going to miss you, Dave. Don’t feel like writing much else today.
The villagers were awfully excited for some reason. I didn’t really care. I’m almost done with translating the Bible. Gotta keep working.
Oh, and the young missionary sent to replace Dave came today. His name’s Paul. Nice fellow. Not nearly as funny as Dave though.
Today was crazy! After the Bible study today, nearly the entire village wanted to become Christian! Paul and I were both shocked… Paul heard how Dave’s ministry was stagnant. He asked them why they did not respond during the time that Dave was among them. The villagers responded that Dave had told them that if they became followers of Christ they would not fear death. This impressed them, but they needed to see whether it was really true. So they waited until he died, and seeing the way he died made them all want to become Christians.
Today was my last day. Paul and the villagers threw a huge farewell party. I was touched. ZZ presented me with the first translated copy of the Bible. ZZ had become Christian a few days before and asked me if I was interested. I said I still needed to think about a lot of things before making a decision like that. As I got on the boat that would take me home, ZZ said he would pray that God would show “suehsap” to me. It was one of the seven ways to express love in their language. This one in particular meant the patient love a parent demonstrated to his or her child. I thought of Dave all the way back home.
Photo courtesy of Winston Kim.