So I’ve been in Ukraine for a little over two months now, and I’ve gotta say it still amazes me. The people, the beauty of this city, the fact that I’m a bagillion miles away from everything I’ve ever known… it all still amazes me.
I mean I’m 24 years old (almost an old maid by Ukrainian standards) and I live in L’viv, Ukraine doing work I love with the best people on this planet. Who can say that? Who does that? Well of course the answer to that is, I do that. The United Methodist Church and Global Ministries enables people to do just that. Pretty skinkin cool.
As a representative of, ya know, God and the church and such, I’ve often wondered (besides what the hell were they thinking when they chose me) what does all of this mean? What does it mean to be a missionary?
Does it mean power? wisdom? compassion? love? dedication? hard work? justicey? no more cussing? singleness? devoutness?
Last week I cooked supper with one of our students and members of our leadership team, Olya H. She is a 4th year student who is super intelligent, talented, and fun (and thanks to me, the “native speaker”, now knows almost all the words for boobs in english). While we were cooking–one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever prepared–she started asking me about gender roles and what I thought about them. I of course answered her question with a question, ‘what do you think about them?’
Now, anyone that knows me even minorly well, knows that I am all about forging your own path. That no one should dictate what your ‘role’ is in a family based on your sex, that this should be something decided on a family by family bases. So, why didn’t I tell Olya that right off the bat?
Because I’m a missionary in Ukraine. Women do run the house here, and they do raise the kids. They can be workers, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have to take care of the home and babies as well. At one point in this conversation, Olya said that she heard that in some countries men get paternity leave, and that was a crazy thought.
In Ukraine, it is a crazy thought.
So I feel like I’m a missionary, American, and all this stuff, and for all of those reasons people listen to what I have to say (well some people). This is tricky territory folks. I mean it’s one thing to not yell at the top of my lungs everyday that the cold doesn’t make you sick–because really what does it matter if it does or doesn’t–, but with issues that matter how can I hold my tongue? How can I not tell her, ‘I think that women have as much right as a man to choose their own path, to stay at home or to work (to be carpenters or teachers), that I feel like men too have this right, they too can choose to stay at home with the kids or work, and that in the grand scheme of things it is up to the individual families to choose what works for them,’ while staying culturally sensitive and appropriate?
So I answered her question with a question. I wanted her to know that what she thought mattered to me. That it is valid. That this person that was sent here to work doesn’t have all the answers, and I wanted to hear hers. (Truthfully I was also trying to figure out how in the world I was going to answer this without offending her.) And in her wisdom, she answered, in a family people should have roles or to do lists–he gets the trash and she does the dishes–that she feels that a home runs best this way, and that the folks in the family should get to choose how it goes. Ya see, she didn’t need me to stand up on my soapbox and tell her that we should be giving legos to girls too. That is part of this balance that we as missionaries must strike, we don’t always need to say something. I don’t need to be the authority, these folks that I’m with are more than capable of such a thing.
Now in the spirit of a conversation of course after her response I told her that I too felt the same way, and thought that society shouldn’t dictate the running of a family, but the point is is that I was just reaffirming what she’d said.
Being a missionary can mean many things, and to many folks it means a lot of different things, and with the title comes certain things. But the way I see it, I’m not here to change or to fix anything–but maybe at times a bit of steering is involved. Seems to me that things here are on the right path most of the time, and my job is to get out of the way and let God work. To let these amazing people decide how they want these ministries to work, see how God is working, and then help them when my gifts come in handy. I am sure that for me this means a lot of cooking, laughing, and loving on folks, and at the end of the day loving on folks is what I’m best at anyways.