On The Road to Serving God
FINALLY! I am here. After all the years of planning, applications, preparations, and approvals, I am on a plane, waiting on the tarmac for our turn to take off.
All is quiet, when my deep reflecting thoughts are suddenly interrupted… the plane surges forward just a bit as I hear the brakes tighten… my heart misses a beat, as the 747’s four engines increase escalation.
The sound of the racing engines reach a peak, as the interior walls of the plane began to shack and rattle. Then, the brakes release and all aboard are pushed back in their seats, as the plane charges the runway.
Faster and faster, the images in the window pass my view; the plane arches upward, when at this point we hear two strong bumps as the landing gear falling extend and close up.
Then a smooth, heart-pounding silence, as we take flight over the bright coastline, on then out over the dark Pacific Ocean. Just before leveling off, our plane makes a sharp turn to the left as we head back over the California coastline and head toward our final destination, New York City.
Am I Going Too Far?
Passing over the Southern California, I could see my hometown, my old highs school and the newly remodeled hospital where I worked.
Looking back over the city of friends, family and all that I was leaving, I suddenly became troubled with deep thoughts of personal doubt. Internally, I began asking myself: Am I really doing the right? Am I going too far with my religious convictions, or have I just simply lost my mind?
Now on an initial analysis, the answer may seem extremely obvious, but remember, this was back in the reality of the Seventies, a time of protests and contradictions, of noble self-sacrifices and yes, perhaps some misplaced values.
We were all seeking solutions for our insecurities in the middle of our deeply troubled society. Many would protest against the “Establishment.” Dress up in old clothes, live in the park, and sing about love and power from flowers.
As for me, I was leaving a promising career in medicine, along with several educational opportunities, leaving it all, to become a full-time missionary in a foreign land.
This was the full and complete blessing, after several years of prayer and applications, I received an invitation to attend a very prestigious missionary school in New York City. Then upon completion, I received a Theological degree and a foreign assignment.
It was the opportunity of a lifetime. So, I sold all my worldly possessions, picked up my Bible, and I was off to preach and teach the will of God and to yes, quite possibly change the world, or so I believed. Little did I know then, in time the world would actually change me.
After graduation and with this outstanding Bible education, I was now fortified with all the religious and political guidelines of the missionary work.
The Language and Culture
I was assigned to a small congregation in the southern part of Bogota, Colombia, South America. This assignment had a wide range of economic and social developments. I found the people to be warm, welcoming and loving, with many unexpected wonderful cultural differences that I needed to respect, understand, and appreciate.
As expected, Colombia was a Spanish speaking country. However, although having been raised in Southern California, my Spanish speaking abilities were somewhat limited.
I soon discovered that the Spanish-language of Colombia was of a refined Castilian Spanish Dialect. This Dialect required precise verb conjugations; as a result, your level of education could be easily shamefully exposed when you uttered your first sentence.
I confronted my limitations with an intensive study program to meet the need to developing a fluent and comprehensive vocabulary, and of course verb conjugations. Our missionary school told us that it was not mandatory to learn the Spanish language, they simply handed you a Bible, placed you in front of three hundred people, and then left you to decide.
After one year, I was able to “master” the Spanish language with the help of a personal tutor, and my 101 verb-book that carried with me at all times. I felt comfortable with the language, practicing the ability to think and speak in the language. However, everyone said I spoke with a heavy North American “gringo” accent, but immediately retorted, that I did not hear or have any accent!
I Thought It Was Going to Be Easy
I was now in a third world country, and my false United States attitude of superiority was met with a hard lesson in reality. It seems that learning a new language was not my only challenge, in order to become an effective teacher; I needed to have extreme cultural awareness, along with several personal refinements.
As I stated earlier, this assignment had a wide range of economic and social developments. I preached to the very economically challenged people, and I preached to the extremely wealthy people in the circles of aristocratic, high society.
To overcome and prevent difficulties, I started with the very basics of proper Spanish greetings, amenities, and hospitalities that applied to all levels of the Colombian society.
The correctness and refinements of expressions so as not to offend were of major concerns. This included eating without question, all meals lovingly served to me by the most humble of preparations, to the extremely elegant dinners.
Such elegant dinners were many times occasions of proper dinner attire with black tie, and mastering the culturally significant dance of the waltz. With such a variety of activities in my preaching work, at times I felt one week I was in a National Geographic Documentary and the next week, I felt I was in a James Bond movie.
As many people, perhaps due to the Hollywood movies and literature, I mistakenly thought that missionary work was just, working in a hospital, building churches and helping people here and there.
However, this missionary assignment involved giving lectures to large audiences, in addition to teaching and counseling individuals, one on one, to small and large groups. Needless to say, I was extremely busy in an ideal endeavor. This was my mission, my focus, and my new purpose in life. “God forgives, but I loved the smell of preaching and teaching in the morning.”
Now with all the duties and challenges of my missionary work, there was little time for dating or even courting the interest of the young ladies.
In Colombia, the young ladies were beautiful, dissenting from a variety of European cultures and heritages. Ladies with bright sky blue eyes, white skin, and long blond hair, to ladies with emerald green eyes, olive skin, and long brown hair.
As for me, many of the ladies were very intrigued with my accent, however, as I quickly told them that I did not have an accent, they would then laugh and walk away.
Now remember and as stated earlier, at this time, I was extremely focused on the mission of my assignment, assisting the local people with Bible principles and the application of life and teaches of Jesus Christ.
The thought of romantic meaningful relations was not in my list of priorities.
As mentioned early on, the young ladies of Colombia were among the most beautiful on earth, however, due to the extremes in the economic levels and education, the personalities and values of the ladies were many times missed-placed.
The sweet young people of the underdeveloped regions were very quiet, more concerned with physical services levels, and less inclined to analytical discussions of issues of life.
In conversely, the sweet young ladies of higher economically developed locations were concerned with costly possessions, fine dining, the latest fashions, and professional titles.
However, these women shared the same characteristic as in underdeveloped regions; they were also less inclined to analytical discussions of issues of life and the Bible.
Although being completely devoted to and fully involve with my missionary assignment, the time alone grew longer and colder. I began to ponder the desire of a meaningful relationship, to seek a companion to share my life.
However, as noted, and fully diagnosed, my time and experiences with the local young ladies, left me confused and unfulfilled, prognoses negative.
Next article "Part Two" will complete the adventure...stay tune and follow...