Who would have thought that by living in Indonesia last year, I would be a step closer to India?
In Indonesia was where I met Ms. Lalit. (Not her real name. The name I chose for her in this story is a Tamil word for beautiful. ) She was my teaching colleague from Chennai, India and was the most wonderful and kind-hearted person I've ever met. It only took me five months to see that and two weeks for me to make amends for what I did.
No, I'm not about to tell you a comforting story or a mysterious tale from a distant land. It's more about my dark side that came out while living in Indonesia. The story revolves around something that you may be familiar with but may not feel comfortable admitting. It's about prejudice. And it is also about redemption. I had wanted to write about her for more than a year but couldn't bring myself to do it until now. Sometimes, a difficult story needs years to make its debut.
I didn't like her when we first met. She had dark skin and long coarse, curly hair. When I sat next to her on a school bus, her hair would poke my arm like needles. I could smell her from miles away. She'd often wear a sari to school and her "v" sounds like a "w." The word water , for instance, was always pronounced vater. And she would shake her head when she meant yes. It hurt my ears trying to comprehend what she said. Her English sounded like a foreign language. She didn't know how to use Word or Excel or a cell phone and couldn't navigate the city on her own. And what did I do? Nothing noble really. I never once offered to help her because I felt uncomfortable being around her. I kept my conversations with her to the minimum. Also she couldn't seem to get along with most colleagues. We gossiped about her. And she was the scapegoat of our frustration and the butt of our jokes oftentimes. Oh, did I forget to mention that she was a Christian who went to the same church as I did.
Ms. Lalit had a hard time both at work and at home. She came to Indonesia with two daughters. They were 6 and 8. One day when I told the kids that I'd stop by their apartment and go swimming with them, their eyes got really big. But for five months, it was one empty promise after another. Until one day, they said I probably would never go.
I'd like to say that as someone who tries to follow Christ, I'm a goody two-shoes. Well, I'm not. Like you, I have my dark side. Nine years as a Christian, I'm still wrestling with my dark side and will be... for the rest of my life.
In the back of my mind, I knew that what I did was wrong and was, somehow, slowly finding ways to make things better. I had so much pride and couldn't bring myself to apologize for my attitude and actions toward her. One day, after fives months of suffering in Indonesia, Ms. Lalit told me that she was going back to India in two weeks... for good. It was the first time I saw a twinkle in her eyes.
As far as I could remember, that was the day I cried.
It was an uncomfortable experience when the brightness in her touched a dark spot in my heart. I wasn't ready, but I had no time to wait. I couldn't bear the thought of her being gone forever from my life and I did nothing about it.
I confessed to God and asked for his forgiveness. I confessed to my trusted friend. I cried until my eyes were burning with hot tears. But my friend helped me to understand that that was why Jesus went to the cross: to die for whatever I did that was wrong and hurt other people. He paid the price. In all honesty, I'd heard that before and understood it in my head, but not really in my heart.
I spent the next two weeks trying to make it up to her and the kids. I felt like I had much to pay for. I needed to be punished. Punishment never came. However something she said while we were having lunch hit me: she had prayed for so long that one day she could eat and talk to me like friends...
Isn't this what Jesus calls mercy? I'd read about it a thousand times before but never quite understood it till then. I'm such a slow learner. It's not something you can read about at church on Sundays. You won't understand it during the good times either. When life is hard and uncomfortable, it may just be God's way of teaching us something so precious like mercy, and the best kind of vessel to receive it is not a good or happy heart, but broken.
In two weeks, I did more than I should have done in five months. I went swimming with the kids. I went over to Ms. Lalit's apartment and she made chicken curry for me from scratch. I brought over juice. We ate and talked like friends. We went shopping together. Please allow me to tell you some more of how beautiful this woman's heart was. During five difficult months, she continued to share Christ with anyone who came across her path. She brought many visitors to church as well as an Indian couple who were also from Chennai. She had all the excuses in the world to be into herself. But she chose a different path. The path that affected eternity.
Before she left, she asked me for a favor. She wanted me to continue the friendship she'd built with her neighbor. She wanted me to help her neighbor to know Christ. I promised her that I'd be a friend to Jenni, and I'm keeping that promise still, even though I'm no longer in Indonesia. I'm doing what I can to share Christ's love, and I hope that one day Jenni will come to know Christ as Ms. Lalit did