This is the first post in a series on reasons I’m grateful for my mission.
1) The Stories
As a missionary, I often felt like I was playing the part of an extra in the movies of other people’s lives. I felt I was mostly there to watch and listen; to hear their stories.
Yet, as I lived through the months and met new people day after day, I found meaning in my role. There is inherent value in being observer and confidante, in acknowledging the realities of the worlds of others – worth in serving as witness to their pain.
I left filled to the brim with human stories. Here is one:
When Beatrice and I were companions, one day we received a phone call from the mission home. The Mission President had an unusual request. An American member had traveled to the area who was on her way to a medical retreat, and had asked that the mission help her by giving her a ride to the location of the medical facility. It was an eight-hour round trip, so it would effectively take our entire day. B and I eagerly accepted the assignment, both of us excited at the change in routine and the chance to see so much of the countryside. We picked her up at the mission home and began our journey.
She had never been married. She was 29, and she explained as we rode that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Rather than opt for conventional radiation and chemotherapy treatments, she had chosen to go to a homeopathic facility that claimed great success in curing cancer through a strict diet regimen of locally-grown raw organic foods.
As we drove, Beatrice mentioned a relative who had also been diagnosed with breast cancer.
The woman responded immediately in a light, conversational tone: “Did she die?”
Beatrice started in her seat, openly shocked and discomfited. “No, of course not.”
Later she wondered privately to me why the woman would have asked such a question. “Why wouldn’t she assume I was telling her a success story?”
Later that night, after we left her at the retreat, we returned to report to the mission home. The MP’s wife came out in the twilight as we were leaving to our apartment, and hesitantly asked about her. As the three of us spoke, we each realized that we had individually sensed something unexpected from this woman. It seemed as though she had chosen not to have medical treatment very deliberately; almost as though it was from a sense of destiny – that she had instead come all the way here, to this small, tropical, foreign place all alone, in order to privately, willfully stare down death.