Monday, January 30, 2012

The People We Meet

People are baffling.

When I meet people and try to understand them it’s like when my camera gets stuck on manual focus without my photography-challenged mind’s consent. It’s like those baffling seconds when the pictures framed in the viewer, and I’m pressing the shutter button halfway down, but the lens doesn’t squirm like it’s supposed to. The picture vacillates between shades of “Almost Not” blurry to “The People Look Like Trees” blurry.

I met a group of women about 5 days ago when they showed up on a mission trip for H.E.L.P Thailand and H.E.L.P Cambodia, and meeting them has been similar to the accidental manual focus issue. I pressed the shutter button halfway down and saw a group of six women, some divorced, some married, one younger than me, all Americans. Only two of them had ever been out of the States before and they were always saying things like, “There’s a chicken on that moto! Is that normal?” while trying to take pictures of Buddhist monks. It has been a long time since I felt so much like a tourist.[1]

Then the picture blurred again. After getting my shampoo and hair gel and toothpaste confiscated by airport security—rookie mistake in traveling: trusting luck to sneak them past—the real rookies produced spare travel-sized Dove soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, and mousse. Oh, and I was running low on deodorant, but they had extra of that, too. Yesterday they covered my costs of eating and touring with them—and we ate at some swanky places.

Last night we shared testimonies, and the picture got fuzzier still. In Christian circles around my age, you get variations on the “I-grew-up-in-a-Christian-home-with-Christian-parents-but-I-never-really got it until...” theme, and I was expecting much of the same. Silly of me. Just because women are good Christian mothers now, does not mean they grew up as good little Christian girls. God uses all sorts of things—drugs, divorce, death—to bring us closer to him.

In Hosea 5:15 God says, “I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me.” These women had learned to seek God in real distress. And not just a B+ on a paper, as in my own personal testimony.

I still don’t have a very clear picture and I probably never will. I separate from these women tomorrow as I travel on in Cambodia—toting their shampoo—and they go home to their lives in the States. But I will forever be in their debt for lessons learned. There’s a price to pay for using auto focus. Sure, it has its uses in making split-second decisions, taking split-second photos, but more often than not it leads to a clean but shallow picture.

[1] And I mean this completely without judgment. I remember my first trips outside of the U.S., my own questions, and my penchant for taking pictures through the glass windows of the tour bus. And I still try to sneak pictures of monks.

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