Monday, April 7, 2014

Lenten Project: Day Twenty-nine

In the hot winter of 1999, I went with a church group to Youth Camp.  It wasn't really camping, and the people who went weren't really youth.  What's more, my family didn't even attend that church.  But my parents said this would be a great way to meet people closer to my age (we didn't have any youth in our church at the time), and this could be exactly what I needed to cure my loneliness.

The "camp" was held in a resort hotel across the water in Batam, Indonesia, though the church group was from Singapore.  We took the ferry over, and that was really fun.  Most of the "youth" were college students, but two or three were still secondary students like me.  They seemed really young, so I mostly spent time with the college-aged campers. Mentally, or socially anyway, I was younger than the youngest kid there (13? 14?), but I admired the college kids and wanted to be like them, so I was thrilled when they seemed to include me in their group.

The daily preaching sessions weren't spectacular, but in between those were enjoyable events like billiards, swimming, visits to the local markets, eating out, and hanging around and chatting.  During one of these hang out times, I, still very new to Singapore, and trying hard to make friends, opened up and started talking in depth about some of my struggles with a handful of other campers.  One guy in particular nodded and smiled as I talked, making me feel like I'd possibly found a person who was interested in my life, interested in my struggles, would admire me and want to be my friend.  Every time he smiled like that, seeming to be understanding and encouraging me to speak, I opened up a bit more and kept sharing.

I told him how I struggled with my parents.  How I didn't understand a lot of Fundy rules. How hard it was to leave Grenada.  How my mind seemed to live wired all the time, and I was always thinking of five things at once.  What I liked to read.  How nervous I was about going away to college the next year.

After about 45 minutes of talking, he interrupted me and said, "Can I tell you something?"

I thought he was going to speak a word of encouragement, or make a comment on how things would get better and, yeah, being a teenager was really tough, but I had good things to look forward to.  Or something like that.

What he actually said destroyed me.  He said, in a matter-of-fact tone of voice, "Your problem is that you are egotistical.  You think everything is about you, and you're really nothing."  He quoted some Scripture about making ourselves less to that Christ could be magnified, and then looked at me expectantly.

I was flabbergasted.  I'd been sharing some of my most personal struggles and he dismissed me as being egotistical.  I knew, in that moment, that I'd never be close friends with anyone from that church.  I felt shamed, humiliated, worthless.

I stammered something and left, ran to my room, and sobbed for the next couple hours. The two girls who were my roommates wanted to know what was wrong, but I couldn't get a word out, and didn't want to tell them anything for fear they'd have the same estimation of me.

When it came time for the evening preaching, I cleaned up my face as best I could, but I imagined it was obvious I'd been bawling like a baby.  The guy I'd been talking to came over to me and was acting like everything was normal, as though he hadn't crushed me with his words a few hours previous.

I couldn't understand why he was even talking to me at all.  Why in the world was he asking me my opinion on the preaching sessions so far?  He'd said my opinions were self-centered!  He thought I was a disgusting, egotistical jerk!  So why did he act like my words mattered now, when they'd been worthless earlier?

I tried my best to avoid ever visiting that church again, though my dad worked closely with their American (BJU grad) pastor, and even served as an interim when that pastor went on furlough at one point.  I closed up and kept to myself, smiling on the outside, but counting down the days till I would leave for the States, for BJU. I made certain not to bare myself to any Singaporeans again.  From then on, I only pursued close friendships with other MKs, even though my mom said they were really bad influences and limited my time with them.

The look on Joanna's face is what is hidden behind my smile.

A couple months after camp, I discovered that this guy later asked my parents if I'd always been this way, so disrespectful of my parents.  I suppose one of the reasons why he was so cruel was because Asian culture elevates respect for and honour of parents, and there I was, not doing it, so he couldn't have respect for me.  But it still hurts, even today.  While I may understand in my head why it happened, in my heart, it still stings that I was so dismissed and misjudged. I have never brought up the incident with the person who hurt me, though I see him interact with my parents through Facebook occasionally. I wonder if he even remembers or if, for him, it was not something even worth remembering. I wish I could forget!  But because it was my first meaningful conversation with what I'd imagined would be my first Singaporean friend, I find I can't erase it from my memory.

Join the conversation

  • Have you ever felt misunderstood in such a way that you withdrew or it affected you in a significant way?
  • Have you ever experienced a significant culture difference in your conversations and relationships?
  • How did you navigate repairing those misunderstandings/hurt feelings when pursuing reconciliation?