Belonging

We’ve lived in this pueblo almost three years, yet it’s obvious we don’t belong. We probably never will. Pessimistic, you say? Realistic, I counter.

Often the outsider can manage and succeed at belonging because it depends mainly on her attitude, and naturally, on time. However there are instances when the other party controls the social norms, regardless.

The latter describes the Zapotec people in the village where we live. Sometimes some are friendly, but being friendly doesn’t automatically qualify the recipient as belonging. There are various old men who we pass almost daily as they walk the dusty road in their huaraches and sombreros, carrying their machetes or driving a team of oxen. We wave or stop to share greetings, and they oblige by returning both.

There are kids who walk by every morning, heading to school dressed neatly in their uniforms—the girls in burgundy pleated skirts with matching sweaters, white knee high socks, white blouses, and the boys in burgundy pants with matching sweaters and crisp white shirts—who also smile and wave back.

There are even a few women walking around who may return a smile, or a nod of the head. The older ones with ribbon braided into their long hair and wearing their mandíl (full apron) over a dress, the younger ones in tight jeans and tops.

Do these greetings serve as entrance to belonging? If only they would. They do show a measure of acceptance, yet not enough to be invited into their communal activities.

One instance is the yearly gathering of the men in the village who climb part way up the mountain to “open the flow” of the river before the rainy season begins. They clear out leaves, branches and rocks that may have fallen in during the past year. My husband mentioned he would like to go next time and help. “Oh, okay. But it’s only for the men from the pueblo,” came the reply. My husband says, “I know. That’s why I’d like to help.” Again the reply, “I see, but it’s only for the men from the pueblo.”

Two plus years living here does not a man from the pueblo make.

Then last week we noticed a canopy placed further up our street with tables and chairs underneath. The house adjacent to it began flourishing with a buzz of activity over the course of several days. Women were everywhere! And each one was wearing her mandíl; it was obvious they were preparing food—and a lot of it—for some occasion.

 

Each time we slowed as we drove by, rolled down our window, and greeted them, either verbally or with a smile and wave. No response! Just cold stares like we were intruding. Then they’d return to whatever they were doing, whether tending the fire in their anafre, mixing dough, or cutting vegetables. I kept thinking how much I would like to join them…to feel like I could belong simply by working side by side with them.

One day we drove by and saw five huge cazas (a caza is like a 50 gallon washtub) filled with pork they were washing and cutting. Again a greeting; again a glance at us and back to their work. This was not the setting in which to be friendly. Was it because of the work, or perhaps because of the multitude of women?

We later found out that the women of the pueblo were responsible to prepare the food for the carnival to take place. And by the way, we were invited to eat if we first attended the Catholic mass to kick off the fiesta. (Never mind that we had already paid our portion when they came door to door asking for everyone to help fund the party.)

Couldn’t the women of the pueblo use an extra hand in the massive undertaking? Probably, if I were “from here”. But I’m not. In fact, I’ve spoken with other Mexican indian women who also live in this pueblo but originate from another, and not even they “belong” here. The town-folk consider them “foreigners” as well.

It can be a lonely feeling not belonging. Thank goodness for the other social communities in our lives, such as the local missionary community, our team, our field fellowship, and others that help fill that need to belong.

For us, the quest to “belong” is cyclical. Next year, we move back to the US for our year of itineration. We’ll again have to work at belonging in a local church, which can be challenging since most our weekends are spent traveling to other churches. Our daughter will have  learn to fit in at a new school and try to belong to a new group of friends.  Just when the time needed for all our sense of belonging to take root, it will be time to leave and return to the field.

This is why missionaries may often feel like they “never belong”—here on earth. We take to heart the words of Jesus, “behold I go and prepare a place for you”. When we were adopted as children of God, we immediately belonged to His family, and always will.

Optimistic, you say? Absolutely realistic, I’ll concur.

22 thoughts on “Belonging

  1. I so very much appreciated your post here… (came over from Jamie Jo’s). I have wrestled and still wrestle with this “not belonging” thing. And, I watch my kids wrestle too. My daughter just yesterday told me that all her friends here are …”well, just normal”. (and by that comment she is meaning… she is NOT normal!).
    I so resonated with your sentence, “being friendly doesn’t automatically qualify the recipient as belonging. “… and must agree with you. Nope. You (nor I) will never belong. Never, really, that is. And, yes, it is a quest. But, I love your realism and wrestling. Blessings on you as you venture through this foreign land, not our home!

    1. Stephanie – It’s one thing when we wrestle; it’s hard but somehow we manage it. But when we have to watch our kids wrestle, the pain seems greater. I pray your daughter will experience an outpouring of God’s grace on her life. Thanks for stopping by. (and sorry for such a delay in responding!)

  2. Thanks for this thoughtful, REALISTIC post. I live in the Middle East, where outwardly people welcome you in, always inviting you, always offering food. But sometimes you realize they’re just being polite, not really inviting you into their hearts. That takes years.

    I do have many close Middle Eastern friends, but one thing that hurts is that some of my Christian sisters are hesitant to introduce me to their Muslim families since I’m a foreign believer, and their families reject their Christian faith. I can understand it, but it hurts.

    We are, indeed, pilgrims and aliens.

    1. Betsy, yes we are (pilgrims and aliens)! I liked your comment, “I can understand it, but it hurts”. Understanding something does not mean the pain is relieved; but it does help us press through the pain, doesn’t it? May the Lord bless you abundantly with the richness of His presence, His peace, patience, and doors that open to you miraculously in these last days. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  3. Just thought I’d give you a heads up. I put a link to this post in my IRL blog today, so you might see some more traffic than usual. Thanks again for the thought-provoking words.

    1. Thanks! I just read the IRL RSS feed in my inbox prior to this message. And how did you know I was prepping a follow-up to this post? 😉 Good timing.

  4. What a thought-provoking and well written piece! How precious the thought that we belong to the Lord Jesus and nothing can snatch us away from His hands.

    These words came to my mind when I read it:
    My name is graven on His hands,
    My name is written on His heart;
    I know that while in heav’n He stands,
    no tongue can bid me thence depart,
    (From “Before the Throne of God Above” penned by Charitie Lee Bancroft”
    put to music by my old friend, Vikki Cook, PDF Worship (now Sovereign Grace Music)

  5. I really enjoyed reading this and I can relate somewhat. Being in Germany where we speak enough of the language to get us through a grocery store or a night out in a restaurant, tends to isolate us as well. I often feel alone in a crowd full of Germans because I can’t understand all that they say, so I mentally withdraw into my own little world. Most locals think it’s cute when I try to communicate with them. I can get enough words out to be understood but I can’t form full sentences. So it’s always a challenge. Still, I enjoyed reading your perspective.

    1. You said it well, “mentally withdraw”. That alternating with the attempt to fit in and belong, is taxing indeed. Have you found a sense of belonging to any type of community there? (i.e. church, other Americans, etc) If not, I pray you do.

      1. I met a new neighbor named Martina today and she was wonderfully friendly. She loved Maggie (our dog) and we were able to make some sort of conversation about where I lived and that my husband works in Oberhausen. I can usually get enough words (and with the help of Charades) and figure out what people are saying but sometimes I just have to smile and say I’m sorry. It’s such a small village that we live in that many do recognize me as the one and only American. So they are patient.

        I would love to make a go of it here but we will be moving to England by mid Summer…we were supposed to be here 3 years and his company decided to close down the German and Indian support offices and consolidate them to England near London. So the language barrier will be gone. But once again we will have to find new friends and get settled into a new community. Can you imagine being a missionary that uprooted every year to a completely new country? We are not missionaries but that’s about what we’ve done. Malaysia, USA, Germany and now England….all within 2 years. I’m ready to stay put for a minute!!

        1. You indeed have a challenge in moving yearly (or as I see every six months!) ugh!! We haven’t moved every year, or every six months, but in 23 years of marriage we’ve moved 16 times (and raising four kids along the way). With that said, it is true that God’s grace can and does help us through whatever circumstance. I do pray He strengthens you and your marriage through every move and transition; I also pray that He would bring you a good friend soon after arriving to England, one who will encourage your walk with the Lord and get to know you for who you are. And may you continue to bless those around you, whether it’s reciprocated or not. (hugs)

  6. You could be describing our little pueblo, too. Actually I sometimes see hints that we are getting closer to being accepted now that we have lived here 17 YEARS, with only one real furlough (longer than a summer). Sigh. Heaven is where we belong. You are very realistic indeed.

    1. Wow – “getting closer now….17 years”. And you’re such friendly people, too! It took Jesus 30…and He did it so we could belong to Heaven! Thanks for sharing.

  7. I can’t help but think of Ephesians 2:19: Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household,

  8. I find that this is true. It is sad to always feel like your a bit out of it, no matter where you are, but I still believe that there are ways that we can find true friendship on the field. Maybe we don’t belong the way they do–anywhere, after we have been on the field a while–but I think maybe we can make our peace with feeling left out to a certain extent. When a national reaches out to me in a way that says they actually care for me, and not just what I bring in terms of resources, I treasure it up in my heart and hold on tight. I live for those moments, even though they only come in small bites. I am with you, hermana.

    1. Yes, those moments are worth treasuring (when a national reaches out for sincere friendship). Longevity is needed to breed a sense of belonging, but God in His grace does indeed supply those “small bites” you mention.

  9. They are trying hard (and succeeding) at not being engulfed, physically anyway, by the city like so many other pueblos have.

    1. This is true – they fear losing their culture, yet at the same time they like the economic upswing of foreigners living in their community. (like asking for double or triple the “donation” that funds their parties, especially the beer and mezcal).

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