“As strangers in a strange land, we missionaries so often find ourselves blessed by the goodness of the people we meet.”
We respond to kindness, expect to find it in our friends, our family, and we hope to meet it at work and in our dealings with colleagues. And, of course, we ourselves strive to be kind to those we meet each day. Over and over again the Scriptures lay stress on the kindness of God – “You, O Lord, are full of kindness and compassion”. They also urge us to be kind to friend and stranger. And how wonderful it is to meet with kindness, especially in unexpected places.
Here in Pakistan my New Zealand friend, Julia who is a missionary with the local Church told me a story which I feel is a marvellous example of the kindness of strangers. When one is always a stranger in a strange land, as we missionaries are, we are very, very dependent on the goodness and kindness of those whom we meet in the ordinariness of our daily lives.
Julia’s story was about a trip which she took by bus to Karachi, a distance of almost 7 hours from where she works. She was going there to attend a meeting and when they had almost reached Karachi the driver made an announcement. “All passengers must get off this bus; we can go no further than the outskirts of the city, due to rioting. There is trouble in Karachi”. The bus companies have learned the hard way that buses can be an easy target for rioters; they can be torched and left blazing as a warning to others who may not take heed of a ‘Close Down’ strike.
Fortunately there were a few rickshaws near where the bus stopped and Julia quickly sat into one and told the driver where she wished to go. He explained that it would be most difficult, if not impossible to reach that particular part of the city. Those areas were cordoned off and there was a large police presence, however he would do his best. Having tried many different routes and been turned back, he then saw an Army truck drive up to a barrier and he thought to stick close to it and race through at the same time. He was promptly turned back. What to do now? The road behind was choked with traffic. Looking around he saw a few men who were standing by and called them over. Then all four of them lifted the rickshaw, with Julia, over the median verge, onto the road going in the opposite direction! No mean feat! They did not know her, yet they did not hesitate to help this foreigner.
Julia was getting anxious at this stage. On her mobile phone she spoke in Urdu, the local language to her contact where the meeting was to be held and explained the situation. The rickshaw-driver asked to speak to her contact to assure him that he would make every effort to get his passenger safely to her destination. Failing that, he said, he would bring her to his own home, where she would be safe with his family. What kindness! The men who drive rickshaws are just earning a daily wage. They are poor and hard-working men, exposed to the elements for long hours each day, coping with the choking pollution of a city of 18 million but here this man went out of his way, far beyond the call of duty to help a complete stranger. I too have many times been the recipient of kindness from individuals here in Pakistan. An incident that occurred of late happened on the day I accompanied my companion to see a cardiologist on a blistering day in Lahore.
The waiting area was tiny and, as is normal, the women patients and those who accompany them sit on one side of a partition and the men sit on the other. One very ill woman was lying on three seats while she waited her turn to be seen. It was humid and stuffy and next thing my companion slumped in her seat beside me in a faint. Immediately the other women helped me bring her into a room where she could lie down. The daughter of the very ill woman who was stretched out on three seats was especially attentive and concerned. She asked if I had water to give my companion. No, foolishly, neither of us had thought to bring along water. She immediately brought out her own mother’s china cup and poured cool refreshing water into it and offered my companion a most welcome drink. In doing so she broke all the taboos of her Faith, her culture and her class, for the sake of a stranger.
As strangers in a strange land, we missionaries so often find ourselves blessed by the goodness of the people we meet. And for this, and for all these people we give thanks to the Lord.
Sr. Joan Mc Dermott was missioned Korea, Ireland and is presently on mission in Pakistan.