22 January 2016

Exchanging Help

"Shake, can you come help me?  I have some dollars and I need to change them to euros."  I have given up trying to correct the mispronunciation of my name. Shake is certainly better than some of the names I have been called in my lifetime.

The request came from Viera.  For the past few years we have interacted from time to time when I visit the settlement where they live.  We have also seen each other because she faithfully sends her children when we have had short-term ministry teams serving in the community.  As we walked to where she lives, I let her know that the only way I would be exchanging Euros is if the bill - $10 according to Viera - was in good shape.  "It is whole.  There are no tears at all" she insists.  "If it is, then I have 9 Euros and will exchange it for you." Based on that day's exchange rate, I would not be making any commission, but neither would I suffer any loss.

Viera kept an eye on their growling dog who was not so sure about my presence as I stepped quickly but carefully into their one-room, 10x10 foot home.  The family of five welcomed me warmly.  Going from below freezing temps outside into the home, the heat was oppressive.  The children smiled and said "Ahoj, Shane!"  At least the children know my name.
This is not American money
Viera pulls an envelope out from under a mattress and carefully unfolds the bill as she explains, "Someone sent this to us to help, but we need to exchange it for Euros."  She showed me the help she had received . . . a ten AUSTRALIAN dollar note.  Ugh.  What am I supposed to do with this?  The bill was intact - no rips or marks.  I explain that this is not American money, but Australian.  I get out my phone and quickly look up the exchange rate from Australian dollar to Euro . . . 6.50 euros.  Viera agrees and the exchange is made.  I do not have exact change and must give her 7 euros instead.  I tell her that she owes me 50 euro cents and that if she doesn't pay me by next month, then she will owe me an additional 50 cents!  We both smile and she assures me that she will get the 50 euros cents back to me.  "Well, at lease this helps a little" she said as the hid the money back under the mattress.

This sort of exchange, though the first involving real currency, is pretty common for us in ministry.  We often find ourselves conducting a cultural exchange, a translation, of words and good intentions into a locally understood and valuable currency.  While not with every short-term ministry team, it has happened that I have had to return the community as soon as we got the team away, to explain things so that our local partners and those we have ministered among can understand why something happened, or why someone did this or that thing.  We have been fortunate that this is a rare event.  But it has happened.  Only once did it include apologies.

The long-term presence of cross-cultural missionaries ought to mean an awareness of how to bridge the cultural gaps which become evident with the presence of short-term mission teams.  This goes deeper than just being able to communicate in the local language.  It reflects a deeper understanding of local culture(s) and how to affect cultural exchange between our local context and a visiting team.  From our experience, relationships with both local partners and the visiting team makes the exchange, the translation, easier.

Now I have an Australian 10-dollar note at home.  What am I going to do with that?  For now, it is pinned to the bulletin board above my desk.  I may just leave it there as a reminder that even though not all help is helpful, through trusting relationships that too can be overcome.