Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Our Courtship Story: Staying Strong

Continued from Heart to Heart

October-December 2000

After two weeks of orientation in Manila, I flew south to Cagayan de Oro, a provincial city on the coast of Mindanao, where palms lined the windy airstrip and I was the only white girl in the muggy three-walled terminal. On exiting the concrete building with my bags, I was met by Ted* and Janice*, the missionary couple who had come to drive me back to Nasuli, the SIL-Wycliffe community in the center of the island. Their friendly faces set me ease immediately and I savored the breathtaking views as soft-spoken Ted guided the truck down winding mountain roads and we munched on slices of fresh pineapple. Janice pointed out mango orchards, rubber plantations, farmers following their carabao, and when Ted stopped at a roadside fruit market, she showed me how to eat sticky but luscious lanzones.

It was the rainy season and the downpours began just before we reached Nasuli. Ted dropped me off in front of the Nasuli guest house, where I was warmly welcomed by Bob and Pearl, the retired Canadian couple who managed the home. Thinking of Bob and Pearl gives me warm tingles even now. They knew it was my birthday, and had cake and ice cream with mango puree waiting for me. The kindness of these strangers...well, tears are spilling down my face as I type. They welcomed me into their home and into their hearts and I will be forever grateful to them.

Pearl put me in the best bedroom and I began unpacking right away. I had arranged a few framed photos on the little table by the door when I had a guest. Tina* was the only other Wycliffe member my age. She divided her time between Nasuli and a village where she helped with linguistics projects. Tina's fiance was doing linguistics fieldwork in another Asian country. Her observant eye settled on the photographs. Andraste in a blue sweater. A family portrait.

"Who's this?" she asked, pointing out the snapshot of Chris.

"He's... a friend," I said, lamely, but feeling a growing pride. "He lives in Kansas and he's interested in me."

I don't remember if she asked for more details. She couldn't stay long, was leaving for the village the next day, in fact. But it was a significant moment for me. Who was Chris to me? What did I want him to be? And just why did I have his photograph in a prominent place by my door?

As I stretched out under the quilt on my full-size bed that first night in my new room, I felt a strange urge inside. It was familiar, yet strange. I had not masturbated in ten years--not since my commitment to follow Gothard's principles of God's will for my life. Certainly not since confessing the sinful habit to my parents and receiving their forgiveness. My dad had asked me about it once a few years later, when I was 19 or 20 and the two of us were driving alone across a desolate part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula on a frigid winter night. I had assured him I no longer yielded to such temptations.

What wile of Satan was this? I had been told that demons controlled specific geographic areas. It must be that the demon over this part of Mindanao was more interested in orgasms than the demons I'd dealt with in Michigan. I tried to ignore the nagging suggestion. It sure sounded nice, though...

* * * * *

Lush, laid-back, carved out of the rainforest next to a spring-fed pond, Nasuli was an enchanted place. The SIL missionaries had their foibles and conflicts, to be sure, but they were kind, open-minded people with good hearts. After my experience with IBLP, the love and cooperation I felt in Nasuli was a healing balm. I found my place in the group in no time, helping Ted in the computer office during the day, playing the piano, singing at services, tutoring children, using my cooking and entertaining skills to make people smile.

I took squash pies to Ted and Janice's house for Thanksgiving dinner. The next day, Jerry, the center's manager, made me an offer. A staff member was returning to the States unexpectedly. Even after some fancy job-juggling, there would be a gap in the duty roster. Would I consider taking the position of radio operator, keeping contact with the pilots and checking in regularly with the translators in the villages? I would continue to work with Ted in the afternoons, but working with the pilots would be my primary task. The hitch? They needed me to commit to stay until mid-summer.

My return ticket had been booked for February (Valentine's Day, remember?). I had been invited back to Grand Forks as a teaching assistant in the summer. And all my plans were hanging on the unanswered question of Chris. Was he in negotiations with my dad? I had been away for six weeks now, but Dad had not breathed a word to me. Was I about to start courting? Had he decided Chris lacked the necessary qualifications? I remembered, again, why I had been determined not to stay home and watch the agonizing approval process from the sidelines. I felt like I might go insane as it was!

Before I could give Jerry my final decision, I needed to talk to Dad. Grateful for the Internet, I used AOL Instant Messenger to contact Dan* (our co-worker from CharacterLink days), who in turn asked Dad to get in touch with me. When we talked, Dad's report was far from reassuring. He was in communication with Chris, but any permission seemed uncertainly far away. Dad did tease me, which was strange, and made my hopes rise a little.

Resigned to keep waiting, I told Jerry I would accept the job and wrote dramatically in my journal, no doubt comparing myself to the late Jim Elliot:
I know Chris loves me. And I am ready to love and be loved. But God is saying, 'Not yet.' So I am proving my loyalty to my first love [God]...  
Yesterday, I so wanted to talk to someone from home, and would gladly have poured out my heart to Chris. Nobody else was online, so we could have easily pulled it off, and enjoyed it. But God guarded us, kept us in the temptation.
Ah, yes, that temptation to reach out to another human being and, you know, converse. Exchange thoughts and feelings. But we resisted. Because we were strong. And good. And not a little scared.

I cried a lot that month. It was my first Christmas away from my family. Away from snow. (I didn't miss that part very much.) I loved my new friends and all the new adventures. But I was the youngest adult in Nasuli by a long shot. Some of the translators had spent fifty years on the mission field. One woman in her seventies had just married for the first time. They were the oddest newlyweds I'd ever seen! Some of the women missionaries had always been single. Another married a Filipino. One adopted a Filipino son; another was raising two "granddaughters".

Alone in the air-conditioned room in the hilltop radio tower, I had plenty of time to think while I watched the clouds over the mountain pass and logged the pilots' progress.

I studied the couples in our community. Most of these marriages seemed stronger than any I'd seen before. They were partners and teammates; they took care of each other. Ted and Janice took weekend getaway trips. Bob and Pearl were adorable together. They made jokes about sex that made me blush. Even the couples that were known to argue depended heavily on one another. I talked to my friends from New Zealand about their experience as translators. "The mission field is solitary enough", they warned. "Get married first."

Easier said than done, I thought. But there was Chris. If only we could talk about things. I emailed my dad, begging his permission for Chris and I to at least converse by email. It was what I wanted for Christmas. Pleeease? Dad declined my request.

Bob and Pearl made Christmas morning special for me. The single ladies invited me to share their traditional Christmas dinner. When evening fell, I sang "O Holy Night" for the Nasuli Christmas service, as a gift to my new friends. Though I felt like crying instead.

Continued at Talking to Myself

*Names are pseudonyms.


  1. I just found your blog. I'm really enjoying your courtship series. You're a really good writer--I especially enjoy the way you capture your mentality in that time so compassionately, but still keeping that good-humored irony. I grew up on the very outer fringes of the Quiverfull movement-- big family, but public school and more or less normal dress. Still, it's amazing how year after year I seem to peel off another layer of shame. KWIM? I think you do. Keep speaking your truth!

  2. I hope this isn't a duplicate comment-- tried to comment from my phone, but I think captcha ate the comment.

    I just found your blog recently, and I really enjoy your story. You have a gentle irony that is very funny, and you capture your mindset during these times so well. It's all so familiar! I grew up on the very, very outer fringes of the Quiverfull movement (thank goodness)-- big family, but not totally overwhelming and we went to public school and dressed more or less normally. Still, it seems like every year I peel off another layer of the shame and bad ideology about who we are as women, as people, as humans. It feels good, but I keep wondering, where's the bottom? KWIM?

    Keep telling your story!

  3. Noooo.... I was reading along, congratulating myself that I didn't have to wait for the next installment because you wrote this a year ago...until now...Now I have to wait!

  4. Jeri, please finish this. I'm a professional writer and find your voice compelling and real. I very much want to read the rest of this narrative.

  5. Come on! You cant keep us waiting for so long. Please write more!!!!!!!!

  6. I agree. You drew me in and I've been reading for over 3 hours. It's almost 1:00 am and I wasn't ready to stop. I would really like to hear the end of the story. Please continue.

  7. Thank you, everyone! I continue to get requests for "the rest of the story" and I do hope to finish writing it one of these days. Telling the first part of our story was so very therapeutic for me.
    Lately Chris and I have been too busy living our story to write it!

  8. Please finish! I just found it today and I'm dying here! I can't imagine having to wait as long as others have!