Monday, March 16, 2009

Identity Crisis

I'm afraid I have been suffering from a severe case of bloggers block. It's not for a lack of material. It's simply that, with so MUCH stuff to write about, anything I attempt just doesn't seem like enough.

But today I'm going to bite the bullet, knuckle down, and write SOMETHING.

This week, as our routine gets back to normal (after the virus of 2009 and a wonderful visit from my mom), I am feeling a little bit duped.

Now, I consider myself a fairly savvy person. Gullible is not a word that I have been called very often in my life. I have never truly been surprised by a surprise party, and it takes some real effort to pull the wool over my eyes.

But, y'all, I was tricked, duped, deceived.

When we agreed to take on this task of traveling to the other side of the globe, it was to teach English. Plain and simple. Our job was to come and start English classes that are sponsored and paid for by a church. But ministry? That's not what we're doing. We're just teaching. Teaching English. It's aaaalllll business.

Then we arrived. The first week, Brandon was introduced to the church as "Missionary Brandon," and I as "Samonim" (the formal Korean word for Pastor's Wife). Missionary? Pastor's wife? We did NOT sign up for that. We signed up to teach English. But suddenly Hubby has been thrown into a world of ministry, Bible studies, 5am prayer services, pastoral meetings, and (of course) speculating church members. I, on the other hand, dove head-first into a world of turtle-neck shirts, appropriate greetings, hierarchical "friendships," open houses, and (of course) speculating church members.

Quite frankly, I'm suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. When I think of missionaries, I think of mud floors and thatched roofs. I picture peeing into a hole in the ground and eating bugs for dinner. I realize that those people - the ones who are called to the developing world - are the ones who really have the "right" to complain about their identity being stolen.

But somehow, in this highly technological and modern country that is not all that different from New York City, I am struggling to find a description for who I see myself becoming.

First, my name has changed. To my husband and a few close friends, I am simply "Brandy." To EVERYONE else, I am "Samonim" (pronounced Sah-Muh-Neem). It took a while for me to get used to that, and in the beginning, I'm sure I offended some people by accidentally not responding when they called my "name."

But it's not just the name change. It's the fact that, now, I have the very same name as every other female in my apartment building. All of us - us minister's wives - are called Samonim. So by accepting this name change, I am losing a bit of myself as and individual - Brandy - and becoming one of the many females surviving the formal hierarchy that is the Korean church.

And hierarchy is EXACTLY the right word for it. Upon our arrival, I was given a crash course on which Samonims I could befriend, and which ones I am to simply "respect." Depending on their age, amount of time at the church, and position that their husband holds in the church, I must treat them accordingly. And, apparently, I'm the low woman on the totem pole. Even though Brandon's position is considered "higher" than some of the other Pastors-in-training, our age puts us in a place of submission to every other Pastor and Samonim (most of whom are 5-10 years older than we).

I have one friend, a Samonim. When we are alone in our homes, I am allowed to call her by her given American name. But she is almost 10 years older than me. So when we are at the church or in the presence of other Samonims, I have been instructed to either call her "Samonim" or "Onni," which means "big sister." Because of our age difference, I am not allowed to call her by her name or call her friend.

And then there are the expectations that come with being a "good" Samonim. Extreme modesty is expected. Now, I consider myself a fairly modest person. I don't like to show lots of skin, and as a Pastor back in the states, my wardrobe had already become a bit more "mature" than what most girls my age are wearing. But here, I find myself stuffing my head through a little turtleneck hole before adorning my other clothes. And even then, I don't feel quite as "decent" as the other Samonims who wear lose-fitting pants, turtle necks, and (I kid you not) frocks.

In addition to being severely modest, a good Samonim has an "open house" all the time. It has been VERY common for church members, Pastors, and other Samonims to simply drop by my house unannounced and expect to be entertained. As a matter of fact, this past Sunday, the entire church was invited to "visit" (aka, examine) our homes after morning service. Each day, I must make sure I have a constant supply of instant Korean coffee and fresh fruit in the house because a good Samonim always serves these two things to their company (regardless of whether or not said company gave notice about their visit in advance). On the upside,I have become an EXPERT at slicing and peeling apples in record time. Seriously, I'm beginning to think I'm developing a superpower in this area.

Samonims are also expected to be full-time stay-at-homers. They are not allowed to hold a job or (in some cases) even drive. This was a HUGE adjustment for me. I have never been a truly full-time SAHM. I have always held (at least) a part-time job which was usually accompanied by several hours of college classes. My first week in Korea, I sat at home and stared at the walls. No TV, no computer, no phone, no car, and no way to tell a taxi driver where to go should I decide to venture out on my own. Talk about culture shock!

I won't write about Brandon and all the expectation put on him because you can read all about it first-hand on his blog.

Suffice it to say, we are both working really hard to adapt to our new "identity" in this foreign country.

But as difficult as it has been so far, and as frustrating as it is to know how much more we have yet to learn, I wouldn't trade this "transformation" for anything in the world.

While all of these adjustments have been confusing and often draining, I love who we are becoming. For me personally, the Lord is using this time to teach me about dying to self. We could just as easily say "we are American, and we don't have to fit into this 'mold' of a Korean minister's family." While we might get some sideways glances, the kind people here would understand (and DO understand) that we are different and that we do things differently. But this trip isn't about us and our comfort. It's about loving on and ministering to the people in this city. And in order to do that, we must become like them.

This was such a difficult concept for me to grasp. I found myself spouting off politically correct ideals during my prayer time. "We should be able to celebrate our differences, Lord. I shouldn't have to give up who I am just so they can be more comfortable." Blah blah blah. Waaaah waaah waaah.

It was then that the Lord reminded me of the ultimate loss of identity - the one He experienced when he gave up his place as God of the Universe to become just like me. He left his home, his father, his position of power, and his entire identity. He took on a new persona, a new name, and a new place in the "hierarchy" of earth (hello! God of the Universe to poor carpenter's bastard son) - all so that I could have a loving, personal relationship with him and his Father.

So today, as I think back over the last eight weeks, I'm so glad the Lord "duped" us into coming here as missionaries (though that word still makes me shudder a little bit). I'm begrudgingly thankful that we have been dragged and prodded out of our little comfort zone and thrown into this new life and new identity.

There's so much more to write on this topic, and perhaps I'll come back to it later.

But needless to say, we covet your prayers. We're not just changing the way we eat or sleep or shop or speak; we are changing who we are. We only pray that, regardless of what those changes look or feel like, they will shape us more into the image of Christ.


Starr said...

Wow!! I don't really know what to say, but wow!! I know God has great plans for you guys,and I will continue to pray!

Kathryn said...

This post made me want to cry. Yeah, "Wow," like Starr said. What a beautiful and difficult thing. You are so articulate and have conveyed the thoughts in such a powerful way. I'm so proud of you guys for giving yourselves so completely to the call -- even if some of it did take you by surprise. What an inspiring post!

The Quote That Started It All...

I myself have twelve hats, each one representing a different personality. Why be just yourself? - Margaret Atwood