Aug 4, 2014

Growing up in Missions, Memoir Project Excerpt 1

[When we first came to Bulgaria], policemen could stop you on the street and demand to see your documents--foreigners were even easier to spot in those days than now--then keep you standing there forever.  Well, until you bribed them or it finally sank in that you weren’t going to.  This got worse when we got a car.  Because of the weird rules regarding foreigners owning cars (among other things, the car had to be owned by a business and bear special blue license plates that practically screamed “Pull me over!”), we actually purchased the van through the Baptist Union.  Marginally less conspicuous, but when you were pulled over, and the cops realized that you were foreigners and Baptists, then things could get ugly.

Like pedestrians, drivers could be pulled over for document checks--the cop would step out into traffic with his little shiny red ‘МВР’ lollipop and flag you down.  You stopped the car, he came up, “The documents, if you please.”  In fairness, sometimes (read: quite often) Dad really had done something bad, and Bulgaria was more or less the car-theft capital of Europe at the time.  But more often they were looking for bribes, or power-tripping, and on more than one occasion detained us for hours after seeing that the car was owned by the Baptist Union.

It’s hard to say where the truth of the matter lay.  Sometimes it was obvious, like when they would say “Baptist” or see a missionary visa immediately prior to losing their shit.  Other times?  Does he get off on being an asshole?  Is it merely that westerners are famous the world over for greasing the palms of the local constabulary?  Or are they persecuting the followers of Christ just as He warned us that they would?

Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.”  In John he expands on the subject more at length: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.  But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.”  And check it out: we were meeting lots of people who had suffered for the faith, and we were suffering for ours!  Proof positive that we were on the side of the angels, co-participants in the suffering of Jesus for which our heavenly reward would be great.

Don’t get me wrong, sitting in the car for two hours in the heat while a policeman sat flipping through the various documents--car registration (in the name of the Baptist Union, which started all the trouble), our passports, official notarized letter from the Baptist Union granting us the right to drive the car, our visas, notarized copies of the registration of the Baptist Union proving that it was a real legal entity, driver’s licenses (American and International), proof of civil liability insurance, etc.--sucked.  But the idea of the thing?  That was awesome--I was so fucking proud of that you wouldn’t believe.  I couldn’t wait to tell all the kids back home, and on furlough that story was a real crowd-pleaser, let me tell ya’.  I had actually suffered for my faith, how cool was that?

Christians love to suffer.  By which I don’t mean that Christians actually love to actually suffer--the American ones in particular are huge babies about it--but Jesus taught that his followers would be a persecuted minority, a gathering of outcasts and the despised.  The world’s attacks and contempt were a sign of God’s special favor: “Blessed are the poor in spirit,”Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and so forth.  Problem is, in America Christians are the overweight majority of the richest and most powerful nation that ever was.

The dichotomy makes them kinda batty.  Insofar as Christianity is or ever was mythology, the dominant mythos is that of the chosen few defying Satan with the truth: even at the cost of their lives, even though the Devil brought to bear all the powers and principalities of this world--which were under his control, natch--to rail and threaten and silence them, for he despises to hear the truth.  The heroes of the church are martyrs.  The masses looked on and were converted, Satan looked on raged at the reminder of his coming ignominious defeat, and God looked on and was pleased--He even gave them special robes in Heaven, and His final plans await the full tally of their numbers being achieved.  

Now what the hell do you do with that story once you get the power?  The gate’s not so narrow when eighty-odd-percent of your countrymen claim to have found it.  On the one hand, having got it, they’re happy enough doing the natural thing and yanking its levers against their own perceived enemies.  On the other, they’re still shoehorning everything into the only myth they know while desperately trying to convince themselves of their own oppressed status.  If Jesus promised His followers that they would be persecuted, then the thought of not being persecuted is too terrible to contemplate.  Thus, with Heaven’s favor on the line, “Gay marriage is persecution of Christians!”

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