October 20th, 2022
“We wrote a hundred letters, and you did not write an answer. This, too, is a reply.” – Zauqi (Sufi scholar)
I have a friend. Perhaps he is no longer my friend. I told him something that I am certain offended him. I thought for a long time before I said what I said.
Before I say anything else, let me make it clear that my friend is a good man. He’s outgoing and generous. He’s passionate about his work. He tries to be a good Christian.
My friend is a missionary for an Evangelical organization. He has been living in Germany for at least a decade, doing something or other. After all these years, I still don’t understand what he is trying to accomplish. Before he became a missionary, he worked in corporate management positions. The religious group he’s with now seems to operate under an American business model. They are all about telling people about Jesus. In a sense, my friend is one of the organization’s German sales reps. He likes to talk about spreading the “Word” to the population of a country “that has forgotten that they have forgotten God”. He uses a lot of Evangelical buzzwords and catch phrases which probably elicit an immediate response from his coworkers, but they mean nothing to me. He goes to seminars and conferences, and he plants churches (whatever that means). He’s marketing Christ, and I don’t really comprehend that.
I have known other missionaries, and I know what they do. The ones I have met live in the same abject poverty as the people they serve. They share the struggles and suffering of those around them. They bring Christ to their neighbors by being Jesus to them, as opposed to talking about Jesus. Maybe my friend does that too. I don’t know. He’s never indicated that is part of his mission.
My wife and I got together with him quite often before he started his missionary work. He hosted a German Bible study group at his home. The message there was that we were all brothers and sisters in Christ. The implication was, at least in my mind, that we cared about each other in a deep and personal manner.
My friend returns to the United States every autumn. He spends a month or so in the local area. He has made a habit of meeting with us once during his visit. He is a gregarious man, with a busy social calendar. He tries to squeeze us in between his other appointments. Our meetings are brief, maybe an hour or so in duration. As the years have passed, these contacts have felt more and more perfunctory. He acts like he wants to be with us, but his mind is often elsewhere.
For a long time, I wrote snail mail letters to him while he was overseas. I sent him emails. He seldom wrote back to me. If he did, he almost never asked us how we were. He would tell me about some adventure he had, but I didn’t get the impression that he was concerned about us. During this last year, I think I got at most one or two emails from him.
As usual, my friend contacted us after he got to the U.S. He asked if we wanted to meet for coffee and catch up on things. I was underwhelmed by the idea. so was my wife. She made the comment, “He only cares about his mission.”
That’s true. On the flip side, we only care about our mission.
Our mission is to care for Asher, our toddler grandson. We are his legal guardians, and he is our responsibility until he reaches adulthood. There is nothing else in our lives except for that little boy. If we meet with somebody, Asher is always with us, and we will talk endlessly about him. Karin and I have other interests, but they are all subordinate to our connection with Asher. When we get together with my friend, he likes to talk about his grandchildren, who he sees for a couple weeks once a year. I guess he figures that his relationship with his grandkids is on par with what we experience. It’s not. That is comparing apples to oranges. Our roles are exponentially more intense than his is. He doesn’t see it that way.
My friend tries to connect with us by talking about all things German. That worked twenty years ago. My wife is from Germany, and I lived there for three years, courtesy of the Army. Back when we were part of the Bible study group, the participants were almost all German speakers. Germany was important to us then, but as the years went by, the relationship to “die Heimat” grew more and more tenuous. Our friend is still deeply concerned with Germany, obviously, but my wife and I don’t really care anymore. We have other things on our minds.
Does our friend care about us? I don’t think so. I told him that in an email. I also told him that we could find the time to meet with him, but we don’t want to. I said that there was nothing to talk about. That may not actually be true. Perhaps, the truth is that there is too much to talk about. We can’t reconnect over a cup of coffee. To really get to know each other again, we would need at least a day to discuss things and get to the serious topics. When we meet with my friend, we never get past the froth and the fluff.
Do I care about my friend anymore? Maybe. If I didn’t care at all, I wouldn’t be writing this essay.
A person could easily say to me at this point, “That was dick move! Why say that stuff to him?”
Good question. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that. Maybe I just should have ignored him. Maybe I should have made up some bullshit excuse that sounded plausible. Instead, I told him the truth as I saw it.
Years ago, I worked with a guy named Scott. We talked a lot and got to know each other well. He retired shortly after I did. I wanted to stay in communication with him. I sent him an email, and he replied by saying that he was busy with family issues, and he was going to ignore me. He did. I never heard from him again.
That bothered me a lot. However, I knew that he had stuff going on that was serious, and he probably needed to focus entirely on those problems. After a while, I grew to appreciate his candor. At least, he told me what he was doing and why. Too often, people have cut me loose without giving any reason. That hurts more than having somebody give it to me straight.
I gave it straight to my friend. He sent me a response. I never read it. I just deleted it. We’re done.
As Zauqi said, “That, too, is a reply.”