It is impossible to express how utterly naive and inexperienced I was before I went to Bangladesh. Though I grew up in a Navy family and we moved a lot, it was always in the South, never to any exotic foreign location or different culture. I grew up in a conservative Christian home, went to a conservative Christian school, then an even more conservative Christian college.
When I arrived at the mission agency, expecting to have to adjust to even more conservative rules, I was shocked to see my new co-workers wearing skirts with no hose and using versions of the Bible other than the KJV. (Now some of you might be laughing at my sheltered world, but any of you who went to PCC--hi Bethany!--are probably laughing because you know EXACTLY how I felt!). So if the mission agency in Pennsylvania was a culture shock already, how was I going to handle going to one of the poorest, most devastated, most Muslim countries in the world?
Yeah, I should have thought to ask myself that question before I left. But hey, I was the one naive and inexperienced, remember? I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I remember calling my mom from Pennsylvania, at that point the farthest I had been from home in my life, and telling her, "Guess what, Mom! I might be going to Bangladesh for 2 years!"
"Where's Bangladesh," she asked.
"I don't know. I'll have to look it up and get back to you."
Oh boy. Thus, I started on the most amazing and most horrible adventure I could imagine. My two years in Bangladesh would stretch me past what I thought was my breaking point. I loved it and I hated it. I thrived in excitement and I hid in despair.
Most of all, I learned about the God who would dare to send someone like me to a place like that. The God who would come with me, rescue me from myself, and show me a world out there so big that it needed Him to save it, not me.
And I'm glad He did.
The day I left was Valentine's Day, a cold day barely begun by the time my family was stuffed into the car on the way to the airport. Brought with me were 2 trunks, each the allowed 75 pounds....and then some. The unhappy airport lady would not budge on those extra pounds, so there I was, running late, popping open the trunks and yanking out random things to hand over to various relatives.
Then we rushed to the gate (back in the day when everybody was allowed to come to the gate to see you off). It was about 5:30 in the morning. Some very nice people came to see me off. They gave me going-away presents, which I smiled and thanked them for, wondering how in the world I was going to stuff them into my already over-full 40 pound carry-on.
We all sat there, uncomfortable now that the big you're-leaving-the-country-and-might-never-come-back-so-we-have-to-say-sentimental-things speeches were over. I was wearing a skirt (in deference to the visitors who would have minded were I wearing pants) and a sweater. I also had an old hand-me-down coat with me. I had a layover in Tokyo, and for some reason thought it might be cold there. (Maybe because Japan is higher than Bangladesh on the map? Who knows. Geography was my worst subject.)
Eventually it was time to board the plane. I gave hugs and goodbyes (I hate goodbyes), then dragged that huge carry-on onto the plane where I somehow got it stuffed where it was supposed to go.
Then I sat back, ready but not-ready for the longest flight I'd ever been on, for my first trip to a different country, for a future as unknown and mysterious as if I were going to...well...a foreign country.
I had studied up about the culture a great deal, but no amount of reading and imagining would prepare me for what I found the day I arrived in Bangladesh . . .