Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Answering to God

As I mentioned earlier in my blog, I try to avoid religious conversations with my colleagues at Madulammoho Housing Association.  The three Afrikaner directors are strict Mennonites and even ask potential employees faith-based and moral-based questions during the hiring interviews.  I didn’t go through the usual MHA process (my interview was conducted by Rooftops Canada) so I’m not sure exactly what the questions are.  However, it appears that everyone who works here is Christian.  Furthermore, none of them smoke!

In December we had a Christmas braai and I overheard one of the MHA directors say, “Vegetarians will have to answer to God.  He gave us the gift of meat and they turned their back on him.”

Yep.  It’s a sin that I don’t kill animals for food.  But seriously, these sorts of conversations are common in the office.

One of the Housing Managers, a Pastor, recently told me we should go for lunch sometime. 

“Ok,” I smiled.

The next day he asked for my email address.  I gave it to him and this is the email he sent me:

Bethany,
How has been your morning?
Mine ok, thanks.
May I know something about you in terms of your religious faith?
I will really appreciate and thanking you in advance.
Best Regards,
Pst. Salim 

In Vancouver, I would consider it intrusive for an acquaintance – especially someone I work with – to ask me about my religious beliefs.  Apparently it’s not taboo in ZA.

In my head, my response to Pastor Salim’s email was along the lines of, Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no. If I tell him I’m open-minded about religion, he’ll try to convert me.  But if I say atheist, he might try to ‘save’ me.  Better go with something obscure, so he knows that I’m spiritual and already have a belief system in place.

Hello Pastor Salim,
My morning was excellent.  Thank you for asking.
You will be probably disappointed in my lack of religious faith.  I consider myself a Taoist.
Best,
Beth

Bethany,
Thank you for letting me of your religious faith.
This sounds really interesting.
I will research more about it & in future I would like you to personally share more of your views too.
Best Regards,
Pst. Salim

That sounded like the end of the conversation for now, so I stopped panicking and forgot about it.

Later that day, Pastor Salim came to our office.

“Good afternoon Bethany.  You didn’t reply to my last email.”

Oh…no….

“Hello Pastor.  I didn’t realize your last email needed a response.”

“Don’t you want to know more about Christianity?”

Shit.  What do I say?  How do I tell him no without seeming rude?

“No.”

Really, Beth?  That was the best answer you could come up with?  Just “no”?

He looked startled at my response.  “Why not?  Don’t you want to learn more about religion?”

Maybe in a strictly academic sense, but not to be converted.

”To be honest, Pastor, I know a lot about Christianity but that’s not what I believe in.”

An even more shocked expression.  “Why not?”

Should I say something outrageous?  “Because I enjoy irresponsible kinky sex with strangers too much!  Especially if it includes some gay action!”

Or maybe something honest? “I could never believe in Hell.”  “I think the Adam and Eve story has done a lot of harm to western society and I couldn’t follow a faith based on bullshit like that.”  No… that might encourage further debate. 

”It’s just not for me.”

The Pastor switched strategies and began asking me more about Taoism.  He clarified that it’s an eastern philosophy.

”Yes!  From the Orient” I answered eagerly, hoping to end the conversation. 

Maybe I can bluff about my Chinese heritage and that it’s my family’s faith…

“Do you have any books you could lend me?   Any religious texts?”

This conversation has gone on long enough.  Time to be honest.

“Pastor, I’m not an expert on Taoism.  I only know the basics.  I don’t have any books in South Africa with me, but I know some good ones and if I see them, I’ll buy them for you.”

That was the end of it.  He was obviously disappointed in me.  Because I’ve been labeled as a “nice girl” by the men in my office, they think I must be a “Christian girl.”

Ha.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against other people’s beliefs.  To be honest, I enjoy learning about different spiritual views.  Unfortunately, however, the tone in my office is usually somewhat judgmental – thus I try to stay clear from anything that seems like it could possibly become a religious conversation. 

It seems the safest route to take – “safest” meaning least likely to get me fired for my errant (progressive/liberal) beliefs.

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