When we first moved to our neighborhood, my tractor was not running well, so I asked Madu for help. He made his living doing tractor work and always did his own repairs. Madu removed a panel, scraped some dirt and leaves that were preventing the free movement of cables, replaced the panel and asked me for more than a day’s labor. He said that was the going rate for remote tractor work, and if I had had someone come from town, it would have cost more. I paid him but let him know I disapproved of his actions and that they had not been neighborly. I did not expect he would become a true friend.
Let me back up.
Moving to this neighborhood almost broke our will to be missionaries. People saw us for what they could get from us, not for a genuine relationship. It was especially hard for Stephanie—pregnant, sick, lonely and struggling to understand a strange new language—all the while enduring heat that takes so much energy to go out and visit. Stephanie tried and tried to connect with the women, but they just sat and stared when they were not poking and grabbing our children and gabbing endlessly about their whiteness. When they did talk, it was not to get to know her but rather nosy stuff. “How much did you spend at the market? How much is your salary? How much did you spend on your house?” We were foreigners with a foreign religion.
We prayed and searched for answers.
For several years, we tried to hire house help so Stephanie would have more time for language learning and making meaningful connections. No one would do it. It was too shameful. Yet they are so poor, and the money would change their lives. We didn’t understand. People are eager to split their families apart to work in other countries, enduring jail and deportation if undocumented. Crammed into ghettos, they work long hours seven days a week for condescending bosses. But daily walking in front of their gossiping neighbors close to home, they would not do. Safia from across the street almost took the job, then said her husband did not want her to do it. He acted wary and cold.
Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit impressed me to let go of my hard feelings for Tractor Man; that is what we used to call Madu. I told him I had been mad at him, that it was not right, and I was sorry. I then gave him a tip for being so quick to find the problem. I wanted to know what it was like to give someone your shirt when they asked for your coat. It felt so good.
Madu’s sister-in-law Ibu then started working for us. Initially, we did not want to hire her because she had a four-year-old. But she said, “If I don’t work for you, I will be in the fields doing whatever I can find anyway. I have four kids. They need money for food and school. There will be gossip about me for taking this job, but I can work and still be with my kids. So they can go right ahead and gossip.”
We started getting to know both families a little bit and were happy to develop a relationship with them. Ibu is a rare and conscientious worker. Madu’s wife, Asli, got pregnant after many years and miscarriages. One morning we bumped into Madu on our morning bike ride, and he mentioned wanting to take his wife on an outing before the baby came. We suggested we could take a group in our pickup sometime soon.
That’s when the accident happened. Madu was driving his motorcycle into town to buy a tractor part for me when he hit a motorcycle driven by a young boy who turned right in front of him. They were both scraped up, the boy even worse. The motorcycles, too. The police impounded the motorcycles until both parties could reach a settlement. Madu called me and asked me to come to the station. By the time I got there, almost twenty family members were there discussing their predicament and commiserating. I barely stopped one zealous auntie of the other party from pouring gasoline on Madu’s wounds.
The outing was off. Madu and his family could not sleep at night, worrying that the settlement would be very costly. Family members visited from other provinces and, from every angle, discussed who was at fault. They showed me videos, taken with their cell phones, of the police yelling at them and calling them dirty names while making Madu half-carry and half-drag his broken motorcycle to the police station while limping from his injuries.
The parents of the boy would not settle until he was released from the local clinic. Madu’s family spied on the clinic morning and evening to make sure the boy was still a patient and that his family was not exaggerating his time there. Rumors flew that the boy’s parents were in cahoots with the doctor to exploit the injuries. I drove Madu and his family to court on the day of settlement talks and stood in moral support while listening to impassioned bargaining over every last dollar. Both parties counted out the money and shook hands. Then came visible relief. Madu’s family went home and got the first sleep in ten days. It was a window into the constant helplessness and fear of everyone around me.
Finally, we got to have the outing. Ibu came with her four kids. Madu and Asli, with their 8-year-old son, Ice Cream, came. (His real name sounds something like ice cream.) Their married niece Razza came with her little girl, along with a few other people.
We went to a water park two hours away. To us, it was little more than a low-budget swimming pool with a few non-CDC-approved water slides. To them, it was the world. At lunchtime, Eric Tirado and I had pulled enough tables together for the whole group, but everyone else had already spread out into little groups. They were not sure if they could eat with us. We corralled them all back together. We shared food. We shared utensils and towels, and snuck children in on the corners of our seats. By the time we got home, it was no longer Us and Them. It was only Us.
Over and over, Madu and Asli thanked us profusely. Shortly after, Madu came unannounced with his big tractor, mowed thick brush on our property for several hours, and refused payment. I could not believe it was the same Tractor Man. We could not believe how God was answering our prayers.