The Eurythmics have a song called “Missionary Man” with this haunting chorus that chants, “Don’t mess with a missionary man”. I should have listened more closely.
The home we finally found to rent – actually we needed to lease it – belonged to a missionary man. We came across this home via someone who knew someone who knew someone type of thing. It was the only way we were ever going to find a home to rent in this city. The transaction involved someone connected to my work, whom I had just met – sort of – vouching for my good character to the missionary man’s daughter and some church members at their home church. Then after passing all of these invisible tests we needed to set up to have a Skype phone call with the missionary man since he was still in Mexico being loved by all.
After answering most of his questions with “Jesus”, like we were 12, sitting in a Sunday school class, he proclaimed us worthy enough to rent his home. We signed the lease and quickly moved in. The home was located in the south part of the city, in an upper middle class neighborhood. We didn’t really fit in and the neighbors took exception to the u-haul truck being backed in across the street from their manicured lawns. Our only saving grace was that the previous tenants were apparently involved in with some shady dealings, which came to light after we had their car towed from the garage and they panicked because ‘something’ was left inside the vehicle.
The house was old and worn but nice enough, until the rains came. Apparently, in this city the infrastructure lacked certain upgrades and consequently in the heavy rain season, when the storm drains would plug up from the rain water, they would back flow into the sewer systems, which would then back flow into people’s basements. It has happened every year since we had moved to this city and will probably happen every year for a few more years until the city finally finishes some much needed sewer infrastructure upgrades.
Our first introduction to this problem occurred one evening when we were all gathered in the basement watching a show. A very distinct smell caught our attention and as we stood up to find the source we noticed that the floor drain by the hot water tank was full of sewer liquid forming a miniature spring, a few inches in height. We concentrated our efforts on moving boxes and valuables to higher ground while the sewer water began to fill the lower parts of the floor. By the time it had stopped, over three-quarters of the basement was full of sewer water, approximately two to three inches worth.
We cleaned it up and contacted the missionary man who assured us that such a thing had never happened to him before – or even with previous tenants and he surmised that perhaps it was because our four daughters were flushing their sanitary napkins down the toilet and the toilet had overflowed. The presupposition that was embedded in with his comments about my daughters had been missed by me this first time, however I would have ample opportunity to understand the full extent of his meaning in consequent phone calls.
And there were consequent phone calls because as it turned out this wasn’t the only time the sewer backed up. It continued to back up on a fairly frequent basis – so much so that we basically stopped using the basement all together. We were beginning to have other issues with the home as well, and trying to get the missionary man to do something about it was next to impossible. He had talked to us about his desire to sell the home and for awhile we had considered it. He had talked about selling the home as a form of ministry – to help out another young couple – just like they were helped out when they bought that home many years earlier. When we talked to him about this he suddenly changed his tune and did not want to sell the home until he could return from Mexico and see just how much it was worth because he wasn’t interested in selling the house ‘at a loss’.
Realizing that we were not going to get anywhere with him in regards to purchasing the home – our effort was focused on trying to keep the home livable. But the sewer back-ups continued, things continued to break on the home and we had enough. I say we, which is true but with me working – my wife and I had long ago decided that she would focus on managing the home. This division of duties were in no way related to gender roles or gender expectations – but it was a matter of convenience and practicality. She took care of all matters related to the home, which also included all of our finances, so when I say we were following up with this missionary man it would be more accurate to say that it was my wife who was making the calls and sending the emails.
But then a particularly disturbing thing happened. The missionary man, convinced all along that the problems with our home were a result of the women of our home, decided to lecture my wife on such matters. My wife responded in defense at first but was met with a scolding from the missionary man – a scolding to her directly and an insistence that he just talk to me – being the ‘head of the home’ after all and that such matters were best dealt with by the men and not the women.
Feminism had long taken root in our marriage by myself, having grown up in it on one respect and having simply found an academic and emotional place to me – settled in the idea of gender equality – so when we encountered such an opposition to such an idea we were shocked at first. Taken aback I made contact with him insisting that he can deal directly with my wife on such matters as she handles those things in our marriage and reinforcing our egalitarianism. He pushed back, insisting that the emotional state of my wife, let alone womankind, had no place in such conversations and that I would be directed by him in how to ‘handle my wife’ in such matters.
At this point my wife and I opted to cut off all contact with this missionary man and we made our exit plan – locating another place to move into. Yes, another move, another starting over but a necessary one for within a very short period of time in this strange new city we had run into a very different sort of Christianity. A very different sort of Christianity indeed.