“Sure, I’d love to come to your daughter’s birthday party,” I said.
“Ok, be there at two or three o’clock.” Eloise looked as excited as the birthday child.
A Belizean birthday party? I was game.
By the time I pushed my stroller into the yard, it was full of people talking and laughing above the noise of a tinny boom box placed in a trash can for amplification. Party-goers sipped from plastic cups filled with amber-colored liquid that, no, probably wasn't juice. A tarp suspended between two trees offered some shade for a group of men passing a goblet around the circle. Women crowded together on boards balanced across stacks of concrete blocks. Children darted between the groups, sucking on sweets.
An awkward silence fell over the group as I arrived, with my children in tow. Maybe it was my veiling. Maybe it was my dress. Maybe my skin color. We handed our gift, a pack of three containers of play-dough, to the guest of honor, and Eloise hastened to make us feel welcome. She shouted above the music, “Everyone, this is a church lady, and she’s my friend.”
The crowd broke into cheers, boisterously welcoming my children and me. They offered their names and shook my hand. The women slid over on their plank bench for us to sit down at the makeshift table. Eloise placed a plate of rice and beans, BBQ chicken, and potato salad in front of me, and her sister poured me some soft drink. This church lady was welcome.
Church lady. The term flattered me. So many things she could have chosen from my life—“This is one of my mom-friends,” “This is an American lady,” or “This is the lady who lives in the big house,” but she had chosen “church lady.”
It’s not the first time I’ve been called a church lady. Before I was married, I taught a class of city children at our church’s Thursday evening Bible study. On the weekend, I enjoyed going to the the children's homes to play with them and build relationships. When my friends and I would step out of the car, children—not just those who came to Bible study—would shout, “The church people are here!” Not volleyball person, not chorus person, not school teacher person, but church person.
But no matter how much people call me a church person, there’s something more important. Do the people around me see me as a “Jesus person?” When people look at my clothes and veiling, they associate it with the Mennonite church, but when they see my actions, do they associate them with Jesus?
My children may see Jesus when I put Band-Aids on their ouchies and give them a kiss. They may see Jesus when I pull them onto my lap for a story, but what about when we're getting ready for church and one can't find her sandals and another is dawdling when I want her in the bathroom NOW to comb her hair?
My neighbor may see Jesus when I sit on my porch step and listen to her tell about how drugs have ruined her brothers' health, how she's scared he'll die one of these times. But does she see Jesus when she calls from the gate for the fifth time that week, holding her little bag of something she wants to store in my already-full fridge or freezer? Does she see Jesus when she comes to ask for that little baggie at 10 P.M. when I'm preparing for bed? Or at 9:00 on a Sunday morning when all five locks between me and the inside of the house are already closed and I will be late for church if I go back inside?
The school students, whose classroom is in our yard, probably see Jesus when my husband asks me to come out to the classroom and share some of the hard things I learned in my youth. But do they see Jesus when I’m sick and tired of my privacy being invaded, and they come and ask for salt and pepper to put on their mango or some ibuprofen for a headache?
I love being associated with church, but more than that I want others to see Jesus in me.