My head was foggy from my favorite African-made cider and the little bit of weed I had smoked. I remember giving my keys to my co-worker, and asking him to drive me home because I didn’t feel okay to drive. I remember sitting in the passenger seat, and thought the windshield wipers were on.
We got back to my apartment, and sat on my couch while I drank some water. He stuck his feet under my leg, and I remember thinking, “Okay, that’s okay.”
Then I said it was time for bed, and tossed a blanket at him, assuming he was sleeping on the couch. Instead he followed me to my room, and I didn’t really care, and wasn’t really thinking. I laid down on my back when he crawled next to me, took off his glasses and reached across my chest to put them on my side table. His forearm smooshed against my breasts, and I thought, “Well this is awkward.”
I turned away from him, and he spooned me.
“I guess this is okay, cuddling is nice.”
Then I felt his penis move against me. It had been a while since I had been with a man and the attention felt nice. My brain was slow to process what was happening and my body was warmed by the idea of more.
I gave in.
By the time I had sobered up a bit and figured out that this was a terrible idea since he was my co-worker, and that I didn’t even really find him attractive or want to have this experience with him, my breasts were exposed and he was straddling me. I pushed him off and rolled back on my side, and he again tried to coax me on top of him. I pushed him off and made snoring noises to signal it was over.
The next morning, I drove him back to his car with a pounding in my head. I asked him if driving home in the rain last night was difficult, because my windshield wipers needed to be changed. He said it hadn’t been raining, and he didn’t use the windshield wipers.
I was so incapacitated on the way home that I thought it was raining, and he had used the windshield wipers, when in reality he didn’t use them at all.
Honestly, I feel lucky that he didn’t further force himself on me. I am glad that I stopped what ever was happening, and I’m glad he didn’t push harder for more. But our relationship after that night became severed, and he no longer was friendly towards me. The only time I would see him is when we had bi-weekly chapel services as an office staff. I felt like he hurt me and he never apologized or checked in with me to go over what happened, but I was also glad I didn’t have to talk about it.
As time went on though, I wish I could have talked about it with my country coordinator, or my regional representative. Was I assaulted? Was it my fault for not saying “no” sooner so I didn’t even put myself in that situation?
People began to ask why me and my coworker stopped being friends, and I had to continually lie and hide that night in shame. I felt that if I went to any ELCA staff, or shared with anyone in the country I was serving that I would be dismissed from my Global Missionary position and sent home. It wasn’t just a relationship with my coworker on the line, it was my relationship to a partner church and my own church, and my career.
Only my friends know about this experience, and I never ended up telling any official people in-country or the Churchwide staff. This was mostly out of fear that I would be blamed or sent home for breaking the Personnel Policies that vaguely outline the use of alcohol, strictly say no sex (without any context of what “sex” is), and no drug use. All of these policies are written for the sake of our health and in hopes of respecting our partner church’s culture. But that night was with youth from my church, was with my co-worker, laughing and sharing about theology and who God is to us. Yes, I was under the influence but so were the people in my context.
Although I understand why these lines have been drawn in the sand, I don’t agree with the implications it has for the personnel who follow them. I had to live a pristine lifestyle outwardly, and project the image of purity. I was allowing this false image of myself be my identity for two years, and by the end of my contract I was more than ready to come home.
My vision for the ELCA is that we respect other cultures and contexts, but that we also respect and value the employees that give their lives to the ministry. I hope that we can someday not advise in a policy for how to express sexuality, but discuss openly the implications while leaving it up to the missionaries to discern what is healthy for them. We should not put pastors, missionaries, youth workers, congregants on pedestals because all that does is bring shame and fear if any of us fall from the false height. Instead, let us rejoice in our bodies, our gifts, and our sound minds and how God is calling us to live.
I miss the missionary community everyday. I deeply loved and looked up to the others serving and hope to one day go back abroad. But for now, I need to live out my faith free of stifled expressions and expectations.