The Best Joke Ever…Except it Wasn’t
A monk, a missionary, and a ladyboy get on a train. The ladyboy (born male, living as female) arrives first and is happily seated between two other passengers—pretty ladies should always have seats on trains. The missionary is content standing and frantically preparing for the class he is en route to lead. When the monk arrives, a seated passenger politely moves and offered their seat out of respect for the monk’s honored position. But a monk cannot touch a lady, so the open seat, which happens to be next to the ladyboy, can not be accepted.
Ladies seated everywhere. Finally more shuffling and another passenger gives up their seat, the ladyboy scoots down, and the missionary is called upon to sit between the monk and the ladyboy and act as a buffer—perhaps a cleansing agent of sorts. The whole train breathes a sigh of cultural relief.
It could be the lead-in for a joke. Or it could be everyday life.
When we first arrived here, our family was pleasantly surprised that so much diversity can coexist in such apparent harmony in our city. As our eyes grow more adjusted culturally, however, the glaring difference between tolerance (non-confrontation) and true love (grace-filled acceptance paired with truth-speaking) becomes more stark. People here are given tolerance – they can live their lives in almost any way they please. But their souls are not satisfied. You can see it behind their eyes, in their behavior, in their pushing of the cultural limits—they crave more. They surround themselves by either religious restraint or alternatively by complete freedom to indulge their passions. But one cannot simply restrain the quest for love out of the human soul. And passion is likewise an unfulfilling substitute. True love surprises us by at the same time restraining us and freeing us.
That missionary, the buffer between the monk and the ladyboy, gets to be part of bringing God’s surprising love to some very broken, abused, exploited, and vulnerable individuals who were born as men. Most of them are not currently living as either men or women…they have found a new niche for themselves, a place where they feel they belong, they have chosen a third gender. They change their bodies, wearing with pride what cultural conservatives (who seek to hide their sin) would call shameful. They wear their sin on the outside, as some say. Broken as they are, God is not ashamed to pursue them. They were created in his image. They have rebelled against Grace. They have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…just like every child of God. And God is calling them back to himself. He is making a name for himself among them.
God’s love is indeed surprising. It accepts us just as we are. It doesn’t sugar-coat our position and tell us to stay just like we are. (How many times have we signed a yearbook with the words that seemed loving, “don’t change ever”?) Love calls us upward. It calls us to holiness and then stands by us when we fail to be holy—I will never leave you or forsake you. It calls us to surrender our status symbols—our athletic prowess, business successes, long flowing hair (or other body parts whether natural or surgically enhanced, which will not be named here)—and yet does not demand transformation within a certain timeframe. Love is patient. It is kind. It carries a clear agenda and yet is not offensive. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
Some among the transgender in our city are finding hope in Christ’s love. Our family has the joy of partnering with a non-profit that is geared towards this special demographic—helping them find healing for trauma, further their education, and training them for “normal” jobs in mainstream society. Their journey of transformation is often long and confusing, riddled with questions about what God says about body-changing surgeries…or perhaps undoing those surgeries. Many find hope in Scriptures that refer to eunuchs, who may have been similarly surgically modified: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters” (Isaiah 56:4-5) There is hope for the broken who turn to God.
Our family is a completely imperfect embodiment of Christ’s love. You probably are too. But how is God calling you to surprise by love? And how is God’s love surprising you?
A monk, a missionary, and a ladyboy get on a train…
By: Daniel and Michelle, Serving in Asia