A Post-Trip Poem

Introduction to A Post-Trip Poem

by Jon Roland

I wrote this poem a week after arriving on "Spice Island" for a two-week short-term mission project. This is not the real name of the island, but that is what we called it for the protection of the undercover missionaries we were assisting.

To understand this poem more fully, you need to know two things about Spice Island. First, it is the poorest island in a Southeast Asian country made up entirely of islands. It is so poor that the infant mortality rate is 1/3. This is due to malnutrition and insufficient medical care. Second, it is a 99% Muslim island where it is illegal to evangelize and Christians are in danger of being jailed, beaten, run off the island, or even killed if discovered by the wrong crowd of people. This is because, from the time they are infants, Spice Islanders are taught three things about Westerners: a) that we are out to destroy Islam, b) that we are all just out to convert them to Christianity, and c) that all Christians are wicked and immoral people from whose corrupting influence they need to protect themselves.

I wrote this to help me process my first experience doing missions internationally in a culture and nation closed to Christianity. It is written from the perspective of a Spice Islander (in particular one of the workers at our hotel or a nearby street merchant). I wrote it as if somehow I was able to hear the thoughts of a Spice Islander as he or she goes through a typical day and then encounters our team. It is called Misplaced Thoughts.

Note: This is a free verse poem meant to be read with a particular pace and intonation that I cannot communicate well on paper. However, to help you the best I can here are three tips.
1) Pause for about a beat at the end of each line, period, or question mark.
2) Pause for about a beat in the middle of a line where I put three dots.
3) You will need to create your own intonation, but single or two word lines/sentences as well as words that are all capitals should be read with a little more power. Most everything else could be read with normal intonation and pace, but play with it if you want.

Misplaced Thoughts

Unspoken.
Broken.
A rift between two worlds; I choke on.

No help.
No time.
Waiting for a change I can't see in my mind.
Resigned to a day replayed a thousand times, a thousand ways.
Life as usual.

Dust on my feet - no one to wash 'em.
Fruit on the trees - none in me.
Prayers on my lips, but still, a hole in my heart.
I have rice. Cigarettes.
What more do I need?
Why can't I hear my baby crying?

Here they come.
White giants. White teeth. White kings.
Walkin' like they own me.
Lookin', not seein'.
Hearin', not listenin'.
Yellin', for me to bring them one more thing out of my reach.

How many more pearls - before I can by rice?
How many bags will I carry -with more stuff than I own?

Big wallets. Big bellies. Big shoppers.
You own everything already.
What are you here lookin' for?
Joy?
Happiness?
Can't take our laughter with you.
Or our respect.
Those don't cross worlds.

White OR brown. Brown OR white. Us OR them.
Not like lookin' in a mirror.
But our blood is both red.
How can we be so different, but created in the image of God?

No more questions.
No more answers.
Custom knows best.
Life as usual.

Contradiction?
Confusion?
An illusion?
Something is not the same.

White AND brown. Brown AND white. Us.

Whites but not kings.
Giants but walking small.
Did he ask my name?
Is she covered up?

Generous hearts. Gentle spirits. Genuine friends.
Worlds - mixing

How can we be so much the same?
A shared creator?
Something else?
Light in the dark or exception to the rule?
What is the answer?

How did they bring laughter with them - and leave it?
How did they get my respect - and leave with it?
What kind of bridge crosses two worlds?
Life is not usual.

Written by Jon Roland
August 3, 2008