More Alike Than We Are Different
by Mona Hodgson
A leafy thatched roof overhead provides scarce shade. I sit cross-legged on a grass mat in an open hut where a dozen Burmese women and their children crouch around my sister Linda and me. Chickens cackle and flutter from under the rough-hewn flooring beneath us.
Linda speaks in turn with our teenage translator, holding her Bible out to our spectators as a lifeguard would a rescue ring and talking about God’s great love for them. Next, we display foot-tall cardboard cutouts of children from every nation while the kids clamor for their turn to hold one. My sister and I exchange a now familiar we-aren’t-in-Arizona-anymore glance before we and the translator lead the mothers and their offspring in singing “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”
When the singing and sharing end, I say my goodbyes and slap my hat on my head for shade. Linda and I stroll the path through the remote riverbank village, processing what we’d seen and heard in a land and lifestyle foreign to our own.
We pass several bamboo huts when shouts from behind stop me in my dusty tracks. A woman lopes toward me, her arms flapping like flags. Her orange and white checkered shirt drapes a forest green longyi, a circular sheet of cloth worn as a maxi skirt. Her tennis shoes churn dust as words foreign to me spill from her mouth. Having narrowed the gap between us, she yanks a tattered hat from her cropped, gray hair.
The same color hair as mine.
I wave my flop hat like a streamer as I join in her jubilation over what we share in common—gray hair and green hats. I don’t fully understand the woman’s zeal until I learn that the median age in Burma (Myanmar) is 28.2. For the USA, 37.9 ranks as the median age. For her, seeing another woman in her fifties or sixties is a rarity.
Following our impromptu celebration of commonality, I tap my collarbone and offer my name: “Mona.”
More squeals erupt as she drums her chest. “Mono Ma.”
Flop hats. Gray hair. Related names. Alike-nesses, despite the fact that we live out our daily lives on opposite sides of the equator, and worlds apart. Mono Ma recognizes and commemorates the gift of kinship, and she’s teaching me to do the same.
The commotion we create draws a translator to our side. That’s when I learn Mono Ma follows Jesus, too. And she’s calling me her sister-friend.
Too soon, the afternoon whistle blows. Time for women and children over age eight to scurry back to work. Mono Ma smothers me in hugs then dashes out from among the housing and down an aisle flanked by stacks of fire-stained bricks.
I’m not ready to say goodbye.
The mission team my sister and I had tagged along with that day carried crates of oranges and tomatoes across the border from Thailand on a day trip to visit three villages. Mono Ma’s village was my last stop in Myanmar.
Under the influence of my staggering emotions, I follow Linda and the team to a margin beside the makeshift brick making system. I watch a procession of women, Mono Ma among them, haul buckets of water up from the river.
Left with no choice but to part ways with my kindred spirit, I gain permission to give Mono Ma a parting gift. I lift the hat from my head, and during a break in the water-hauling cycle, I approach the women and hold the memento of our visit out to Mono Ma. We embrace one last time, then placing the hat on her head my new sister-friend prances and pats her chest over her heart as though I’d thrown her a rescue ring.
Tears of joy and tears of sadness stream down my face and pool at my chin as I walk the dusty road back to the taxi van.
Away from Mono Ma.
What happened here, Lord?
My sis Linda and I shared our hope with the women and children and sought to encourage our village friends in their faith. I’d gone to Burma to give.
How much I received surprised me. Just like God to reward the giver with delight, isn’t it?
As the taxi bounced down the bumpy roads, returning us to the border, my heart camped on Mono Ma’s unbridled delight in meeting me. I couldn’t help but lean toward the window, stare up at the blue sky, and smile big-teeth-emoji-style.
Mono Ma illustrated for me gratitude and joy lived out in the center of dismal circumstances. She gave me the gift of over-the-top love. And my sister-friend reminded me of this timeless truth: we are more the same than we are different.
NOTE: A shorter version was published in Every Day with Jesus: Daily Joy for the Journey (Guideposts Books, 2018)
An award-winning author and a speaker, Mona Hodgson has published 42 books, historical novels and novellas for adults and children’s books for ages birth to twelve. Her writing credits also include several hundred articles, poems and short stories, which have appeared in 50 different publications. www.MonaHodgson.com
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