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A Fellow Swimmer's Brave Daughter
"Sarah, hey, Sarah," my swimming-friend Rita called as I reached the end of the lane, where she and another woman were stretching. "Where were you for six months again?"
"India," I said, treading water, not wanting to stop moving.
"This is Carolyn. Her daughter's in the Congo."
"Wow! What's she doing there?"
"She's with the the International Rescue Committee."
"It's a humanitarian aid organization. She was in Darfur and the Sudan prior to the Congo. She's been working with them since graduating college seven years ago."
I felt ashamed. I assumed she was a missionary...but more on that in a bit. "Wow, what a hero your daughter is."
Rita said, "I know you've gotta go to work and I didn't want to interrupt your swimming; just wanted you to meet each other."
"Thanks. Good to meet you," I said, swimming off sheepishly.
In the lockerroom, she heard me exhale in the shower and exclaimed from another shower-stall, "Wasn't it [the swimming] wonderful?"
We were drying off and she happened to have picked a locker near mine.
"I was thinking of how worried my mom was about me, and I was working in an *office* building. As her mother, you must be so scared. I'm sorry I was snotty about your daughter in the pool. Are you Jewish?"
"No. I'm a pastor."
"Well, I'm sorry. It's just that I haven't been around other Jews in six months and I thought your daughter might be a missionary, and since being in India, where I learned that there really are religions beyond Christianity, Judaism and Islam, I don't favor the idea of people being missionaries and converting people from their faiths."
"I know what you mean. I don't believe it's good either. The aid is conditional, that is, they have to accept Christianity to get it, and also, it's the whole package; they try to westernize them on top of getting them to convert."
I meant no disrespect to missionaries, except that I had a completely different orientation to religion, which amounted to zero promotion of mine to people who were not Jewish; as a Jew, it was against my tradition to proselytize, and so it was foreign to me.
Driving to work afterwards, I really did see an older Toyota Corolla, sporting the following bumper-stickers: "Follow your heart;" "We are one;" "It's not our differences that divide us. It's our refusal to accept and celebrate our differences."