An Interview with Melody B.
Courage that has named its fears and unmet expectations is the sort of tenacity we could use a little more of. Bravery that dares to speak the truth and to spread its arms wide, to the left and to the right, is the sort that invites others to grab a hand, to link an arm, to come along for the journey. Courage that’s been carefully chosen on the days when it’s easier to play it safe, that’s the boldness that empowers others. It reminds those in its wake that, hey, maybe I can choose the hard but good thing too, if I can believe in the vision just enough, in myself just enough, in the faithfulness of God just enough. Melody B. is one of those women who chooses courage over complacency time and again, each time extending a hand to those close by. Her adventurous inclination to take the risk, her genuine compassion for her fellow man, and her faith with breath in its lungs are a walking, living invitation to leave behind the familiar for something far better.
In our recent conversation together, Melody talked openly of her diverse experiences as an overseas worker and registered nurse. As she shared anecdotes of her time abroad and recent reroute to Cleveland, the undercurrents of adventure, humor, and play that run deep through her faith and fuel some of that contagious courage began to reveal themselves. A few years ago, she moved to Ohio to acquire her nursing degree and – to give a glimpse into her tenacious and adventurous spirit – somehow managed to also purchase a home, raise a flock of chickens, and offer a transitional place to live for refugee women looking to get on their feet in a foreign land. In January, she sold that home in preparation to go back overseas as a nurse in Zanzibar, where she will once again choose the courageous and good thing over the familiar, comfortable one.
As her dear friend, I have had an (eventful) front row seat as she’s made home in over half a dozen cities and villages, exchanging the familiarity of denim jeans and yoga pants to find a new fondness for hijabs and deras. Her boldness has led her to shave her entire head of hair before moving to Tanzania, french kiss a giraffe in South Africa, and pray eagerly in a way that few of us do. Not infrequently, my phone will light up mid-morning with a text from Mel: “You’re on my prayer calendar today. How can I pray for you?” Within minutes of my response, my phone will buzz with a voice recording from Mel, praying for my anxieties and celebrating my victories – a tangible expression of her solidarity and belief in the faithfulness of Jesus. On more than one occasion, I have shown up to a meal with my friend Mel with little more than doubts and anxieties, only to leave with laughter in my gut and a renewed belief in the wild goodness of Jesus. In any interaction with Melody B., it’s impossible to depart without an invigorating invitation to step outside the boundaries of comfort to choose what’s brave and unfamiliar.
R: Was there a defining moment or experience that solidified your vision for becoming an overseas worker?
Melody: Growing up, the church I went to had a lot of overseas workers come back and share their stories. Once I started following Jesus for myself and reading scripture, including the commands to care for the poor and the orphan and his last command to go into the world and make disciples, it almost didn’t seem like it was an option to follow him and not obey his commands. It wasn’t necessarily a “calling” in that I had a dream or momentous occasion, but it was more of this steady and consistent, if you want to follow Jesus, this is what you do. You go to the ends of the earth and you care for the poor and you make disciples.
R: At one point, you were living in Tanzania full-time, and then you decided to come back to the States and go to school to become a nurse. What nudged you to leave the field for a bit, go back to school, and work as a nurse in Cleveland?
Melody: The fact that I hated teaching (*giggles*). I hated being a teacher. That was part of it, but I was living in a village, and I had lost my teammates for various reasons. So, one, I was not enjoying what I was doing being a teacher, but, two, I wanted a tangible and legitimate way to love people and serve people. I didn’t have any other practical skills to offer people, so I spent a lot of time in prayer and considering all of my other options. Coming back to the States was the last thing that I wanted to do… the very last thing that I wanted to do. I even looked at nursing schools in other countries, and then through a lot of prayer, God made it clear that I was supposed to come back to the States to go to nursing school. I had always been interested in nursing and medicine, but I never wanted to do the science behind it. It turns out I actually love the science behind it. What started out as wanting to have a legitimate way to be in a country and to love people and serve people, turned into really loving nursing too.
R: What was your experience like working as a nurse in Cleveland?
Melody: In one aspect, I found it would have been very easy to slip into the 40-hour work week, but there is always a part of me that knew I was working as a nurse in Cleveland, or as a nurse in America more generally, in order to get the training and the experience to go back overseas. There was always, in the back of my mind, the thought that I am learning this now so that I can be a nurse elsewhere. Working as an ICU nurse and later as a labor and delivery nurse at the public city hospital in the inner city brought a lot of challenges with the patient population I served, but I also got to see and experience a lot of things. It grew me in trying to love people and serve people like Jesus does. I hope that I grew in patience and kindness and compassion.
R: As someone who is not living overseas, it seems that leaving “home,” family, and long-time friends to move somewhere unfamiliar would be both thrilling and challenging. When you are living and working abroad, is being far from what’s familiar challenging for you, or what is that experience like?
Melody: There’s certainly a part of me that misses family and friends, what’s familiar, and the culture I grew up in. But the eternal impact and knowing that I am saying goodbye, at least temporarily to family and friends, so that other people can spend eternity with their families, that is something that I keep in my mind. More than anything, I want to follow Jesus, and the commands of Jesus are hard and not always comfortable or easy. But I believe that Jesus is worth it, and even if there is not a tangible reward here and now, the reward of following Jesus even to the hard places where family and friends and the familiar is not found, it is worth it. Jesus is worth it. He is such a beautiful prize.
R: Are there other challenges that come with working overseas? Have you found ways to overcome or cope with those challenges?
Melody: People always ask if there is a food I miss most when I am overseas. For me, it’s not so much the physical material things I miss about the States, but the anonymity of living in the culture of the place in which you are born. That is the thing most tiring to me. The opportunity to just run to the store to pick up eggs and milk without being noticed doesn’t exist. You are always noticed as a foreigner. People are always aware of your presence.
The point of culture shock that comes after living in a place for a while, usually after a couple of years, is that you adjust. The lack of anonymity becomes the new normal. But then it is also important to have regular periods of rest and escape from the place that you are living. Taking regular vacations and holidays elsewhere, and in places where the culture may be a little bit more similar to what you are accustomed to becomes important. I think rest is huge. It’s interesting that rest is a commandment, and that even God rested in making creation. Part of creation was rest. In our culture of busy-ness, where busy-ness is prized and praised, we’re not very good at rest, and rest is almost equated with laziness. But taking those regular periods of rest is key to living overseas, and should be key to living anywhere (*giggles*).
R: In various seasons of your life and through moves to many different places around the world, you have maintained a deep faith in Jesus that hasn’t wavered. How have you anchored your hope in Jesus when life, circumstances, and your setting are constantly changing?
Melody: To say my faith has never wavered might be a little too lofty, because my faith has certainly wavered. I have had crises of trust in Jesus and just asking myself do I truly believe that God is really good? But I think for some reason my identity is just very firmly founded in the truths that I read in scripture and in the person of Jesus, and I guess it is a grace that I haven’t had a huge faith crisis. But there is a quote by Martin Luther that I found a number of years ago that I always go back to, and it says, “What will you do in the mundane days of faithfulness?” I think that is hugely important. In the average day-to-day, what practices are you fostering so that when the storms come, you have this grounding anchor? So for me, what that looks like is having a daily time that I spend with Jesus reading scripture and praying and listening for the Holy Spirit so that when the times have come and I’ve had these crises of trust, I have these routines that are just as natural and necessary as brushing my teeth. If I skip even one day, I feel it; something is off. On the days I don’t feel like approaching Jesus or spending time with Jesus, it is something that has become such a habit and rhythm – it is my grounding anchor – so when my emotions catch up to the truths that I believe to my very core, those practices continue
R: How do you keep such a solid sense of humor and the ability to laugh at yourself in the face of adversity?
Melody: It’s not all up to me, so recognizing that I have the grace to participate in the ministry of reconciliation that Jesus has in reconciling creation back to himself, and yet even if I don’t – even if I choose not to – his ministry still continues. There is a grace in that. When I mess up and when I flop utterly on my face and make huge language blunders or cultural blunders or completely miss a leading of the Holy Spirit or am more proactively disobedient, it’s not all up to me. There are so many joys in life too, that even in the darkest of days, the sun still rises, and there is still something to be thankful for, even on the days that it’s really, really hard to find that. And, sass and wit are just so fun (*giggles*).
R: Any final thoughts or words you want to share?
Melody: As someone who loves adventure, I would just say that following Jesus is the best adventure that anyone could ever choose to go on. He will take you to higher – this all makes me sound way more spiritual and mature than I actually am (*giggles*) – higher highs and lower lows than you could ever fathom, and yet it’s all so good because Jesus is with you through it all.