Cockroaches and other Tests of Character
It all started a few months ago when I opened the kitchen cupboard to get a mug for my morning cup of coffee. I saw crawling through the glasses a small brown bug with wings. When I tried to catch him, he was way too quick for my sleepy morning reflexes. I considered whether it was something more than just a single bug or a sign of a bigger problem, but when I checked out pictures on Google Images, it didn’t really match any of the images of the pest I was fearing. So, I prayed against a bug problem, kept an eye out for more, and then forgot about it.
Fast forward a month or two. I come home from the market with a load of fresh fruits and veggies and begin washing everything and putting it away. I saved the cauliflower for last because the previous week I’d found a snail, spider, and worm in another head of cauliflower, and I wasn’t excited about dealing with that again. As I was about to approach the newest head of cauliflower, I saw a brown bug on top of the microwave nearby. I squished it first, then looked at it later. Always my approach with bugs. Jake and I agreed it did indeed look like a cockroach. Within a couple of minutes, another one was climbing up the side of the microwave. Jake killed that one.
Later that day, we bought roach spray and roach motels, decided to keep everything in the kitchen super clean, and wait watchfully. We didn’t see anymore. Even at night. I’d read that produce markets are one of the “best” places to pick up cockroaches, so I assumed maybe I brought those couple of extra home with me inside the cauliflower or something. Ya know, instead of snails and worms, I get cockroaches. We didn’t see anymore, so we didn’t even bother opening up the roach killers.
Jump ahead to a couple of weeks ago. I’m sleepy again, this time getting ready for bed. I go to the kitchen to fill my water bottle, and something catches my eye. A brown bug crawling across the top of the cupboard. I frantically start trying to rip open the packaging around the roach spray, but it’s taking me a long time. By the time Jake comes, I spot another one crawling down the front of the cabinet going straight into our clean dishes drying on the counter. We bust open the spray and Jake starts warfare.
I quickly get everything off the counters as Jake starts spraying one of the roaches he found. Then–yuck!–more cockroaches of various sizes and stages of life come out of the cracks. One even crawls into the outlet trying to escape the spray. We wake up Jake’s brother Ben and our friend Jake Martin who was staying with us for a couple of weeks to come help. We clear out the food and store most of it in the fridge or airtight containers for the night and then spray down the insides of every cabinet, vacuum, sweep, mop, and basically bomb the kitchen with the most intense aerosol spray I’ve ever smelled. We were all gagging and coughing, and I almost threw up from it. It was not cool.
We quarantine the kitchen for the night and go to bed. The next morning, I take all the kids to the park while the guys clean up the carcasses. They find egg sacs in the garbage and under the stove, so who knows how long the problem had been there. As we finish up cleaning, exterminators knock on our door and explain they’re there to spray for “gândacii” as there has been an infestation in our apartment block. They spray the whole place with a much less fatal spray, give us extra spray to reapply in a week and we’re all set, after paying 150 lei, of course.
I felt at peace after that. We’d sprayed. The exterminators sprayed. We sprayed again. Our roach motels were out. Time to get back to life. Oh, wait. What’s this crawling in my sink?! Another cockroach! In the middle of the day! He got sprayed. Later that day, we had a guest for dinner, and I fill up her glass with water and see two brown things floating on top. Two more dead cockroaches! Disgusting! I apologized profusely and wonder at why these critters are not out of our lives yet. Now I prepare myself every time I open the cabinet to get a mug or glass for what might be lurking behind the cabinets.
This is just one thing, and it’s not that huge of a deal. I mean, when we lived in Milwaukee, we saw these cockroaches at the Milwaukee Public Museum the size of our daughter Illiana’s hand, and some of them flew! Some even hissed! So, these little brown German cockroaches with useless wings are not so bad in comparison. But sometimes it feels like life on the mission field in a new place is filled with metaphorical cockroaches. What’s a metaphorical cockroach, you ask? Things that steal your time. Annoying things that you have to deal with that are not on your agenda or vision or plan or even in your mind. Things like having to buy groceries almost every day because we don’t have a car and have to only get what we can carry. Going to the open air market and back is at least an hour ordeal a couple of times a week. Travel to church meetings or meetings with people takes between 30-60 minutes by public transportation. Buying an appliance, or a new cell phone because your got stolen, at Media Galaxy probably will take you about 2 hours. Or maybe your Internet is out for two weeks so you have to go to the mall to work, send emails, or let the world know you’re still alive over here. Or your kids might be getting a little crazy and you have to spend half your day disciplining or correcting or reteaching them things they used to know really well. Oh, and sometimes the crabby neighbor downstairs wants to scold you in high speed Romanian for things your children aren’t doing.
Attitude is huge when it comes to stuff like this. I could choose to get either really annoyed. Or I could get really discouraged. I could also choose to drown it out by watching movies and stuff. I think I’ve been through the whole range since being here. But that’s not my goal. My goal is to be Christlike in the midst of the annoying things, to not let the devil get the best of me, to grow in character.
I like what Oswald Chambers has to say in his devotional My Utmost for His Highest for the day of February 19th:
Drudgery is one of the finest tests to determine the genuineness of our character. Drudgery is work that is far removed from anything we think of as ideal work. It is the utterly hard, menial, tiresome, and dirty work. And when we experience it, our spirituality is instantly tested and we will know whether or not we are spiritually genuine.
I think this is so much of missions work. Not all of it, of course, but a lot of it can be very un-glamorous. Some of my favorite verses have become ingrained in my mind since being here: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
I’m rejoicing and giving thanks now because it’s been over two days since I’ve seen a cockroach, dead or alive!