Learning from Injustice While Living Overseas

This piece is being posted anonymously so as not to disrespect the writer’s host country or its authorities.

I was waiting in my car at the intersection, watching the policeman directing traffic. He looked in my direction and started walking towards me.

Uh oh, I inwardly groaned. What is it this time?

I put down my window and dutifully greeted him in the traditional respectful manner.

You’re in the crosswalk, he barked at me. You stopped in the crosswalk. He took my license and then shooed me to the other side of the road.

I pulled over and inwardly fumed. The crosswalk was barely visible, the paint rubbed off and the rest of it covered in dust. More importantly, erosion had broken away the sides of the tarmac to such an extent that if I didn’t pull forward at the intersection, I could be swiped by other cars.

Knowing that in this culture, my anger would just make things worse, I put on my sweetest, humblest voice. I politely explained to the officer my reasons. Please, give me grace, I said.

He gave me no response. Just typed my information into his little machine and handed me a ticket back with my license.

The injustice of it all infuriated me. I’m a careful, cautious driver, yet I’ve lost count of how many tickets I’ve received in my host country for insignificant or made-up offenses. Meanwhile, other drivers regularly ignore stoplights, pass dangerously into oncoming traffic, cut in line, and drive on the shoulder, and the police don’t seem to care.

I grew up as a white, middle-class American, so I am naturally accustomed to justice. You follow the laws, and the government authorities are on your side. You break the laws, and you get punished. It’s cut and dry. It’s simple and sweet.

But I’ve learned that living in a developing country, all bets are off. The only way I could have avoided this ticket was to surreptitiously hand the officer a bribe. Since that was out of the question for me, I got a ticket. Granted, the fine was only equivalent to around fifteen dollars, but that wasn’t the point. I was furious at the injustice.

Ironically, I have also realized that learning what injustice feels like is one of the greatest gifts of living in this culture. When the officer walked away, I sat for a few moments and intentionally let the feeling wash over me.

I am angry because this isn’t fair. I feel picked on because of my skin color and because I am a woman. I don’t trust the police, and that makes me mad.

But I consciously reminded myself to think: This is what much of the world’s population feels every day.

It was only fifteen dollars. What if it had been five hundred dollars? Or five thousand?  What if it was my entire daily salary? What if that fifteen dollars meant I would have nothing to feed my children that day…or that week?

What if that officer had been armed and my life was at stake?

What would it feel like to be at the mercy of a merciless government?

What if my skin color deemed me worthy of oppression in the eyes of the powerful?

What if being female meant I was automatically worthless?

And most importantly, What would those daily injustices do to my soul?

Truly, I have no idea. As a white American living in a developing nation, my eyes have been opened to my privileged, charmed life. Even on a missionary’s salary, I am one of the richest people in the world. My education was practically handed to me on a silver platter. Sure, my parents worked hard. I worked hard. But my hard work rewarded me. What if no matter how hard I worked, my life never got better?

I’ve never had a teacher expect a bribe or a sexual favor to pass a class. I’ve never had a government official threaten to unjustly steal the land I labored over. I’ve never had the fear that the military would kidnap my young son and hand him a gun. My husband has never treated me like his property.

So the small injustice of receiving an undeserved traffic fine is an excellent reminder to this privileged white woman. I am not entitled to justice. Instead, I need to look for ways to identify with those around me who live with injustice every day. And more importantly, identify with the Savior who willingly chose injustice on my behalf.


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A Life Overseas is a collective blog centered around the realities, ethics, spiritual struggles, and strategies of living overseas. Elizabeth Trotter is the editor-in-chief.

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