Breaking All Barriers

Submitted into Contest #43 in response to: Write a story about an unlikely friendship.... view prompt

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I was an American university professor in S. Korea. I had a lot of dealings in the international office. I came to see the man in charge in there one day, and he was gone. Sitting in his waiting area, there was a very small dark skinned boy with straight black hair, black eyes, and a very pleasant face. He seemed so lonely. He was out of place. I could tell he was very young and a long way from home. He wasn't Korean, and I had no idea where he was from. I asked him if he had seen my Korean friend who ran the office, Jaeche. He shyly repsonded in English saying he was waiting for him. I sat down to wait too. 

I decided that since this boy seemed so lonely that I should reach out to him and talk to him. He just seemed so young and far from home. I introduced myself and asked his name. He has a really complicated name, but explained that he went by Dave for short. That was easy enough to remember. He was shy, but pleasant. He was doing a really good job with English. I asked, "What are you waiting for Jaeche for?" He responded, "I am going to go to school here, and he is helping me." I asked, "Where are you from?" "Bangladesh" he replied, "Where are you from?" I told him I was American. He then added, "I am going to a language school at Yonsei University, and after that, I will come here to study. I have to learn to speak Korean first." He was an extremely pleasant boy, and I felt the warmth coming from inside him. I could tell he liked me, and I liked him. He had needed me to talk to him. We went on talking, and I welcomed him to S. Korea.

Jaeche entered and Dave went to talk to him first. After that, I talked to him. I was helping a Romanian friend get a visa. Jaeche said he needed my help because he was new at his job. He didn't know where the visa office was, neither did he really know how to go about getting all these people visas. I had been in the country a while and I knew all those things, so I offered to help him. I told him all the papers that the people he was working with needed to get a visa, and then we made an appointment for me to come back to show him where the visa office was.

A few days later, when I went back, I took my Romanian friend because I wanted to help her with her visa. Dave was there again. Jaechae wanted all three of us to go in his car to the visa office. I guided them to the visa office. I told everyone what they needed to do and which office they needed to go to. There were other dark skinned, straight haired people in the visa office, and I could tell they were delighted to see Dave with us. They were smiling at me and watching me as if to say "thank you" for helping him. I was the guide for Jaechae, my Romanian friend, and for Dave.

Dave didn't come to our university right away. For the first year, he was at the other university, but he finally came to our university. He entered as a freshman English major. He was still so small, shy, and pleasant! I was the only person he knew beside Jaeche in the university, so he ended up talking to me a lot. I was very impressed by his English because my Korean students just couldn't do with English what he could do. I learned he was a Hindu. 

The professors and all the freshman students went away for the weekend on a retreat to let the students get to know one another and their teachers. Dave was there too, and he always stopped to talk to me. It was like I made him feel more secure because he knew me better than anyone else there. He was a sweet kid.

Later, the school was taking publicity shots, and they chose to take pictures of the foreigners as well as some of the better looking Korean students. Some of the Korean girls from my classes were there, and we were having a good time talking. I told them I would take them out for a hamburger after we were finished. Dave overheard and said, "Oh! I would like to go out for a hamburger with you too!" However, when it was time for most of us to be finished, and we headed out to Burger King in my car, the people taking the pictures wouldn't let Dave go because they wanted more pictures of him. Come to find out, Dave didn't eat beef because he was Hindu, but I didn't learn that til later. However, I was surprised to find out that Dave would like to hang out with me and the Korean girls.

Eventually, Dave showed up in my office. He came in saying, "They are always asking me to lead prayers, and I don't know how! Would you teach me?" I was really surprised. He was Hindu, and the Christians at the school were asking him to lead the prayers. I decided to help him. We made weekly appointments, and we read from the Bible about how to pray. He was learning, but I really thought, "He really should be a Christian if he is going to lead these prayers." After I taught him to lead prayers, I suggested that we continue studying. I wanted to read about the life of Christ with him so he could understand who he was praying to. He consented, and later, he told the story of how we began studying, and he said he was extremely delighted I suggested to continue studying.

When the holidays came, the Koreans all went home. The foreigners were left at the university on the holidays. I, at least, had my own home, and my kids were with me. We would have our own celebration. I began thinking about the other foreigners at the university who were all away from their families. At first, I thought to invite all the foreign professors, and then I also decided to invited the foreign students because there weren't very many of them. I hated to see them with no where to go on the holidays. At Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving, my house was always full of the foreigners from the university eating roast chicken, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie, etc., and Dave was always among them really enjoying himself.

Dave took all my classes he could get, and he did an extremely good job. You could only call him an straight A student. He was extremely intelligent! Not only his English got better and better, his Korean language was off the charts! He also became very popular with the students. He took a speech class from me, and after that, the school was having speech contests. Dave overcame his shyness and got up and gave a speech. It didn't seem to matter what Dave talked about, people liked him, and he always won the speech contests. When he got up to speak, you could just hear the audience swoon. 

The Bible studies with Dave continued, and other students joined the study too. We had so many students in those Bible studies that often, we had to find more chairs or find another room because my large office wouldn't hold them all. I often wondered if part of the popularity of the Bible studies wasn't attributed to Dave because they all liked him so much. Sometimes, the group went to Burger King, and Dave got to go just like he wanted, but he ate chicken sandwiches because he was still Hindu.

Dave and I had such a good relationship that it was becoming like mother and son. I never expected to become such good friends with that little thin, lonely, shy guy. He was no longer lonely, but he was still shy. When I moved to a new apartment, he and a group of buddies came to see it. As they were being given a tour of the apartment, he walked by my daughter's bedroom sheepishly and said, "Are you sure it is okay for us to look in there?" He never went on a date. He was just too scared of girls.

The American girls liked Dave. They called him up and asked him to come to the movie. Their plan was to tell him they were both coming, but only one would show up. It would be like a date. He thought it was going to be a group thing, and he invited my daughter to go with them. When they heard that he had invited my daughter, they got mad and cancelled it all. My daughter was calling Dave her "Bangladeshi brother." . Dave didn't know they were trying to make it a date, but he wouldn't have gone for it anyway. 

Dave came to those Bible studies all the way through his four years as my student. He was still a Hindu. It was the summer time, and he called me up and asked me to meet him at the school. He said he had been thinking about his life. He wasn't sure what to do with it and asked me what he should do. I couldn't tell him what job to take besides perhaps translator because he was so good at language, but I suggested he knew an awful lot about Christianity now, and that he should become a Christian. He agreed with me! He asked to be baptized, so the next Sunday, he went to church with me, and he was baptized. He became a Christian. He felt the freedom of Christianity. He had wanted to try a hamburger for so long! He didn't talk about it then, but he did eventually try a hamburger and loved it! He was taking all kinds of freedoms with Christianity that he hadn't had with Hinduism! 

The next thing you know, Dave had made his decision. He was going to become a preacher! He enrolled in the Theology school as a graduate student. Even though he wasn't my student anymore, Dave was always calling me up and asking me to go for a hamburger with him. He still showed up for holidays at my house. His schedule at the Theology school didn't always allow him to come to the weekly Bible studies that had become something lots of students were doing, but every so often, he would find a block of time that he wasn't busy, and there was a Bible study, so he showed up. It thrilled the undergraduate students to see a graduate student trying to come to their Bible studies! They acted like he was the coolest guy they ever met.

In the summer, there was a special Bible study for some of the members of the school board in another town. They invited me to teach it, and Dave decided to go to those studies with me. The school board was so impressed by him! They were impressed by me too, and when the new president got put in, they made me the vice president. However, it didn't last long because there was too much jealousy over the president's spot at the university, and the president had too soft a heart to fight with the people causing trouble and resigned which also took me out of office.

We had to move again, and Dave showed up to help. My daughter had a boyfriend at that point, and eventually she and her boyfriend became engaged. When they got engaged, Dave called me up crying. He told me he should have been the first to be told. He didn't like hearing it from someone else. He was close to us, there is no doubt, but he had also been busy with his work and his school.

When he got to the point of writing his thesis, he included me again. He was often calling me up and asking me to meet him at McDonald's which had become his favorite place to eat. He wanted to discuss his thesis with me. He wanted me to read his thesis for grammatical errors since he was doing it all in English. His English had really come a long way! His Bible knowledge really had too!! He always ordered 'the Shanghai Spicy Burger" at McDonalds. He insisted on paying for whatever I wanted. He had been broke when I met him, and often, I had had to pay at Burger King, but he always paid at McDonalds. McDonalds was his favorite restaurant, but it wasn't mine. However, I was just happy to be continuing the relationship. We still had that mother/son relationship. Dave had grown up right in front of me. He was taller and broader. He was no longer that little lonely boy so far away from home. He had become a man with broad shoulders who could even pay for others. He was no longer Hindu, but a Christian.

I asked him why he didn't get married. He said he didn't want to marry a Korean girl because all they thought about was money and their cultures were too different. He said he was going to get a job after he graduated and stay in S. Korea. He planned on marrying a girl from Bangladesh because their cultures were more the same. I asked him if he didn't want to find a Christian to marry, and there weren't many Christians in Bangladesh. He said he had thought about that. He wanted a Christians wife, but he also wanted a Bangladeshi wife. His plan was to get married the traditional

Bangladeshi way. The family chooses a wife for you in Bangladesh. His family was Hindu, so he was sure the girl would be Hindu, but he was also sure she wouldn't remain Hindu. He said he would bring her to S. Korea to live and take her to church with him, and she would figure out how much better Christianity was.

Dave graduated. He moved to another city in S. Korea where he was offered a very good job as an international translator using his English and Korean language skills. He found a church close to where he was. He had been preaching on the weekends in Seoul, but I am not sure he was preaching where he went. However, he was still 100% Christian. He had completely changed since I met him. He came back every so often to visit with me like kids who leave home go back to their parents.

I had to retire and leave Korea. I was sad, and so were many of my friends, Dave included. A few months ago, I got a message from Dave. It said he was getting married in Bangladesh. He said he wanted me to be at his wedding, but he knew it was impossible, but he just wanted me to know. I wrote him back about treating his wife well, but I knew him, and I knew he would. He appreciated the words of encouragement. He was doing the very thing he said he would do. He married a Hindu girl, and he took her back to S. Korea with him. She attends church with him. 

Dave broke down every barrier. He grew up. He changed. We were such unlikely friends because of our backgrounds, but we became as close as family. At one point, he even asked me to live with him in S. Korea. I know he would have taken care of me, but it is better for me to be with my daughter. We have had a very unusual friendship. I would never have expected it when I walked into that office and saw that skinny, lonely, shy little boy with dark skin, straight black hair, black eyes, and a pleasant face who was speaking English so well! He had broken all the barriers!

May 22, 2020 22:12

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1 comment

Vickie Acer
14:17 Jun 04, 2020

Sounds like you & Dave cared for each other even with all the differences. I would have liked more showing and less telling, but I loved the story.


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