Modesty isn’t exactly my thing.

Don’t get me wrong! I generally like to keep it classy when it comes to fashion, but 12 years of adhering to private school dress codes has left me a little rebellious.

When I got to college, I pierced my nose and tattooed a butterfly on my right foot. I also bought every colorfully patterned sundress at Forever 21 and decided—at least for myself—that leggings are indeed pants.

Freedom! Individuality! Self-expression!

I could finally just be Jocelyn, and I loved it.

Some Things Never Change

Needless to say, I was a little shocked and disappointed when I read through Tanari’s “smart, casual” dress code the first morning of my summer internship. I left my nonexistent power suit at home.

Setting a new personal record, I managed to break the dress code within 48 hours.

Blazers serve as a sleek addition to any wardrobe.

However, this time I wasn’t issued a detention. Rather, I wasn’t allowed to eat lunch.

In my defense, my dress wasn’t really that short. Let’s just say I would feel comfortable going to church and then eating lunch with my Grandpa afterwards while wearing it. But it does fall a bit above the knee which I embarrassingly learned is a strict Nairobi “no-no!”

After a three hour-long afternoon meeting, I walked with my coworkers next door to Daystar University where we typically eat lunch in the cafeteria. As I approached the metal gate, several guards stepped out to secure the perimeter. The head guard moved towards me and held up his hand.

Not entirely understanding what was going on, I tried to walk past him.

“No.” He stopped me.

“Ummm…”

“You know why,” he said.

I looked down at my bare knees and slowly turned to take the “Walk of Shame” back to the office. Luckily, the rest of the Tanari staff—realizing what had happened—quickly consoled me by suggesting we find a different place to eat.

For the first time in my life, a dress code breach elicited genuine guilt. Something deeper was happening.

An Unexpected Entanglement

The day before I left for World Next Door summer internship training in Indianapolis, a dear friend gave me God’s Missionary by Amy Carmichael. My friend disclaimed the gift with, “You’re probably not going to like it.” And she was right.

Scarves are definitely in during this “chilly” season.

Alright. It’s not that I don’t like the book—I’m definitely reading it. But it is that it’s convictingly conservative in the way I’m being challenged to admit that everything Miss Carmichael writes is true—even though I don’t necessarily agree with it.

For example, I wasn’t exactly overjoyed a few days after my fashion faux-pa to read in the section on “Entanglements” the quote,

Dead to the world and its applause

To all the customs, fashions, laws,

Of those who hate the humbling Cross.”

But I experienced an unanticipated change of heart a few sentences later when I read, “And if He asks us to change our ways even in this, for His sake and for the sake of those whom we might help if we cared more for Him…shall we not do it?

Modern Modesty

I never expected Kenyans to be so conservative. Word on the street is that on Friday nights fashion becomes a little more liberal, but as a whole, both Christians and non-Christians alike take pride in maintaining a modest appearance. In fact, I’ve only seen three other pairs of knees since I’ve been here—not that I’m counting…

But it isn’t just appearances that are modest in Kenya—it’s conversations and actions as well. Mostly everybody I’ve had the pleasure to meet minds their own business. They quietly do their work. They calmly eat their food. They patiently wait for the next available bus or matatu.

Pretty in pink!

I suppose that’s the thing about living in a collectivist culture. While each individual is still unique—contributing what only they can for the benefit of not only themselves but also everyone around them—the point is not standing alone as individuals but standing together as each other.

One of the things that first endeared me to the mission of Tanari—creating connected communities—was the following quote featured on the right-hand sidebar of their homepage:

I am because we are.John Mbiti

Maybe that’s what Amy was getting at.

Caring for Jesus

The past few weeks, I’ve spent some time in serious thought reconsidering my “knee”d (Haha! Get it?) for unique rebellion.

 

My conclusion: I like Jesus more than I like my knees—and I happen to have great ones!

So as I add the upper half of my legs to the list of body parts I won’t be seeing again until August (along with my belly button and shoulders), I take comfort knowing that even in something as silly as this, I’m—in a ridiculously strange way—caring for my neighbor but also caring for my Jesus.

Only 31 days left…

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About the Author: Jocelyn is a freelance photojournalist with World Next Door. She studied Creative Writing and Missions at Concordia University Irvine. She enjoys reading, writing and traveling. She also likes butterflies.

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Comments

  1. Darla said... 

    Reply

    July 2nd, 2011 at 9:39 am  

    A story like this is worth repeating!!

  2. Dave Rod said... 

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    July 2nd, 2011 at 9:57 am  

    Wow, Jocelyn …provocative and fascinating. I’m processing the description of the “collectivist” culture of Kenya vs. the individualist culture of America.

    • Vervie said... 

      Reply

      February 18th, 2013 at 12:38 pm  

      “I’m processing the description of the “collectivist” culture of Kenya vs. the individualist culture of America.”

      After processing, what conclusion, if any, have you reached?

  3. Breanna Sipple said... 

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    July 2nd, 2011 at 10:24 am  

    I hope this impacts you beyond just next 31 days :) Thanks for sharing, it’s a very unique post. I go to a private Christian college, but have never felt that “rebellious streak”, so you have helped me to understand a different perspective and how you have been challenged.

    p.s. glad you warmed up to Amy Carmichael. She has long held a dear place toward the very top of my list of “people who inspire me” 😉

  4. Catherine Bell said... 

    Reply

    July 2nd, 2011 at 12:55 pm  

    Jocelyn, I taught Christian school so I understand. I walked with so many God-seeking students through the ‘rules’. Now I am moved deeply with this evidence of God’s grace in you. So thankful that you are receiving this grace, through the people of Tanari, through Amy Carmichael, through the One who gave His life for you. No wonder God has me praying for you each day as I look at your picture on the WND ‘flyer’ I keep on my Bible, with the sense that God’s grace IN you is as important as His grace THROUGH you. It is a privilege to walk with you, my dear young sister…

  5. Sara said... 

    Reply

    July 2nd, 2011 at 3:36 pm  

    Jocelyn,

    I like that you note that Kenyans are not simply modest in their dress, but in their conversations and actions, too. It’s something I’ve been learning about: modesty is something of the humility and integrity of Christ that is seen through our attitudes, heard in our words and very much shows through in what we wear and how we present ourselves. It’s like meekness in a way. If meekness is like strength under control, modesty is like confidence in reserve, if that makes sense. I love your conclusion that you love Jesus more than your knees! If only more sisters in Christ would get this and live it out…

  6. Katie said... 

    Reply

    July 2nd, 2011 at 6:51 pm  

    Jocelyn, I’ve just started reading your posts and love your honesty and “real” perspective of the culture around you. Africa is a continent of which I know very little and concurrently, Kenya is a place I don’t completely understand. I can relate to your “rebellion” and understand the need to be a little different, marching to the beat of your own drum. I resonated with your conclusion that Jesus and his desire for your life and assimilating with this culture is more important than rebelling and living life how you want. Here in the States we’re conditioned to follow our own dreams and live for ourselves; it’s refreshing to hear about a culture where people live considering ways to build up and encourage those around them, despite the sacrifice to ones self.

  7. Maeven said... 

    Reply

    July 2nd, 2011 at 7:18 pm  

    Jocelyn-
    I remember fighting through the SAME feelings when I was in Malawi- especially when it’s 100 degrees outside (albeit you are MUCH better at processing and expressing your modesty journey than I…I mostly just sniggered and complained to my fellow teammates about losing my “freedom”). The individualistic, American in me was dying for some way to set myself apart from others and I viewed it as my intrinsic right. But how humbling and good it is for the American soul to be tutored by a collectivist society. It brought my egocentric, entitled self to a place of submission to a larger whole. And after a while, I learned the beauty of belonging- a vastly different lesson than what our culture teaches when it says “Prove yourself” constantly. It even helped to heal some of my competitive spirit.
    Your tenderness, love of justice, and sweet spirit will set you apart. Thank goodness we aren’t slaves to an image.

    :)
    Maeven

  8. Kim Hoffman said... 

    Reply

    July 4th, 2011 at 12:18 pm  

    Joci,

    An interesting perspective on this 4th of July in the states. We (Americans) so love our individuality and our ‘right’ to express ourselves through dress. How else do we need to see a world view and not an American view to get the whole world to see Jesus? Good food for thought…blessings to you as you continue your journey….

  9. Jocelyn said... 

    Reply

    July 6th, 2011 at 2:44 am  

    Hey Ladies! [And Pastor Rodriguez…] 😀 Thanks so much for your comments! I was a little nervous about writing this article because it’s kinda weird, but thanks for getting me and my knees! Sara, I’ve been dwelling on what you wrote about “modesty being like in confidence in reserve.” It totally makes sense, and I dig it. Thank you all for continuing the conversation of learning to stand together as each other. You girls encourage my soul!

  10. Katie Wollman said... 

    Reply

    July 11th, 2011 at 11:47 am  

    Oh Jocelyn,

    I don’t know how I missed this. Nevertheless, I did, hence the tardy response. I’m so happy you’re reading the book and that it’s challenging you.

    I’m having an interesting thought, simultaneous to typing this message, so excuse any incoherency that follows.

    I’ve had such similar spurts of rebellion, taken part in confusing discourse on Christian freedom, acting proper and the like. What’s fascinating to me is how our great God lives in the question, the non-sensical. And that is this: we are free, so free, because of what Jesus did for us. “It is for freedom that Christ set us free” (Gal. 5:1) And yet, in our freedom, we find ourselves drawn, longing, convicted to…what’s that?…SUBMIT? How strange and how beautiful.

    And it is the same God who set us absolutely free who inspired David to write, “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.” (Psalm 119:32)

    His command, his loving Word to us- that is where we find the most wonderful freedom. And so we go back to submission, because freedom in Christ doesn’t mean selfish indulgence, but selfless surrender.

    I love you, Jocelyn. Your writing stirs me up…well done.

    Your dear friend,

    Katie

  11. Rob said... 

    Reply

    July 13th, 2011 at 9:24 am  

    Well said and with such transparency. Thanks. It brought up my own tendency to stand with rigid defiance in all kinds of ways. Ouch!

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