After three flights of stairs we entered Timothy's office. The five of us sat down in his small seating area and gladly gave him the respect he was due. As a gentle, experienced missionary in a very hard place, it was a privilege to spend time with him.
We each sat with slight smiles and focused faces and asked questions. "How long have you been here?"
"Is it hard having an HIV/AIDS ministry?"
"What is it like living here?"
He quietly answered our questions with exceptional English and revealed that he had a partner who began the ministry with him and that this man had passed away.
Quietly, I asked a direct question: "When did he pass away?"
"We started working together 14 years ago," he began, "after we met..." The story continued for a quarter of an hour as Timothy shared their history as partners, how they served God together and how the man eventually became very ill. He ended the story, "He died seven years ago."
Leaving Timothy in his office, I had forgotten that I asked the question that spurred that narrative. When the meeting was over and we descended the stairs, one of the girls excitedly pointed out what we'd learned about Circular Thinking - a mindset prevalent in Asia where an indirect answer can be given out of respect or other reasons - and how our host had used that when I asked about his partner's death.
I was strongly impacted on how important it was for Timothy to tell the whole story of his partner. Because of how much he meant to him, he had to give the big picture; to list his partner's service and sacrifice for the gospel, even to death. My blunt question was gently answered in an inspiring missionary biography that left me surprisingly refreshed.