Monthly Archives: October 2012

Dancing into Life

He crooned over the accordion, an artist coaxing out the unique melody that only he could hear.  I sat transfixed, mesmerized by the  yearning  on the singer’s face:

“Living God, you have pulled me from a dark place

How can I not serve you forever?”

The musicians, from one of the Roma churches in Southern Serbia, were playing

Warming up before leaving for Darda.

a  song—reminiscent of the Psalms—written by a Roma after  his conversion.  This group had come up for the weekend to do some evangelism and encourage the handful of us who have been frequenting  Darda, a Roma village outside of Osijek.  We had just spent most of the day in Darda, where we visited houses, prayed for people, played music, drank coca-cola, and the visiting Roma pastor preached an evangelistic message.  When we returned to Osijek, I was exhausted and began heading to my bicycle.

“Let’s be together for a little bit and drink some coffee,” my friend suggested—Croatian code for “the night is far from over.”  At first, the discussion remained serious, the visiting pastor giving his input about how we should move forward with the people in the village.  Eventually, he retired for the night and I once more prepared to go.

“Stay a little longer,” my friend pleaded with me, “and then we will drive you home.”  My head ached from trying to understand Croatian for so many hours, but I stopped my feeble protests when the accordion player, who used to play with one of the most famous orchestras in Serbia, started to speak.

Musicians playing through the village to attract attention.

“I will tell you how I was converted four years ago, ” he began, “a story I have not even told my church. For many years, I had everything you could want: fame, money….”   He told his story unhurriedly and with deep emotion, at times pausing as if to remember the specific feelings attached to an event, such as when  his son and daughter-in-law  were miraculously unharmed in a terrible automobile accident.

This story appeared to warm up the rest of the group and the storytelling continued.

“We did not win our Roma easily in Leskovac,” the singer began softly.  “They were won through fervent, constant prayer and fasting.  And this is what I commit to you…that in Leskovac, we will begin to pray and fast for Darda.”

After these stories, the music began—first wild and intoxicating, then dropping to a reflective passion, and then lifting us back up to a certain headiness, the harmonies soaring together through the hauntingly minor strains.

Before I knew it, the rousing melodies infected my blood —I rose to join my friends who had formed a circle and we began to dance.  Amazed, I watched  my friends, the Roma couple whom I accompany to Darda, skillfully maneuver their footwork.  We let the music fill our souls as we danced and sang until the singer was hoarse and the drummer had too much pain in his hand.

“Enough!” They said with big smiles on their faces.  By this time, it was late— we had been singing, dancing,  and talking for almost four hours.

My spirit was revived, refreshed, celebrating God in the unique way of the Roma—a people I know God holds close to his heart.

Some might call this “church.”


On Being a Stranger

I live as a “stranger” in Croatia—often I can account for my mistakes and ignorance by explaining that I am a  “stranac”(stranger).

Most of the time, I enjoy the cultural differences—learning to live in a new culture is both exhilarating and exhausting.  And I am always cognizant of a certain dissonance that comes from being outside of your home culture.  Even small things highlight this reality: learning which stores sell different things you need,  trying to understand the instructions on a recent purchase, learning the “rules” of the culture.   Although I have many friends who are happy to assist me, sometimes I miss the unconscious comfort that comes from automatically knowing the spoken and unspoken rules in one’s home culture.

And then there are times when the dissonance becomes a screeching racket instead of a subtle murmur.  This morning, two electricians arrived at my apartment to turn off my electricity since the bills had not been paid.  It was not a matter of neglect or avoidance on my part, but because the bills had been confusedly intertwined with two other apartments and we had been trying to sort out the complicated mess for a couple of months.  In fact, just the night before I had been looking at a bill and trying to decode it.  Frustrated, I threw it into my backpack and decided I needed additional help.  Unfortunately, the electricians surprised me the very next morning, and no amount of pleading in my halting Croatian would change their mandate.

As I was biking to the electric company to try to sort through the mess, I was thinking about this feeling of being a stranger—the feeling of discomfort and vulnerability it creates, and how this vulnerability and weakness force me to be dependent on someone other than myself.   Then my thoughts shifted to the meaning behind becoming “strangers and exiles” on this earth because of citizenship in another kingdom.   How often do I experience this feeling of dissonance and vulnerability in my own culture?  Of course, there are many things in my culture of which I disagree because they are not values belonging to the kingdom of God.   Yet mentally disagreeing with something and experiencing all the emotional upheaval that comes with being a stranger are two different things.

And so I began to welcome my early-morning debacle as an experience that can shed experiential insight into this spiritual metaphor. I am vulnerable and childlike in my struggle to adapt and understand.  I am sometimes uncomfortable and sometimes feel very much on the outside.  Every day I learn something new that helps me in my adjustment, but that dissonance, sometimes muted, sometimes blaring,  always reminds me that I am indeed a stranger.  In the process of embracing this culture while being conscious of my “strangeness,” perhaps I am learning the correct posture as Jesus’ disciple.