You might say the honeymoon phase is over.
Lately the leadership team at the little Darda church has had rather intense discussions regarding the many issues cropping up in the church. Even more, these issues can breed discouragement and fatigue, and even a sense of failure.
But God has not been inactive. For example, people in the church decided they wanted to plant a garden together and are organizing a church work day and feast. Recently, we held the first women’s meeting which was a really special and encouraging time. Tiny buds of growth continue to exhibit in a variety of ways—even by one woman writing poems to God and sharing them in front of the church.
And yet, there are many problems and issues that are difficult to know how to handle:
-one wife said she would divorce her husband (one of our possible leaders) if he came back to the church because she wants us to come over and apologize for some perceived grievance (a situation that has happened multiple times)
– one young man is still wrestling with a mysterious illness after having a traumatic experience in the church and is now headed to Serbia to visit a magic man—we worry rumors may spread that being involved in the church leads to sickness.
-one woman wanted some help moving her things out of a house—and after we did this we found out that it was because she had decided to divorce her husband, thus unfortunately modelling for the entire community how the church can help you divorce your spouse (for no readily apparent reason).
The team’s cultural and philosophical differences are beginning to more sharply define these discussions. There are differences in how we perceive the function of the church—either for spiritual needs only (so that we could avoid jealousies and fights) or to be more holistic in nature—gender roles(the men on the team should have the final word or we are all equal), how conflict is handled, cultural mistakes, and many other things.
Last night, conversations were particularly heated after we discovered the mistake we made in helping the woman divorce her husband. The way conflict manifests, both in the Croatian culture and in Roma culture (although they are not the same) challenges my comfort levels. Voices were raised, opinions were passionately expressed, and there was hardly time to catch a breath between two people speaking. My first instinct was to run out, but I gritted my teeth and stayed in it, because the unity of our team is too important to relinquish easily.
All of this, of course, is made more difficult by the fact that the idea of me “passionately” expressing myself in Croatian is somewhat laughable—but I took a deep breath—and when there was a half-second pause between people arguing—in I plunged. Who knows what I actually said? Forget about correct case endings, verb conjugation, and proper gender forms—I just wanted to enter the conversation.
But I recognize what is happening—according the normal phases of group formation, we are entering into the “storming phase.” This is actually a positive thing, because if we can find our way to the other end, our team will be stronger, more honest, and better able to work together. I think it is possible, because we all do love and respect each other.
Finally, the discussion began to diminish in volume, and we all agreed to go to prayer. Prayers were earnest, heartfelt, asking for discernment and wisdom and the Spirit’s help. By the end, there were some tears, hugs, and apologies. I don’t mean to imply that every argument will end with a “happy ending,” but I am beginning to see how much grace is needed for such an endeavor. How can five people, from different traditions, languages, and cultures hope to work together in a brand new church, full of brand new believers? I think there is only one way: “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)
Discipleship and change truly are a mysterious work of the Spirit, despite all of our best efforts. I am constantly reminded of the Proverb: ” The human mind may devise many plans, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established.” (19:21).