Monthly Archives: May 2014

Drive-By “Mission” or The Clash of Two Divergent Mission Philosophies in one Roma Village

The sun was sweltering with a half-promise of future rain, but the heat did not deter the children’s exuberance  as we played games on the field next to the Roma village. The leadership team from The Little Darda Church was hosting a short-term group from America who were there for a long weekend, putting on a teenager program, children’s program, and treating the community to a traditional Croatian čobanac soup, cooked over outdoor fires, after church on Sunday.  IMG_2003

Enjoying Čobanac together!

Enjoying Čobanac together!

Months of planning had gone into this—we had been asked to identify our needs and hopes for the church and village community, and the short-term team designed the program around those aims. They were flexible and energetic, and asked for feedback regarding their program and how they were relating to the people—in short, they were the best kind of short term team.  After only the first day of activities, the kids were already firmly attached to their every move.IMG_2014

Suddenly, I heard an alien rumbling, and a large charter bus pulled up, its gleaming whiteness dwarfing the ramshackle houses in the village.  The children were halfway through their stations—crafts, face-painting, Bible story, games, balloon animals—but their attention began wavering as 30 people descended from the bus and began setting up their program.  I sighed with irritation—we had been informed just two days previous that another short-term group wanted to  to come and perform a drama, and an unfortunate lack of communication (on both our end and the other end) had resulted in this: an awkward collision of two short-term teams in one small Roma village in Croatia.

The drama was loud and dramatic which the people enjoyed very much,  although the performers dressed up like demons terrified the small children.  Next the people performed an impressive choral number in English—but the unfamiliar style of music struck the people as quite hilarious and I saw many of them laughing behind their hands.

Afterward, their large group dispersed to join our already-formed groups, and the guests attempted to speak a few words of Croatian to the children.  “We want some one-on-one time with the children,” one of them told me.  I tried to match one or two of the children up with each of the guests.  Wide-eyed and curious, the children sat next to them, unsure of what was happening.  The guests passed out quart-sized bags of small chocolate candies and prayed for them in their native tongue. Then, they loaded back up into the charter bus, waved goodbye and rumbled off, two men with cameras emerging  from the village just in time to rejoin their group and jump on the bus.

We all stood slightly dazed at this 30-minute spectacle as the children, always on a perpetual sugar high from a steady diet of coca-cola, ripped into their big bags of candy with relish.  Our team tried to re-group the children and finish off the stations, but interest had waned.  Eventually, we brought our own program to a close—most of the children had already drifted off amidst the wind-blown wrappers of a hundred pieces of candy tossed on the field.

Our community with the wonderful short-term team

Our community with the wonderful short-term team

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Life, death, and everything in between

“The spiritual life is a long and often arduous search for what you have already found.”

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These last months have been a strange inward journey. I am approaching a significant age milestone, which, to an already introverted, contemplative person, has caused undue amounts of reflection.  I passed the three-year mark of living in a different culture—with all the gifts, challenges, sacrifices, and richness that entails.  And I am struggling to reshape and redefine my work in light of a new phase of research.

All of these things present me with critical questions for the purpose, meaning and value of my life.  But personal reflection cannot be kept isolated from the everyday joys, losses, and unexpected hardships. Yesterday, I attended a funeral of the father of a dear friend of mine who passed away three days ago from cancer.  Currently, there are cities in Bosnia and Serbia that are completely submerged in water—the most devastating crisis since the war of 20 years ago (see Serbia flood and Bosnia flood).  

I don’t want to be a person of words without action, and yet the ongoing paradoxes of beauty and ugliness, death and life create in me a need to be still—to listen and wait in the lovely garden created by my neighbors.

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I realize my life questions are rather cliche and far from earth-shattering, and yet I am still compelled to ask—who am I becoming and how can I use my gifts and abilities toward things that matter for this next phase; is what I am doing actually worthwhile and how can I be doing it better? How to best respond to news of crisis, loss, and hardship?

Recently, I attended an excellent training on cross-cultural resiliency.  One of the themes that emerged for me is the idea of framing the aftermath of events in your life—both joyful or difficult— through the question of “What is God inviting me to?”

The idea of God’s invitation can be viewed in a broad or narrow context.  Broadly, life itself is an invitation—to partake fully in all the joys and losses, friendships and relationships, and beauty.  But to accept the invitation with open arms is only possible  if one continues to grow and flourish as one’s unique self—and continually offer oneself back to God and others as a gift. Richard Rohr puts it this way in Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life:

“We are here to give back fully and freely what was first given to us—but now writ personally—by us! It is probably the most courageous and free act we will ever perform—and it takes both halves of our life to do it fully”(xi).

But there is something deeper underlying this concept—to be able to freely give what was given to us, we must experientially know and believe God’s love.  The ability to do or not to do this, I believe, has long-range consequences to our spirituality—it can be a pathway to freedom,  a road to a stingy and  fearful religiosity, or can lead to an exasperated and disappointed movement away from God’s invitation altogether.

Henri Nouwen writes about the “treasure of God’s love” which we often are not ready to own completely because of our many attachments. In other words, just because we “found” the treasure, does not mean that we “own” the treasure.

“The spiritual life,” he writes in his published journal The Inner Voice of Love, is a long and often arduous search for what you have already found”(111).

The search itself is an invitation, although NOT a guarantee of anything we might think we need or want.

“Finding the treasure without being ready yet to fully own it will make you restless.  This is the restlessness of the search for God.  It is the way to holiness.  It is the road to the kingdom.  It is the journey to the place where you can rest” (112).

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