Apples, Italians, and Cats—Musings on Cross-Cultural Chaos

Cross-cultural living and ministry often seems to pendulum wildly from highs to lows.  By now, I expect  and even welcome the adrenalin of crazy situations, the extreme flexibility required, and seeing the humor in many situations as I flounder through language and culture.  But part of me, when I am tired and frustrated, longs for a more even pace of life, for things to go as planned, for some more stability.

My phone rings—another crisis in the The Little Darda Church between two married people.  I weigh the options of what I had on my “to-do” list and the importance of supporting my co-worker as she pays a visit to the wife.  I decide to go, and as I am sitting in the woman’s house drinking coffee and listening to her through her tears, I feel centered and grounded again.  This was a good decision.

“By the way,” B., my co-worker tells me, “you are leading worship tomorrow because the others are up at a conference in Budapest.”

Of course, this naturally falls on me since I am the only other one who plays an instrument in church.  However, I was also scheduled to preach and had not had  the time to finish my sermon.  Not to mention I had been invited to my Croatian neighbor’s birthday lunch right before church. I knew it would be  an elaborate 3-course affair lovingly created by a father who was once a gourmet chef. Not a food event my palate could afford to miss.

However, my gustatory greed caused me to show up to church only 30 minutes before the service. The teenage girls who were supposed to assist me sang loudly only when I sang with confidence—the problem being that I am not at all confident singing in Croatian.  In fact, several times I couldn’t get the words out in time so my singing was reduced to “Da dum da dum,” in which case the girls’ voices sank to something above a whisper.  To put it mildly, the singing part of the service was…well…dreadful.

Already a bit off my game, I got up from the keyboard to begin preaching.  But it was just one of those Sundays when the people in the church were having a rough time concentrating.  Three men were playing with a toddler in one of the rows.  One woman kept yawning loudly.  A few women in the back were occasionally talking amongst themselves.

“Well,” I thought afterwards, “it’s a good thing that the growth of this church is not dependent on me.”

The next weekend continued my frazzled couple of weeks.  We had an outdoor activity scheduled for the children on Saturday—but the plans and  hiking location kept changing because of nervousness over land mines, sick kids, and not enough vehicles.   I showed up in the church van to pick up kids and drive an hour and half to the meeting point.  I was greeted by my co-workers telling me of “another emergency…we’ve had to turn many kids away already due to lack of car space! How do we decide who gets to go? ”

At the same time that we are standing around in a circle, staring at the kids’ hopeful faces and trying to scare them away with stories of “we are walking 12 km without a break,” (to which they all eagerly agreed they could do),  I notice that the church and the yard is a disaster, building materials and items strewn everywhere. Three Italians had volunteered their time and materials to come build us bathrooms with running water and a shower so the people in The Little Darda Church—most of whom do not have bathroom facilities in their homes—can take a shower in our church.    Unfortunately, the Italians cannot speak English or Croatian, and we cannot speak Italian, except for the obvious words of “SPAghetti” and “RigaTONI,” (said with a vigorous Italian accent).  One can say that this evolving project takes both a measure of faith—that they are building what we think they are building—and a whole lot of Google translate.

Finally, I found myself driving a vanload of  giggling and singing teenage girls for the next hour and a half.  It was a beautiful, cold day, and a wonderful opportunity for the kids to get out of the small world of their village.  But I was exhausted driving them back, and why did it seem like they had more energy after the hike than before?

When I dropped them back off at the church, my co-worker plopped a small orange cat in my lap…skinny, shivering, and desperate to crawl inside my jacket.  By that point, I did not have the emotional fortitude by which to leave a shivering kitten in the cold night, so I drove off with it in the van.  Let’s just say I didn’t exactly think things through—after I parked the van, I had a 15-minute tram ride and a 15-minute walk before I was home.

Turns out, smuggling a kitten onto the tram in Croatia is not really that hard—not even when you are caught by the inspector checking your ticket who only murmurs, “Oh, a cat!” after she sees a little orange head pop out of my coat.

Yesterday morning, I took the morning off before afternoon church to catch my breath.  I took a slow walk in the beautiful cold morning, breathing in the last of fall colors as the season turns to winter.  As I passed a man carrying a box of apples into his house, he stopped me suddenly.

“Take one for the journey!” he urged.

“Really?” I said.

“Yes, they are delicious and clean!”

So I took one for my journey, and as I bit into the honeyed perfection of that particular apple, I was reminded of the tranquil pauses amidst the frequent mayhem of life.  No matter how chaotic the journey, there is always some sweetness offered, if we are but willing to listen and accept.

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4 responses to “Apples, Italians, and Cats—Musings on Cross-Cultural Chaos

  1. Beautiful. When my life gets chaotic I will think of you! God bless you and Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. I love your little ending vignette.

  3. Mel I love this post. I am so sorry about your worship/preaching experience. I’m sure it wasn’t as awful as you felt like it was. What happened to the kitten?

  4. It sounds completely out of control and I understand how frustrating this can be!. You are courageous and a blessing to the community with a spirit of perseverance; if only the community could do its part to help you, the least and that’s to keep quiet in church. But what an ending! That was the kind of encouragement you needed.

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