Trying to understand what is really happening in another culture and discerning your role in it sometimes feels like wandering through a maze: “Ooops, I was wrong on this, another dead end.” “Where is my final destination?” “Am I making any progress?”
Last week, the Little Darda Church team, sans moi, was out of town for meetings. I was in charge of hosting the church and leading the worship by myself, although the team had found someone to preach.
Just having returned from the States, my head was the usual jet-lagged scrambled egg mess of a cloudy haze, but I was confident I could handle the task.
On Sunday morning, the person slated to preach cancelled due to sickness, and I was thrown into stressed, “My Croatian-is-still-recovering-and-I-am-by-myself” kind of panic. A couple of friends rallied to help me, and somehow we pulled off the service.
My sermon—somewhat hastily thrown together—was far from brilliant, but all in all, I felt reasonably good that all had survived.
A few days later, B. and D., my teammates, told me that people from Little Darda Church had a different story. “Without your authority there,” a few told them, “everyone was trying to be the boss and order everyone else around.”
“What?” I said. “When did that happen?” I blankly thought back and could only picture the typical low-key, relaxed feel during the service and the camaraderie over coffee afterward.
Were we at the same service? Was I just completely missing cultural cues and the narrative running under the surface? Or were people exaggerating and/or creating drama for some reason?
A couple days later, B. and D. visited another Roma community about 50 minutes away to host a service. This Roma community does not have a church, but there is a team working there doing children’s programs and Bible studies. Our team had visited a couple of months ago to put on a service for the adults, and when we went door-to-door inviting people, quite a few smilingly promised to attend. However, when 6 p.m. rolled around, only two adult women showed up, sitting in the middle of a packed room of kids and young teenagers. Nevertheless, for better (or for worse in this case) we carried out our plan.
While D. was preaching a passionately personal sermon about Jesus breaking the curse of alcoholism and violence in his family, there was a sudden surreal moment when one kid stood up and walked out—precipitating more than half the kids leaving, as if some magic sign had been given. To his credit, D., continued valiantly preaching while a steady stream of young people silently filed past him in the small, cramped room.
A dead-end in the maze?
“They want us to do the same thing there?” I asked my other teammate. “But nobody came last time. Do you remember what happened? Why do we think they will come this time?” She shrugged her shoulders.
“Why can’t we learn from our mistakes?” I queried inwardly (and unfortunately, a tad smugly).
“How did it go?” I asked when B. called me later in the evening.
“It went so well—It was packed with adults today!” she exclaimed. Apparently, word had gotten out that whatever had happened before was interesting and worth checking out, so accordingly, it was standing room only.
Another twist in the maze—the path I thought was closed was open, and the path open was only a mirage. As always, I stand corrected, a little baffled, and somewhat bemused. Where are we in the maze? Which path to choose next time?