We sat in silence for a few moments, surrounded by the claustrophobic chaos of a half-finished church. We had just aired our feelings of failure, and they hung about us like transparent clothes on our naked vulnerabilities.
The leadership of the Little Darda Church was meeting after the service, and what had started out as a standard meeting of planning activities and dates had turned into an honest sharing of our discouragements and disappointments.
Things are not going well.
And somehow, our partially demolished church with its half-missing roof and abandoned piles of construction mess added to the gloom, particularly since there is no plan on the table for finishing it. Or maybe I just couldn’t shake the feeling that it was simply a metaphor for the deeper problems we were having.
Church participation has been steadily declining as a result of fights between families, migration to Germany, or just disinterest. People used to stay hours after a service to drink coffee, play games, or just hang out together—now they ran out afterwards as if we just opened up a long-locked jail cell.
Despite this decline, we continued to plan activities, but in a kind of disassociated manner, like a chicken’s body running around crazily after being disconnected to its head. Children’s activities? Women’s activities? Camps? Bible studies? House visits? My mind has been spinning with mission strategies, analyses, and plans.
And so here we were, sitting together, feeling the relief of being honest with each other, the camaraderie and freedom of not having to pretend or perform. That is the beauty of this particular team of people.
If I really stop to think about it, I know our situation is not unusual. In my travels in Eastern Europe, the common refrain from people planting small churches in Roma communities deeply entrenched in poverty is exactly this: It’s hard. But whilst in other situations I am listening as a researcher, I can’t be so objective in this case—my heart is wrapped up in these people and this church, and so this reality hurts.
But I know that we cannot allow the hurt to woo us into a glittery pretense that has the appearance but not the substance.
So we decided to put a pauza (Croatian word for pause and pronounced pow za) on our feverish attempts to try to make something happen. To pray and listen for the next couple of months. To remind ourselves that we are weak and small and that it is by the power of God’s spirit that disciples are made and grown.
Somehow, there is relief in this—and a sense of hope. It is in the expectant pauses, the pregnant silence, where the mystery of God can be glimpsed.