Praying in Croatian still feels laborious and even tortuous, like I’m trying to dig a deep hole in dirt that hasn’t seen water in years. Almost like I’m trying to fit oval-shaped ideas into square-shaped language boxes—sometimes with awkward or unfortunate results.
It is fairly ironic, therefore, that a few weeks ago I felt compelled to start a mid-week prayer service at our church.
After I whispered my idea to the other leadership right before the service for their agreement (our all-to-frequent way of operating), pastor D. announced it at the end of church.
So there it was.
It has been taking place for a few weeks now, and we are a small group, between five and ten, and everyone is in various stages ‘on the Way.’ Some have just been coming to church for a few months. Some have been baptized.
I drove one woman today, and it was her first time to the prayer service although she has been coming to church for the last few months. She told me she decided to follow Jesus and wants to be baptized sometime this year. “But I don’t have to say anything today?” she anxiously asked me. “I can just see what is happening?”
I smiled. “No one is going to force you to do anything.”
Some are unable to pray at all.
“I want to pray, but it gets stuck somewhere here, ” one man said, pointing to his throat.
“That used to happen to me, too,” another lady said, “and I’m not sure what happened but now I can pray.”
“You don’t have to be ashamed or shy to pray in front of others, ” pastor D. said. “Look at Melody, she is praying in Croatian and making so many mistakes, but God knows what she is trying to say.”
I sigh inwardly, but also have to laugh that I am used as the example of the poor soul who makes little sense to anyone but God.
“Pray for me, ” Grandmother K. commands, “but pray in American!”
“In English?” I clarify.
“No!” she says, smirking, “American!”
At last! I think. I am free to pray as I wish! But when I look up from my heartfelt English prayer, everyone stares at me blankly. Okay, good for me, not so good for the community, I think regretfully.
Last week, I was the only one from the leadership team who could come. That felt like a long hour, since only two of the five people who came were able to pray in front of others. I was sweating a little bit toward the end. “Ok, when I am weak…” I comfort myself.
Still, there is something strangely intimate and community-forming by sitting in a circle together, and it feels very different from Sunday. Usually, I read a Psalm a couple of times at the beginning. Well actually, after my nervously tripping tongue butchered the Psalm the first time, I now ask one of the people who can read to read it.
But that is good too, I think, because we are learning how to participate together as a community. In fact, we are learning how to pray together. For me, I am learning how to pray in Croatian. For some, they are learning how to pray for others—the community, the refugees, the Roma in Europe, and all nations. And still others, although just now they are only listening, one day they may feel the freedom to pray in front of everyone.
But I love this freedom—we are all on the Way—in our own ways. And Jesus knows exactly where we are and where we are going.