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Well, frankly…

Your daily manna…take it and be fed.  Well…thanks I guess,  but frankly, I had a craving for chocolate.

We in the West are groomed in materialism, shaped by the the ‘more, bigger, better, climbing up the ladder’ jello molds until it’s hard to conceive of another shape or consistency of substance.

We can approach mission and development of poor communities that way as well, our thinking of what needs to happen shaped by those same molds.

“Yes, it is tough here in Osijek, ” the  Croatian police administrator told me as she filed some paperwork for me, “and many young people are seeking a better life in Germany or Ireland. But they will lose out on something as well—our pace of life, our families and relationships.  We actually have what we need.”

What do we actually need?

I like the way Walter Brueggemann, in Sabbath as Resistance, contrasts God’s invitation to life to a market ideology that leaves us with insatiable needs and desires “that will leave us endlessly “rest-less,” inadequate, unfulfilled…” requiring that we “want more, have more, own more, use more, eat and drink more”(xii).  Brueggemann’s point is that God’s invitation to Sabbath is both a resistance since it is a “visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods” and an alternative by resting in the provision and gifts of God (xiv).

Laely, I’ve been asking some questions to some Roma pastors for an article I’m working on.  So many sources—NGO’s, churches, European Union, Roma organizations— define ‘what needs to happen’ in Roma communities.  In other words, what the ‘good life’ should be.

“My people are not focused on God’s promises,” one Roma pastor told me recently.  “They are focused on what other people are promising them. God can take care of all families, all people, like he has taken care of me and my wife.  God changed my understanding of life—before, I was just concerned with accumulating material things.  Now I realize—our safety is with God.”

This is coming from a community that is rapidly losing ground with modernity.  Jobs and ways of earning money, often on the edges and corners of the economy, will continue to get more challenging in this global economy.  Because Serbia is not yet part of the EU, many people still collect and sell metal—but this occupation has been virtually shut down for the Roma in Croatia (because of EU regulations) unless they have the money and know-with-all to open a firm.  I was shocked to find out that in this small town in Serbia, 8 hours of hard manual labor in the fields under the burning sun earn only 8 Euros a day…and according to the people, this is the same wage it was 20 years ago.

That is a zero-sum deal—exploiting others’ needs while filling your own basket. In such a context, need looks different as compared to someone who already seems to have plenty.

Trouble is, it’s hard to rest in a daily provision that shows up every dawn, yes, but not what you are actually craving.  Never have I had more sympathy for those Israelites who were just craving some meat.

“What was the big deal?” I used to wonder.  “Why did God get so angry when they were clamoring for meat?”

It’s really a clash of two different orientations toward life: I want to meet the needs in the way that I want vs. I am resting in God’s promise to provide for me in the way that He chooses. It’s a matter of either rejecting God or believing Him.

The first way breeds anxious restlessness…the second—restful expectation.

On Sunday, the pastor talked about Jesus waiting three days before coming to the place where Lazarus was sick.  “He always hears, always responds to our cries for help,” he said.  “But he comes in patience and in the right time. Do we have the faith to wait and believe He is coming?”

“God has complete confidence in the fruit-bearing, blessing-generating process of creation that have been instituted,”  Brueggemann says.  And therefore, “God rests, confident, serene, at peace.”

On Humility and the Supremacy of Love

Most people have the overwhelming tendency to consider their way the best: My ethnicity, my nationality, my denomination, my doctrine, my list of do’s and don’ts….

Sometimes, there rises in me an almost animalistic impulse to triumph in my argued point, as if winning an argument or forcing my opinions on someone would somehow  solve the world’s problems and achieve world peace.

Yesterday, the Little Darda Church was visited by a group of Roma missionaries from Western Europe. They told us they had  been previously focusing on the Sinti Roma in Croatia, but as most of them had either migrated to Germany or were closed to the gospel, they felt called to begin evangelizing other Roma groups.

This could be an answer to our prayers.  Unlike Serbia, which has a growing movement of Roma churches, Croatia has only a few groups of people working in Roma communities, and our church has the only Roma pastor.

Languages abounded in our meeting—different dialects of Romani, French, Italian, Serbian, and Croatian.  My head felt dizzy with the richness of language and culture present in the small circle.

Beliefs and doctrine were discussed, as well as methods of mission and discipleship. On the whole, we agreed to foster relationship for the sake of the Kingdom of God, in the hopes that more home groups and churches could be started in Croatia among the Roma.

There was one prominent difference, however—their distinction between Gadjo (non-Roma) and Roma. I have spoken often of the discrimination and prejudice that exists toward the Roma in Europe.  Less frequently have I mentioned the prejudice that sometimes goes the other way, toward the Gadjo.  However, this has certainly been a minority of my own experiences in Roma communities.  My two friends, the pastors of the Little Darda Church, certainly do not think this way.

To diffuse the tension of this distinction, the pastor of Little Darda Church jokingly referred to myself and my Croatian coworker as “true and complete Gypsies.” Later, as he welcomed our guests in front of the church,  he made a point to say that we were a church for all peoples— a church concerned for all people in Croatia, not just Roma.

Lately, I’ve been thinking that the only real way to hold together tenuous partnerships which differ in culture, denomination, ethnicity, nationality, and doctrinal stances is to submit—over and over—to the supremacy of love in the guise of humility.  And this, of course, is only possible by being “in Christ”—a point also made by the pastor yesterday as we were wrangling over doctrinal beliefs.

“It is Christ, only Christ, in the center, ” he said, as to why he, a Pentecostal, works with Baptists and others.

Paul writes to the Ephesians  about the social implications of the “summing up of all things in Christ” as it played out between the Jews and Gentiles: “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace…”

Somehow, we continue to miss the revolutionary reverberations of this in our own social contexts.

Listening in humility to those who are different than us acts as a check-and-balance to our superiority complexes.

This is tricky, however, and a constant negotiation of wisdom of when to speak and when to be silent, when to push an important point, and when to acquiesce.  Active love is not a passive “whatever keeps the peace,” but a moment-by-moment decision of how it plays out in a particular context and situation. Maybe it can come down to two simple questions we can ask ourselves: “Do I think my way is better right now? Why do I need to be right?”