Tag Archives: relationships

Around the Village

Yesterday evening, I went to the village to go visit and pray for some people struggling with illness from The Little Darda Church. I returned home 3 hours later with a live pepper plant, a plucked chicken, two jars of ‘zimnica’ (food canned for the winter), and a large bag of onions.  Pepper

“Are you alone?” people kept asking me.  The rest of the Darda leadership team has been doing children’s programs  in Roma communities down in Serbia for the past week.  So yes, I guess in that sense I’m alone—and to be alone in Roma culture is a both an oddity and a travesty.  However, this apparently can compensated  through gifts of food.

The late afternoon’s crisp air hinted at the fast arrival of fall—and everyone was busily working in a frenzied race to have all their preparations done before winter—wood gathered, chopped, and stacked in sheds, animal food (for pigs and horses) dried and stored away, zimnica prepared, and houses repaired to withstand the cold.

I sensed that I was interrupting their work, which because of their unbreakable ethic of hospitality they would never say.  So I made short visits, just to check up on people, catch up on some news,  and pray for them.

“Her doctor doesn’t care much for old people,” N. told me. “And he…,” she made the sign of drinking  a bottle.

“He drinks on the job?” I say. “Can’t she find another doctor?” M., the elderly woman we are talking about is in a lot of pain.  She broke her femur last winter and currently has osteoporosis which is affecting her spine.

“Last night it hurt so bad I cried like a baby, ” M. told me. I have a feeling her pain could be managed by a doctor who cared, but apparently all the other doctors already have too many patients.

D. gave me a tour around his backyard to show me how his winter preparations were shaping up.   Pigs in various stages of growth, drying corn for feed, and mounds of wood still needing to be piled in the shed.

“I don’t have time to come to the weekly prayer service, although I want to.  I must finish all this while the weather is good.” D. is a new Christian and was just baptized two weeks ago.  He was looking  at me with anxiety, trying to assess my reaction.

“Of course you must do this,” I tell him gently.  “Do you what you need to do to take care of your family. You don’t need to be at a prayer service to pray.”

At another house, I sipped Turkish coffee and got caught up on the family’s news.  Yesterday, they had just traveled 2 hours each way on their horse and cart to go buy bulk onions in a small village.  They were hoping to sell them around Darda to earn enough money to pay for their electricity and water bills.  They didn’t have enough money to buy wood for the winter, so these 63 year old great-grandparents were having to go out in the forest to accumulate enough wood for the winter.

Survival is a daily creative struggle, and it grows more difficult by the year.

L.  told me he was hardly eating anything these days because of pain he was having in his stomach.

“What did the doctor say?” I asked.  He made the sign of someone drinking a bottle.

“He just told me it is because I am fat.”

“That’s the same drunk doctor that M. has!” I exclaim.  “Can’t you complain about this doctor or get another one?”

He shrugged. “Soon he will go to his pension and then hopefully we will get a new one.”

An accepted powerlessness—is this because of prior experience, expected prejudice, a lack of resources to know how to self-advocate or demand one’s rights, or simply weariness since most of one’s energy is going into survival?  I have accompanied numerous people on hospital visits, but cannot pick up on enough cultural cues to get to the bottom of this.

He pointed to his wife.  “The doctor put her on medication for 4 years  for her stomach and a month ago she had to go to the hospital and the doctors there said that it was wrong medication. For four years she is taking the wrong medication.”

As I drove home, I found myself in a deeply conflicted web of thoughts. How is it possible that our lives are so completely different, based on different eras and yet intertwined in this fashion?  How is it possible that I am still doing so little to help in a practical way?  I wake up at night thinking of the kids who are 10 and going to school but somehow can’t read,  or the people who are having serious medical issues but are either ignored or have the wrong medicine thrown at them.  How can our church be a blessing  and an advocate in the community in a sustainable, holistic way?

I feel the same sense of accepted powerlessness that L. exhibited.  What are my reasons for this feeling?  Is it insecurity in language and culture,  or fear of how much time would be required, or laziness, or an ignorance of the system, or a sense of being overwhelmed by the problems?

And how is it possible that with all these problems, illnesses, and difficulties, the people wanted to bless me because they were worried about me being alone?






On motives and controlling narratives

“Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor but because he was a thief…”

It is a lot easier to discern someone’s motives if they are doing something blatantly evil or self-serving.  It’s a lot harder when actions look, smell, and feel noble and good.  Of course, it is not really our job to discern others’ motives, although wisdom is critical in terms of forming alliances and partnerships.

The story in John 12 showcases a lot of different motives: Mary’s, the chief priests, Judas’s, the people’s and Jesus’s.

It seems like motive is related to control or at least one’s perception of control. Who gets to tell the story and who gets to be in charge? Judas, of course, wanted to control the finances—motivated by greed.

But more fascinating to me are the chief priests in this story.

“But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also…”

The more I think about this, the crazier it seems.  Of course, their motives are outlined in the passage: “…because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.”

In the earlier chapter, we see that this does not seem to be motivated by a fear that they were going away from the true God, but rather from a political and national interest: “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

In essence, they wanted to control the narrative—and this motivated them even to consider the extraordinary act of “re-deathing” a man who had recently been resurrected.

But really, this impulse to control the narrative seems to be part of the human story.  In the 21st century, this impulse took on a bizarre twist since the narrative can be controlled by  any person’s video, story, or headline that goes viral. Political leaders attempt to ‘control the narrative,’ often by extreme means.

But what about the Church?  We are also guilty of this. Sometimes, like Lazarus’s resurrection, we are so afraid of something new and outside the limits of our current theological understanding that  we either silence that narrative or try to force it into submission using subtle spiritual manipulation.

Other times, our good deeds are masked with—shall I say—Judas’s motives.  In other words, holy rhetoric with unholy motives.

This can happen particularly when those of us who are coming from more financial, political, and/or social capital are serving those with less power.

I was just recently listening to a podcast from a woman who has taken sanctuary inside a church in the United States  out of fear of deportation.  She is very appreciative of her allies, those who are helping her and her family(from whom she is now separated).

“And yet,” she said, “and yet despite their help and their service to me, I still have the right to make my own decisions, because this is my life.” She was arguing for the right to control her own narrative, despite her current vulnerability.  In fact, she directly confronted a politician who was using her story to promote his own platform instead of her community.

Does this sound familiar?  Because I hear leaders from marginalized communities say this same thing—people who come to ‘help the powerless’ sometimes use their story to promote their own ministry. Or sometimes feel that they have the right to make decisions on their behalf regarding their needs or what they should do.  When we do that, we further violate a person’s dignity.

Helping the vulnerable does not give us the right to control the narrative.

This can be a very sensitive issue—like I commented earlier, who has the right to judge someone’s motives?  And yet, if we understand ourselves properly—the human tendency to want to control and dominate—maybe we can be more attuned to our own motives.

As a writer, and often writing about people in vulnerable situations, I take this deeply to heart. I must diligently search my own motives and also allow myself to be held accountable and be corrected by the vulnerable community itself. 

“But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also…”

Let the shock of this drastic intent to ‘control the narrative’ sink into you—and before writing it off as ‘impossibly extreme’ perhaps it can serve to illuminate the subtle or not-so-subtle ways in which we ourselves try to exert control.