Monday, September 18, 2017

The Real Missionary

It's been striking me as funny, today, to see that at least some of my former college classmates also seem to be growing and changing, still, just two years later. No one tells you that while college does a lot of things, it doesn't really complete you. You emerge from the college world a lot like how you'll be for the rest of your life, but not exactly. Your sense of self, your intellect, and the things you like are still subject to change after you graduate. Maybe these things will change dramatically.

This may sound silly and reveal that I am still green in the ways of the world and in the seasons of life, but I guess that this is my admission, that I hadn't known that the world as presented by many of my professors would not be the same as the world I have since discovered. Specifically, I did not really know what life as a missionary would really be like, in spite of my best efforts to learn precisely that.

To be fair, I was given a lot of ideas and mental pictures of what different missionaries around the world do. Current missionaries and retired missionaries all told their stories, of the tribes they were welcomed into, of the life lived without modern conveniences, of the work accomplished. Idealizing this ministry was something most storytellers couldn't resist. To do these things, you need love, and you naturally want to share this love. I heard a lot of people tell their tales. So over time, I thought I had it down.

No one told me that I might not get culture shock. Culture shock was a necessity. A given. But to this date, I haven't really reached the end of my rope, after over seven months away from the States. Thank God, this rope just keeps going and going.

People like to talk about work in tribal settings, since it is so novel, but no one tells you that you might have a problem with people crashing into three of your vehicles, on three different occasions, trying to pass you on the highway. Okay, yeah, no one is going to be that specific, but you get the idea. First world problems happen in more countries than you would think. No one can address every problem, but it would be nice if practicality and modernity could be spoken of as much as high drama and the savanna.

I never heard anyone tell me that persecution is, above all things, a giant roadblock. It's really not romantic. If I can't do the work I set out to do, the work doesn't get done. There is no award, no plaque that says, "Congratulations! You Have Been Persecuted." If we can't work with our kids, we can't work with our kids. If I can't see them, I can't properly be in their life. This is why we try to avoid persecution, not pat ourselves on the backs when we spot it.

Here is what I have learned about being a missionary since being on the field here in Romania for a total of ten and a half months.

It is ordinary. I wake up, I make coffee, I put my laptop in my backpack and walk to Joe's apartment, where I work on social media. It's better than being in an office, and I could never go back to office work, but it's a part of my job here.

Kids come over. They do what they want. This is their home. If they're like Florin*, they'll sit on the couch and watch television. If they're like Mirela* and Georgiana*, they'll talk loudly and flit about the room. Everyone lets each other do as they please.

Nadia often cooks and we'll set the table and Joe, Nadia, Florin, Mirela, Georgiana, and I will eat lunch. This is a BIG part of our every-day ministry. We don't talk about the Four Spiritual Laws as we eat. We don't tell the kids why they should be doing x,y, and z. We might offer wisdom. Nadia might because she speaks Romanian, Joe might because he's Joe. But basically, our work is our home and our home is our work. And we handle this balance with a lot of love and care.

Sometimes being a missionary means you wash all the dishes. You just walk into the kitchen, see the pots and pans and plates piled up, and without a word, start washing. You do this without expecting to be thanked. You do this even though you can't really talk to anyone as you do it. Is this ministry? Are you a missionary even when you're washing dishes?

I was taught that missionaries do big things. Brave things. Missionaries preach and learn to speak Swahili fluently and then preach in Swahili. Missionaries witness to German punks on the street and climb volcanoes in Indonesia for the heck of it. Missionaries go on adventures. Surely missionaries don't minister by cleaning up after others.

Missionaries certainly don't need to worry about social drama. That's all American stuff. First world concerns. Missionaries don't have stressful dreams about their aging cats back in California. Missionaries don't daydream about eating sushi and tacos and pho and pad thai.

I really do wish we had been instructed about interpersonal drama a bit more than we were. It was made to seem that if you preached the truth, people would flock to you. If they did anything else but that, you could chalk it up to "persecution." It was as if we were taught that if everyone in your circle is a follower of Jesus, then conflicts among you would just work themselves out. I now know that is not true. How I wish it was.

When we make the missionary world look so drastically different from the real world, we should realize we might be getting a few things wrong. What we do is really more about growth than glory. We are still growing, ourselves. We do everything out of love for God and love for others. But we know even this love is in process.

I'm a missionary but I'm still a twenty-something who likes to take selfies and make people laugh. I listen to alternative music and I've recently purchased sour gummy worms at the supermarket. I'm a missionary, but before that, I'm human. But I'm a better missionary because I realize I'm human.

Thanks for reading, and please check out my fundraiser for my apartment for orphan young women. We're almost there!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Livin' Forgiven

Wow, I apologize for not writing sooner. I've been up to my neck in photos from our beach trip but now I actually have a moment to write about said beach trip.

Joe, Nadia, and the rest of the Next Generation crew packed up our stuff and headed to the hippie beach town of Vama Veche at the beginning of September. We stayed for six days and had a lot of fun. Our theme this year was "Livin' Forgiven." Joe gave a message during the quiet times of the days when we were all together at the campsite, when we weren't all out on the beach soaking in the sun.

Living in a group setting, whether in our tents or in our apartments back in Piatra, can obviously lead to hurt feelings and conflicts. Maybe someone lost someone else's belonging. Maybe someone didn't clean their part of the tent. Maybe another person didn't shower enough. Whatever the issue, once the problem has been addressed, there is only one conclusion. Forgive.

Forgiveness doesn't mean the offender gets to avoid dealing with the consequences of their actions. Maybe they'll receive a talking to and be admonished to right the wrong, or clean up their mess, or whatever it is. But the problem, being resolved, is absolved. Even if it happens again. The person who was offended lets go of their offense, and everyone is back on the same level. Or at least, that's ideally what happens.

Teaching our young people to forgive is one of the best things we can do for them. This world is not based on forgiveness. It's based on performance. But if we can instill a love of God and a love of others in our young people, we can begin to change the world from the inside out. And primarily, we are equipping our young adults to treat everyone with respect and grace. We care about these young adults and how they live their lives. The least we can do is love them and teach them how to love in turn.

Lately, I've been thinking about heaven. There's an examination of heaven in the end of Dallas Willard's masterpiece of Christian literature, The Divine Conspiracy. Willard pictured heaven as a place of boundless creation. He saw life after death as joining with God in creating and reigning over all eternity. Are we ready for such an existence? Willard pondered whether everyone who enters heaven will walk through the gates in the same spiritual state they were in when they died. Have we prepared ourselves for the next life to the point where heaven and all that it is will be paradise to us and not unbearable?

I'm guilty of this type of thinking and you may be, too: I look forward to heaven as a time to be vindicated. I want everyone to know my story and see where I've been. But if that even happens, it will only be a part of life in heaven and chances are, I will be corrected even more than those who have done me wrong. On earth, we know our story, maybe the stories of a few people close to us, and that's it. The giant interwoven web of lives and events is beyond us here. But one day the truth will come out. And until then, we can't be sure there aren't aspects of the truth that reveal how small we are.

What I'm trying to say is, rather than holding grudges, rather than meticulously keeping tabs on our scorecard, rather than wasting energy caring about how right we are, maybe we also need to learn to forgive. I don't think any of us in this life will be revealed to be faultless, and when we get to heaven, I'm pretty sure no one will want that gold star anymore. Because, after all, it's better to be offered love and forgiven, than to never need anything at all.

Thanks for reading, and click here to donate to my apartment for orphan young women.