I’m not sure this post fits too well with the types of things I usually post on this blog. But I had a very unusual and very powerful experience Sunday night and I feel convicted that I need to share it more publicly than I usually dare with such things. I guess I’ll say I am posting it because I feel it is an issue of obedience between God and me. And I suppose it really does relate to language and culture and the human condition because it relates to the Church. My view of the Church transcends language and cultural barriers and I believe its mission is to bring about reconciliation in all areas of life.
The whole story is too long to tell here, so I have attached it to this post. I will say, however, that I feel like God has been challenging me over the last 5 years in my understanding of His will for the Church and how we are to live out our missional calling. I give testimony to the reassurance that when we seek God with all our hearts He hears us and responds. And through this experience I am more firm than ever in the belief that we, as Christians, need to be devoted to prayer, prayer for an openness to hear God’s voice and prayer for a unity in the Body that cannot be shaken.My Story of Transformation
The Body of Christ -- Just Ordinary People
Three pictures of the Body:Yesterday I met up with many people from my past when I spoke at a Mennonite Church north of here. My title, "Our part in the Global Church," sparked many reactions, primarily people's stories of how they have felt connected to the wider Church. It is always interesting to hear the kinds of things that become significant experiences in people's spiritual journeys. But what is even more encouraging is the longing I hear from people who desire to be missional, but just need someone to put the vision out there or someone willing to take the first step. And today, a long conversation with someone very active in the Vietnamese Mennonite Churches ended by the person exclaiming the tears of joy he experienced in a recent gathering of worshipping Believers in Phnom Penh that included Vietnamese, Cambodian and Americans, the very people so deeply involved in the Vietnam-American conflict less than a generation ago. Finally a phone call from a family wanting to make an anonymous donation toward a ministry in the church. My heart began to sing that for all the struggles the Church has had over the generations, there is still something beautiful about it, something very sturdy about it, something precious about how people make up the Body of Christ. We are imperfect but God has called us to be the hands and feet of Christ's Body.My brother died ten years ago this year. Hard to believe. The tape left in his car was one of his favorites by Twila Paris. The words from one of those songs started running through my mind after the phone call:How beautiful the hands that served the wine and the bread and the sons of the earth. How beautiful the feet that walked the long dusty roads and the hills to the cross. How beautiful, how beautiful how beautiful is the body of Christ. How beautiful the radient Bride who waits for her Groom with His light in her eyes. How beautiful when humble hearts give the fruit of pure lives so that others may live. How beautiful, how beautiful how beautiful is the body of Christ. How beautiful the feet that bring the sound of good news and the love of the King. How beautiful the hands that serve the wine and the bread and the sons of the earth. How beautiful, how beautiful how beautiful is the body of Christ.
Where is Home?
Is home a country? A village? A homestead? A county or city? Is home a particular house or the hotel you are staying at while on vacation? Can one have a home in more than one place?
Is home filled with particular people? Do we live at home or somewhere else? How often do we refer to "back home," perhaps as a place where we grew up.
We have homerooms, home games and home teams. Of course there are home-runs and home courts, and we have home-made stuff too for which we often get home-sick.
When teaching English as a second language, I always spent extra time explaining the concept of "house" vs. "home." Though most students wanted to translate them both as "house," I tried to explain that home has a deeper connotation, one that often touches the human consciousness very deeply.
Part of the tragedy of displaced peoples is that they have lost their house, but more importantly, they also lose their sense of home, a place of safety and security, a place where they feel or know they belong. And that is usually how I would explain the English meaning of home to ESL students, the place where you feel you belong. For home truly is a sense, not necessarily a place. You might be able to re-build a house, but re-building a home, a place where you feel you belong, or a place you feel a sense of security and safety and love takes a lot longer time.
Home is hard for nomads to describe too. I've been thinking about the concept of being a nomad again. It is hard to develop a sense of home like everyone else when you move around a lot or when you don't feel you fit into a new context. And I've heard children in families who have moved around sometimes ask, "where is home?"
And so I've developed another definition of "home." Home is where God sends us and abides with us. For God is with us everywhere. He is our constant friend during the lonely times. He provides security when we are afraid. He gives us a sense of belonging even when we don't feel we fit into things around us. I tell our children that we are "home" when we are together and living where God wants us. It doesn't matter what house we stay in or what country, for home is something we carry in our hearts.
Where are friends when you need them?
Some friends of ours recently returned from years overseas. The husband was relating some of the frustrations and discouragement of re-entry the other day. They are still in the very early stages of re-adjustment, but he commented how this time is much harder than other times when they had returned. His frustrations hinted at some depression and my heart went out to him.I think the hardest thing about moving around or leaving a place of established relationships is just that, relationships, ones that get left behind and the loneliness that ensues until new ones are made. To a certain extent you can keep contact with ones you left behind (via email, phone calls, pictures, letters, etc.), but after a while, your lives end up diverging to a point that any closeness you once had cannot be based on common life experiences anymore. You really need someone with whom you share more of life with on a daily or weekly basis. Last evening at a training seminar I attended, the trainer reviewed what seemed like common knowledge, but it struck me in my reflections on this struggle. She offered the following in three blocks stacked pyramid-like:STAGE 3
§ Loving confrontation can occur
§ Deepening trust level
§ Both persons give to the relationship
§ Sharing of thoughts and feelings
§ Talking together is more valuable than what you do together
Getting to Know Each Other
§ Sharing of information and facts
§ Interaction is based around activities you do together or have in common
The top block containing stage three was the smallest of the three indicating that we usually have only one to three friends at this level (and at least one should not include a spouse). The trainer explained that we may have lots of friends in stage 1 and maybe fewer in 2, but if we have none in stage 3 we will be very lonely. I thought about the rigors of cross-cultural assignments and/or the re-entry process and the difference of doing it "alone" verses with a close friend or spouse. The initial months or years it takes to establish trusting relationship can be very lonely, indeed, even if you have a spouse to help you through it! And leaving the comfort of established relationships in stages 2 and 3 sets off a grieving process and depression at some level. I appreciated the trainer's comment that grieving and depression is perfectly normal and actually a healthy response. It helps heal emotions and pain. It should be anticipated with any loss. I will be speaking with some young adults in a couple weeks about their upcoming cross-cultural assignments. This whole relationship business is so key to our mental, emotional and spiritual health for I believe God has created us as relational beings. We need our Creator God as well as one another to help us in this journey of life. Lone-rangers may look good at times, but do not share life with others in ways that are mutually beneficial, encourage growth and maturity and express the love that God has given to us and expects us to share with one another. It usually takes many years to build a strong, stage 3 relationship so people who go abroad should not immediately expect or assume that the first friend they meet will end up being their bosom buddy. At the same time, while they will need someone to walk with them in their experiences (from either here or there), their relationships they leave will never be the same again either. It can be a heart-wrenching experience on both ends and one I wish I had been more prepared for in our family's transitions.