Monday, February 8, 2010

So Who am I Again, and What am I Doing Here?

I've been here in Macedonia almost three months now. At first homesickness wasn't an issue. I was so excited to be here, that I wasn't thinking too much about what I left behind. But I've been here long enough that the newness has worn off and I start to face the reality of the cost involved in this path I have chosen to travel. I am going to be very real about the struggles, and about the questions I am facing, because the answers God is giving me are very real as well, and maybe they can be an encouragement to others besides myself.

Last night I was at the Glasnost church service and they played a song that was often sung at the little church down the road from my home in Virginia. I almost cried when I heard it, for it sent a wave of memories rushing through my head. It reminded me of what I left behind. My mind and heart were flooded with images and memories. I thought of my family, and the wonderful times we shared together, of our beautiful country home, and the wonderful community of neighbors
surrounding us. I thought of quiet moments spent sitting by the creek enjoying the peace and beauty of the mountains I lived among. I thought of ice skating on the neighbor's pond, of snowball battles in the field, of horse back riding together, of working together on the farm. I miss it all. I miss my job, the creative outlet of sewing. I miss my church family, the dance team I was on, the twin babies I watched, the other children I worked with. The reality is that it hurts, this path is not without a cost.

And then I think of where I am now, of this path I have chosen to walk. On a daily basis I face very stretching experiences. I almost forget what it's like to be able to understand all the conversations going on around me, to be able to go shopping without wondering if I will get myself in an awkward situation because of my inability to communicate. I used to know how to cook, how to shop, how to get around. I felt like an adult. Suddenly, everything I used to know doesn't always apply and so many times I feel like a child again, always relying on someone else to teach me how things are done. It is humbling, and tiring all at once. Sometimes I think my brain will explode if I try to stuff one more Macedonian word inside it, or figure out how to form another sentence. One day maybe I will know which bus to catch where, and when to get off so as not to be late for an appointment, but that day has not come yet. And sometimes I stop and wonder, "Okay, so why did I choose this path? Why didn't I just stay where so many things were easier?" I don't mean to complain, and I would be remiss if I did not mention the many amazing friendships God has given me here that make it all so much easier. But just bear with me for a minute as I trace for you the very real path that I am walking and share with you the place of victory God has showed me in it.

This morning I was talking with God. I realized that Jesus walked this path before me. He left heaven to come down and become one of us. What I left behind is nothing compared to what He left. So I asked Jesus how He did it without becoming disheartened and sad. The words He spoke to me filled me with life and hope again. He told me that He fixed his eyes on unseen things, on the eternal, not the temporal. He came here with a mission, to rescue his bride so that she could go and live with Him in eternity. He had a purpose, and that is what He lived for, He was focusing on the joy set before Him, not what was in front of Him at the moment.

So I pause and think about who I really am, what my purpose is and where I am going. These are all things I have "known" all along, but now they become reality deep in my heart as they are tested. I am a daughter of God, and therefore a citizen of heaven, my citizenship does not lie with any country on the earth. I chose to walk this path because I am in love with Jesus, and I want to be where He is. The way He works, it is in losing my life that I will find it, and in dying that I will live. Sometimes I get tired of the mud and grime in Shutka, but then I remember that anything that I do to the least of these around me, I am doing to Jesus, the one I love. Sometimes the seeds I am sowing into people's lives don't look like they are bearing fruit. But I can stand on the promise that no word of the Lord goes forth without accomplishing the purpose for which it was sent. And when a new culture becomes tiring I remind myself that I was not made for any city here on earth, I am looking for a city whose builder and maker is God. This life is just a fleeting moment, here today and gone tomorrow. What will matter in the end is not so much where I lived, what I had or didn't have, but what I sowed into eternity. And through it all, I am just working along side Jesus, and in His presence is where I find fulness of joy, regardless of who else is with me. His love makes it all okay, and His grace is sufficient. I would not choose any other path.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Christmas in Shutka

January 6th, Christmas day here in Macedonia, found us headed to Shutka to help with their Christmas celebration. I have never experienced a Christmas celebration quite like this one.

We arrived at the church to a buzz of activity. A huge pot of hot chocolate was being prepared for the children amidst a hot debate over whether it had enough chocolate in it or not. The musicians were practicing. Questions were plenty, "Do you remember where the Christmas costumes are?", "Where is the list of children who are going to act in the pageant?", "How many cookies will each child get?". We were set to work practicing a simple puppet show and one puppet provided us with great amusement when its pants utterly refused to stay up. Piles of cookies were arranged on plates, and a system created for serving the children. We were well on our way to a Shutka Christmas celebration.

Gradually as time progressed the mob began to develop outside the door, a loud, active mass of children, pressing as close as they could get, eager to enjoy the festivities and find out whether today would be the long awaited day that the "packets" would be distributed. Through the door I could see them pressed so tightly together I thought they would crush the littlest ones in the middle whose dismayed faces made me want to pluck them out of the crowd. Finally the time came for them to be allowed in, and so gradually the seats were filled, and the room became something like mildly ordered chaos, with well over a hundred children brimming with excitement.

The program began and we presented the puppet show and some music. Then there was a flurry to dress the actors in their costumes as quickly as possible. The Christmas story was read, and the little actors were pushed forward at the proper time to represent the character they had been chosen for. Some had very shy expressions, but were excited to have been chosen to participate. They moved to their places, and dutifully stood in their positions, obviously pleased to be up at the front. The angels made everyone laugh by flapping their "wings" as they "flew" down the aisle. All this was punctuated with constant commands from the sidelines for the observing children to sit down and be quiet, in hopes of maintaining at least a small sense of order. The program closed with a song and dance, which caused great merriment among the children.

Next came the long awaited distribution of the Operation Christmas Child boxes. I have helped package these in America, and now here I was on the other side helping to distribute them. It's a little different than one might expect. The desire for a "packet" is great, and the number is limited, so it was a battle to maintain order during distribution. A guard was even posted at the door to prevent people from re-entering after they received one. It was a tense, chaotic atmosphere. Once the room cleared a little bit and there was some peace I did get to help a few little girls open their boxes. The expressions on their face were priceless as they pulled out dolls and clothes and other fun things.

The moments that I connect with individual children during times like these feel the most significant to me. One poor little child was having a rough day. She was crying and seemed tired and distraught. They kept shoving her into a little nook under the counter with a cookie and ordering her to be quiet. Finally I picked her up and held her a while. It's moments like these I love, to sow love and care into the lives of these little children.

After doing some clean up we cleared out and headed home. I left with a different perspective of so many things than I had arrived with that morning. The thought of the rough households so many of these children come from can be heartbreaking at times, and it is touching to see how they respond to the efforts made to reach out to them. Just a smile and a kind touch can light up their faces. I pray that through it all they will recognize the love of Jesus and choose to turn to Him.