How do I say the things I want to say? How do I make the words come out so that they are not misunderstood or offensive? Are these even things that I should care about?
I worked for years in a lukewarm church, doing lukewarm events and saying lukewarm things. I watched close friends of mine with their battles in less tepid places. I rejoiced when I left the program, because I was tired of battles that I could not see or fruit that seemed to be too small, rotten, or crushed before ripening. I was tired of watching my friends, my comrades be injured.
My battles were small. I was on the edge, far enough to see, but not get as caught up. And I was thankful.
Two years I worked in meaningless jobs, loving children, but somehow not making any impact, either on their lives or their ability to use English. And I felt hollow inside, knowing there has to be something more.
Now I return to the "church."
I grew up in West Texas, a Lutheran in a world of Baptist and Methodist who always asked me "What's a Lutheran?" My first ever case of culture shock was when I went to a Lutheran college. My second case was when I went to the Twin Cities for two weeks of missionary training. (West Texas having much less of the "culture" of Lutheranism)
After working as a missionary for a couple of year, I thanked God that I had not gone into my original field of youth ministry in American churches.
I'm not a "church" person.
Don't get me wrong. I faithfully attend church. I love when I am able to fully worship. I think churches are so very important.
But something about the way humans have warped this institution makes me feel chained and drained of life.
I feel guilt because I don't enjoy "church work."
My friend likes to call me "post-modern" because I prefer the "edges" to the "church." (I'm not really sure what that means, but she says it often.)
Once again, don't misunderstand. I like my job. I enjoy teaching. I enjoy being with my students and learning about them. I love teaching about the Bible.
It's not enough.
My life on the edge has protected me from many things. And now I'm facing things I haven't before. And I feel so helpless in the face of it all.
Last week I had my first successful event. We line danced. There was laughter, and music, children running up and jumping into my arms to be swung around. I had a Bible verse ready, we recited it in English. And it's over. The kids go home, remembering the dancing, but not understanding how it relates to life. Do I even understand how it relates to life?
And I think of my students. I shouldn't pry too deeply into the private life of a student with behavior problems. I can't do anything anyway. Just try to do something with him in class... I have to be careful if I want to offer food to my students who are starving because they come straight from school to English class without a chance to eat dinner, and some even have another cram school after that. I might imply that their parent's aren't taking care of them. Every time I look at one of my students with care and compassion, and want to help, I'm told I can't. That's not how it's done. Someone might get offended. We've never done it that way before.
And something inside of me screams. Isn't this what I'm here to do? What happened to binding up the broken-hearted and setting the captives free? I feel like all we are doing are keeping the captives a little more comfortable. Here, have some tea, and here's some lotion because I know those chains must be chafing. No, wait, I can't give the lotion because that would let you know you are in chains. Well, anyway, here's some tea.
Discouragement sets in. You wonder, what's the point? How long do we wait and pray O Lord? I see my friends, their hearts breaking and struggling, bleeding for people we can't seem to help.
And everywhere I look, stumbling blocks. The culture, "church culture", other Christians, my own fears and weaknesses, my own judgment.
I feel weak.
I think of how many people spend years and years praying for people they love, without an ounce of hope. There are countless examples given to us by God Himself.
How many times was Abram discouraged, how many times did he lose hope, I wonder...
Moses? Joseph? Poor Jeremiah? David?
Yet, they persevered.
God never fails.
I always struggle with the balance of being a missionary. How much of my desire to "change" things here arrogance from my own American way of life? Do I want to just make the people here American/Christian clones? How much of my reluctance to enforce change is of respect for the culture here, valuing harmony and history?
But in the end, isn't a missionary supposed to be an agent of change? Otherwise it's not even needed.
How do I offer love without offending? But isn't the very nature of Christianity supposed to be offensive?
I just falter in frustration, wondering what it is I'm supposed to be doing? My prayers feel hollow, my motivations suspect.
And the only thing I have left is Trust. Trust in a God who works perfect through weakness. Trust that even though I feel like my prayers are in vain, and time is passing by with no results, God is in control.
I'm suddenly glad that it is Jesus who binds up the broken hearted and sets the captives free. I seem to be one of those who are helping with the breaking and chaining...
But I can move forward because I know there is Grace. Maybe tomorrow my heart can learn to love a little more and understand a little more than today. Maybe tomorrow my heart will be opened to pray in Truth for these people and this land.
And even if it's not tomorrow...
I have only Faith and Trust to hold on to.
That is the strength that my weakness gives me.
I have far more questions and frustrations than answers. But then again, if I had all the answers I wouldn't need Faith.
I thank God for Remembrance, and for sustaining, and for patience with thick-headed disciples.
And I Hope for tomorrow...