In an attempt to prime my writing pump and feeling the desire to walk down memory lane due to some recent stress, I came across this letter I wrote over nine years ago to our support team. It’s been tweaked a bit and I’ve added some recent history and it’s every bit as relevant today as it was nine years ago…
for·eign [fáwr?n] adjective
- of another country: relating to, from, or located in a country or countries other than your own
- dealing with another country: dealing with or involved with a country or countries other than your own
- coming from outside: introduced from outside into a place where it does not belong, often in the human body
- uncharacteristic: not usually associated with a particular person or thing
I went skiing this past week in Slovakia. It’s been 20 years since I’ve ever tried to keep my balance on the way down an incline I would be unable to climb up much less walk down under normal conditions without injury. The first day was terrifying and my prayer life actually improved; “Oh, God, forgive my naive assumptions that you will keep my foot from dashing against a stone on my way down from the top of this precipice.’ The upside is that I was able to provide a bit of extra exertion for those trying to avoid me lying in the middle of the ski run. Impressive maneuvers! I’ve never seen such ability– but, like I said, it’s been 20 years since I’ve lain in the middle of a ski run watching Olympic style mogul jumps over my prostrate body.
Introduced into a place I probably did not belong…
Driving back from our ski retreat we were re-routed by the police due to some sporting event further down the road. This, of course, is not a problem for people who know the area or even have a decent map. We did not have the advantage of either. Our map was 10 years old and most of the roads we traveled were not on the map…and I was due to preach my first wedding in just a few hours.
Relating to a country other than my own…
I never anticipated becoming a pastor of a local congregation – in this case, I’m pastoring an International Congregation with 29 countries represented. I always thought I’d teach and provide soul care. Preaching weddings and funerals were for someone else. No such luck.
This couple’s story comes straight from the storybooks. Due to wars and new political boundaries, they ended up on opposite sides of a fence one day. In an effort to be together, she illegally crosses the boarder one night unfortunately leaving her legal papers behind. She can’t go back. If she does she faces possible incarceration as a fugitive. Now, here’s the hitch, her host country will not grant her legal status until she produces the legal papers. So, they can never be legally married in their new country.
Here’s where I come into the story. Being a bit of a romantic, I don’t worry much about politics and agree to at least provide the spiritual covering for their union. After all, they’ve tried for five years to get married as refugees in two different countries. I only wish politics were the real surprise in this story.
In God’s goodness and wisdom, Jeanni and I arrive at the wedding with only five minutes to spare (you will remember we were lost in Slovakia without a reliable map). The couple is thrilled their pastor even bothered to show up! Well, upon my arrival and after a few quick introductions they debriefed me on the situation and then proceeded to ask, “So, what do we do next?” Now I’m the wedding coordinator? I really wish I had taken better notes in class…. No, wait, I don’t remember a class on weddings for political refugees new to the faith wondering how ‘Baptists’ do this sort of thing. I’m really on my own here.
So, I do the best I can with dignity and courage, all the while, making mental notes to contact my alma mater and explain their failed attempts to prepare me for the real world.
Here’s the situation: There were 6 language groups represented (so, the ceremony was interpreted), 4 religious groups (not denominations) present and a live, very loud band down stairs (did I fail to mention this was in an area restaurant?). Done up in a medieval theme, the waiters were dressed as jesters while the waitresses were dressed as wenches. The food was piled high on a board in the middle of the table and a belly dancing floorshow followed the meal. “Surreal,” was Jeanni’s word for the evening. Not usually associated with… weddings… was my thought.
Just last week, due to an electrical storm, our phone and Internet were down four days. Our admin ass’t was in Cambodia on a mission’s trip and I… well, I don’t speak Thai. After many failed calls where they literally hung up on me, and a couple face-to-face attempts to get some help, we were back online. The tech guy said I had everything hooked up incorrectly. I just nodded humbly and mumbled my thanks – nothing had really changed from before the lightning storm, so how could this be my fault? It’s called ‘saving face’. But that’s another story.
Dealing with another… not my own.
This week I’m feeling like a foreigner. More than ever I feel out of place. I feel thrust into a wilderness of time and circumstance wondering at the humor of my God and the lengths to which he will go just to draw me closer to Him. And the story is nine years old. Maybe it’s even older and I’m just not aware.
I find myself praying more and longing for a better day. This world really is not my home. I’m “of another country…“