Friday, July 27, 2007

Identity / Hide and Seek

What a blessing to spend time with lots of old friends lately. All kinds of folks have been coming through town.

One family, now on the field with the sending agency that also took us in, was part of an India research project we did in the late 90's.

People often ask us how our research is used. To be honest we don't have many opportunities to find out, long-term. So I seized the opportunity to ask this couple how they see things now after several years on the field with the people group among whom they had done their research.

They said that after what they learned during three months of focused work with a research team, what they have learned about the culture since then is dwarfed in comparison. Language learning, family, work, and daily life seem to take up so much time. Pressing in to the culture seems like an extra-credit activity.

In certain areas they have gone much deeper; some of what the research project uncovered was just on the surface. But the research team's findings have been foundational, and have shaped much of what their long-term team has done in the years since then. For example, just knowing that their friends believe 'the stars are higher than the gods' (as our research team's cultural helpers put it) is a key to understanding how Hinduism really works there.

Our research has really made a difference, and has not been 'disproved' by further probing - the findings seem to be spot-on. It was good to hear that from someone who knows what they are talking about. God really used us as mobilizers in that project as well, positioning us to help get quite a few people focused on seeing ministry efforts get started in that community.

Identifying with the People

My friends work with a group of high-caste Hindus who are in the third generation or so of a huge transition from life as landowners and princes (see picture) to just everyday people in a democratic society. They are still feeling the loss, ambiguity, and tension of this change. It's been a big comedown. Listening to stories about these guys trying to make ends meet and figure out how to support their families, trying to carry on their heritage and traditions, and just finding new ways to live their lives and figure out what to live for, I felt a strange affinity.

The Scriptures talk a lot about being comforted so our comfort can overflow to others, being blessed to be a blessing. As I've listened to stories, worked on research projects and the like, I continue to find perspective for my own life in identifying with folks whose lives are very different - not only my missionary friends, but also believers and unbelievers from around the world. I may or may not be a blessing to the nations, but I'm definitely blessed by the nations. I know how to pray for the people whose stories I hear and I find strength for my own journey. It puts my struggles in perspective, I guess.

At the gathering focused on a people group in Central Asia which I attended last weekend I felt the same thing. A friend of mine works with Christian women leaders across the region, bringing them together to share their experiences with one another that they might be better equipped for the work God has put before them in the church and ministering in their communities.

Every society has its dark side. Many women in Central Asia do suffer through some incredible things. Unemployment is rife in many areas, and every family ends up sending members to the city or abroad to work, breaking up families and leaving those who go incredibly vulnerable in all kinds of ways.

Village girls come to the big city to look for work and meet a nice man at the bus station who says he can give them a good job. He takes them away with him and rapes and beats them, leaving them broken and ashamed and bringing them into a life of prostitution. What do you say to women in such a situation? Yet God is raising up women in the churches who know what to say. These women are others like them are seeing their lives changed forever by winds of revival; they are finding hope and freedom in Christ. Women who lived in despair are transformed and becoming agent of transformation.

Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come." Mark 1:38

Hide and Seek

So, I've been blessed to hear from old friends about what's going on in their lives and ministries and the communities where they serve. When it comes time to talk about things that are more personal for me, though, it's been pretty tough. Wrenching, actually - more conversations about what happened with Caleb Project, and with Tom, and the still-huge conflicts and questions in my heart about both.

I've been so lonely in recent months I know I ought to be grateful for those who would reach out and say: Come on now, girl, talk to me! Sometimes, though, I just want to hide. Many of these conversations are taking place publicly and in groups, or on the phone when I'm in my cube at work, and I'm embarrassed to let people see my pain. I can't pretend I'm OK, but I don't want to open up my wounds and bleed every single day! Some - most - of these conversations have been really good though, and I'm grateful to people who are seeking me out. It's wrong for me to run away! And yet to face things - and people - can be incredibly emotional.

My in-box is also full of messages from friends-of-the-heart, many responding to my last newsletter. I am having a hard time finding energy to write back to any of them, so I flag them all and there they stay. I think for the most part it's good to hear from them, and that they are OK with it if I don't write back, but I do feel a little bad for not being more responsive. The thought of picking up the phone and calling any of the pastoral types who leave messages for me seems a lot harder. I am pretty sure a couple of them are going to be mad at me for not returning their calls.

Knowing what a toll these kind of interactions were taking on me this week, as I get ready for a couple of weeks of intense, others-focused ministry for which I will need my strength, my manager suggested I do whatever I need to do to get refreshed and renewed. Take some time off? My feelings about that are still ambiguous. I am rather busy (finally) now. And solitude, while needed, goes sour pretty fast. Chocolate, coffee, and other comfort foods bring only temporary pleasure and reduce my overall strength and well-being - likewise glutting myself mindlessly on books and puzzles and the like.

Reading - decent, wholesome sorts - and housework, and exercise, and writing, and music, are all the kind of escapes that instead help my overall well-being, so I'm trying to prioritize those. Eating right, getting enough sleep.

Tomorrow I may end up spending time with a friend who has offered to help me pray through some of the stuff that's tying me in knots. I want to be free but am dreading it, partly hoping her schedule doesn't work out.

And so the MLC (as one friend referred to his own midlife crisis) continues. It will take as long as it takes. I suspect God is sending these people to me, that I am not to be left alone to brood or go crazy in all this.


Paul Merrill said...

Praying for you...

regressivepresby said...

"it will take as long as it takes..." true.... but no longer.

Marti, you rock.


megan noel said...

maybe you could go to roxbury state park for some prairie dog watching. or is it too hot? i always feel better when i am outside someplace beautiful. i am lucky to live in WA!