Ever feel frustrated by the unexpected? Living in another culture presents many opportunities to see God’s hand at work in the odd moments and interruptions to our plans. Julie, a Bible translator, shares her story of a Sunday in her town. I’m sure many of you will identify with her.
Can I tell you about my Sunday? We still can’t get past the idea that a Sunday should be restful. Even among our indigenous friends, there is an understanding that people rest on Sundays, so it’s our most natural day to want to rest. It’s the only day Gerry and I never do translation work. We usually go to church, buy groceries and try to catch our girls on Skype.
So last Saturday night Fulgencio showed up at our door. He’s a jolly old guy who walks with a cane and has no family. Normally he asks for money for alcohol. We always tell him, “no” but then hunt for some food to give him. But this time he wanted to know if we were going into town tomorrow. We told him, “Yes, at 9 we will leave.”
But he showed up at 7:45 am. We were already up. I made him some coffee, gave him a roll, and he sat in our house pleasantly waiting. About 30 minutes later Ruth (our co-translator’s wife, who I am informally discipling) showed up with her daughter and kids to visit a little. They learned we were going to town, so I offered to give them a ride – a little out of our way. As we were getting in the truck, another neighbor asked for a ride. We agreed, but it turned out there were about 5 of them. We eventually headed to town with 14 of us in the truck, dropping people off as we went, as well as stopping on the way for Fulgencio to “throw out his water”. This brought a chuckle to everyone. Ruth had to explain to us that he meant he needed to relieve himself.
Ruth then asked me if we were going to church. We told her we were and she said, “I will go with you!” We’d invited her before, but she had always felt strong loyalty to another church. Finally, she wanted to go with us. This is a big step in aligning herself with Jesus, as it shows she’s willing to break with traditions and accept even social disapproval.
Also, Sundays usually are a time for just the two of us to speak English – to go about our lives without having to adjust to a different culture and other ways of relating. Now, however, Ruth was with us. I submitted to that. And, after a dying-to-self moment, I was actually glad that she was with us.
Church was fine. Ruth clapped and put her hands up when I did. It was so sweet to see her opening herself up to new forms of worship. And me? I was actually doing pretty well, change of plans and all. I was relaxed – just putting on meekness and letting the day work itself out however God designed it for us.
Then, after the service, they had a birthday celebration for the pastor. So one after another, people who are heads of ministries came up with their group to say some words of appreciation, give a gift, sing, etc. It really was very sweet! But it went on and on. Even more, I knew there would also be food after all that.
Why does my flexibility and meekness grow but never seem to be sufficient? It seems like no matter what I give, it’s never enough. About 3 hours into the service, I felt like crying. At that point I just wanted to be done with anything to do with this culture and be on my own with Gerry. So I started asking Gerry if he thought there was a way we could dismiss ourselves, all the while knowing that if we did something improper Ruth would feel it. So we took it moment by moment, trying to wait it out.
Sure enough God gave grace, and soon the last group went up front. We chatted with people we know and ate like they wanted us to. I gave Ruth my pig skin taco, which probably isn’t culturally appropriate. Gerry marvels at what I get away with. I think she liked it. We left before the cake and coffee, but by then we could depart without making a scene or stepping on a cultural landmine.
But we still had Ruth with us. She probably planned to shop and then ride home again with us. Since Sunday is a day of rest for us, we drew a boundary there. We hinted that she would probably be going back on the bus. She got the hint and we parted ways. Probably not completely OK in the culture, but still mostly acceptable. She knows that we weren’t being mean or trying to avoid her. But she doesn’t understand that we tire of being “in the culture”. In order to not burn out, we just have to do some things people can’t understand once in a while. But we try to do it in an inoffensive way, of course.
Finally, we hid away in a coffee shop. Coffee, french fries, and a wi-fi connection to the outside world! I relish that. Gerry is OK with it, but he really looks forward to a restful Sunday siesta. I could only catch one of our three girls on Skype, so I chatted with her for a short spell. After the Skype chat, it was time to head home.
Thank God! We had an uneventful return trip with no extra riders. The 5-year-old neighbor girl greeted us when we arrived. She helped me pick up wood chips for starting our fire and tagged behind me, chatting, until her grandmother called her home.
I love that little girl, but right at that moment all I wanted was a good cry! Crying isn’t always about self-pity. Sometimes it just helps girls like us reset our emotions. I put on some music and settled down to write. The music we played at my parents’ 50th anniversary party brought both memories and tears. It did my soul good to remember my family and such a happy, beautiful time. Gerry was napping (his way to recharge) and I was feeling tons better. The Lord is so good to us! He sustains. I knew, that any minute someone could knock on our door, but that was OK now.
And, hey, Ruth went to a new church today and heard a good sermon! She is one more step closer to the One who loves us all.