Jenna poses behind bars in a memorial to Auschwitz

i need a church

IMGP1268It is early morning. Too early. The February freeze won’t loosen its grip and it creeps into this dark, before-the-sunrise home. Its cold, sharp fingers burn as I kiss Jay goodbye. He’s got a plane to catch. Bulgaria. More than half of my heart explodes as he closes the door.

Into the emptiness of the sleeping room, I tap out Ed Sheeran i see fire ukraine revolution and he sings me a song for this generation. A song that seems a prophetic voice for the revolution that is Ukraine right now. There are images of Maidan caressing his smooth voice –

honest, raw. war. our reality. pain. blood and death. fire. ice

This is the global neighborhood that I call home. Continue reading

#balkanbeautiful in Transylvania

balkan beautiful

It is a journey that many of you will never take. The bone crushing hours, the erratic driving, the diversity of languages and cultures become a challenge for the average tourist. All of this adventure meshes together in a wonderful array that is the Balkan Peninsula. On 10 November, 2014, we set out for a 8 day trek across the Eastern European part of our Central Europe Field. Follow us on twitter, on the Central Europe Field Facebook page, and here on the Across Cultures blog. Discover the beauty of the Balkans through our lens. Favorite us. Follow us. Pray with us. Join us. We are Balkan Beautiful. IMGP1726

third space

IMGP1505There is a pink cherub skip-jumping a merry jig down Tkalciceva Ulica. She is anchored to her mum by one chubby hand while the other bounces a fall bouquet. The bounty is no doubt intended for a luncheon with friends but sans anchor, both cherub and flowers would be quickly lost in Zagreb’s sea this Saturday morning.

Buzzing voices marinate with the tinkle of spoons on coffee cups. The smell of expresso is in the street. It all pulls you toward a paradoxical space of intimacy amidst the crowd, if you can find a spot to sit and sip.

And, it seems like Jesus can’t find a seat.

IMGP1498 - Version 2IMGP1507IMGP1556This is not a crowd of tourists having a weekend go in Zagreb. They are locals who have rolled out of their Saturday bed, made an effort to look nice, and trekked to the centre from wherever they live. It’s like a Sunday morning scene that makes a church pastor salivate.

Come and get your Jesus fix here.

IMGP1413 Get rest for your merry souls. Forgiveness for your dirty deeds. Relief for your addictions, and your depression and your loneliness.

But, they don’t.

And the Church can’t figure out why we are empty. In Europe. In North America.

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They don’t come. Get fixed. We are empty.

I wonder if it has anything to do with our people projects?

Because fixing people for heaven is a task that you designate and delegate and execute.

I don’t think people want to be executed.

They want to be wanted.

They want to open the door and be greeted with a kiss on both cheeks as the cherub passes the bouquet and linger over coffee because they are important to you. If you want a picture of the quintessential Europe, that’s it, right there.

Simple like that.

Honest.

Authentic. 

PoznanBut sometimes I get the feeling that we, as the Church, lick our lips like a lioness set free to cruise through humanity while they sit and sip their coffee in the kiss of the Adriatic sun.

Maybe they sense the danger, you know?

Because it is one kind of frightening to be swept away in a sea of people and another kind of scary to be counted as a number for an organization.

And that is what church feels like to this generation; an organization counting their number.

IMGP1552 - Version 2Nobody wants to be a number.

Or a project.

As if, with some measured time and the right ‘how to’ manual, I could renovate you and put you on the right track to Jesus.

Ironically, there are churchy articles and books that tell us how to connect with people. And, the problem isn’t that they exist. But, maybe why they exist should cause us to be concerned? Because, it implies that we don’t remember how to connect with people. Have we forgotten how to see someone as more than a countable commodity in our pews?

IMG_2992Three years ago, missionaries made Zagreb their home. 

We don’t have a mega-church.

To be brutally honest, I don’t imagine that we have the kind of church growth strategy that makes it into those ‘how to’ manuals. 

We have a Nazarene family becoming fluent in language and culture, putting their kids into Croatian school, practicing hospitality, carrying flowers into homes and finding seats in cafes.

Just like the Croats on the street below Dolac Market, in the third space, where it is public and intimate and anchored to the sea of humanity.

I like that – the intercourse of our lives birthing a relationship that cares for the other instead of using her. 

It isn’t my space. It isn’t your space. It is our space. Neutral. SharedAnd, we are hosted by the Holy Spirit in the Third Space.

He is that Third Space:

The Holy Spirit filling us, inviting us, to HIs table, and there is no Us and Them, because we are all  lost and lonely and desperate and in need of an anchor.

It sounds like, well, it sounds like what we all always imagined church should be, before Church became about the best outreach strategies.

Back when we saw people as people; not projects, not numbers, not potential Christians, not target audiences, not even people going to Hell if we don’t intervene.

It seems like there might be a table opening up in my life with a friend motioning for me to join her there. There is a place for you too, for all of us; a Third Space, where grace speaks and the coffee flows, and the pink cherub jigs her way down Tkalciceva Ulica.

Could you bring some flowers, if you come?

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balkan beauty

IMGP1234Amidst the goodnight chatter of JJ and Emma preparing for bed, the teeth brushing and the hugs, and the last minutes of coloring a picture crayon red, I post a photo of Sara and I smiling in the Zagreb sunshine.  Jay writes ‘Balkan beauties’ in the tag line and my heart swells likes the bread dough that rises through the night and spills onto the counter by morning.

Balkan.I know what that feels like.

It feels like walking through the colors of Europe’s oldest continuously operating open air market.

It feels like picking out your vegetables and watching the woman measure her income in a dizzying dance of weights that have known more years than you can count.

It sounds like the toothless grin of an apple vendor who calls to you, ‘Хей Българка’, (Hey Bulgarian woman) because he heard the Bulgarian nudge its way into your conversation about how to cook the Japaneese pumpkins.

It smells like the fresh meat hanging from hooks and the meaty butchers smiling as they sharpen their knives.

Balkan. It is the real, the authentic  sway and swell of home spilling into the cobblestone streets of centuries of life.

Ahhh. Balkan beauty.

my apologies to martha stewart

sarmali

Transylvanian fare. Cabbage leaves with a meat and rice filling. Delicious.

HOSPITALITY.

It is a table full of sarmali that took hours to wrap and the sweet tang of locally grown elderflower juice, and salata de boeuf with homemade mayonnaise. It is a table made beautiful, not by the money spent on knick knacks, but rather, by the beauty created in spite of a lack of money.

True hospitality is so much more than the Martha Stewart concept of decorative precision and craftiness. It is a radical right turn from the concept that my home need be picture perfectly impressive to receive guests.  In wealthy cultures, it seems that opening our homes has much to do with an express my decorating prowess mentality.  In the homes of Eastern Europe, the guest’s step across the threshold sets into motion a beautiful and quite humbling display of being honored, appreciated, and revered. The host is lavish in their preparation of food and lavish in their attention to the needs of their guest.

In Russia, one arrives to find a bulging table of varied salads, all of which have been prepared  without the aid of any sort of pre-made mix. To the giddy joy of the hostess, foreigners mistakenly fill up their plates only to find that a soup course, a meat and potato course, a desert course, and a tea course are all lined up to follow.

In Albania, Tamara Hudson reminisced that their first experience as guests in an Albanian home started at 6:00 in the evening and finished at midnight. The food never stopped flowing.

In Bulgaria, one is whisked into the family’s sitting room and served delectable delights that have often been created on a stove that is tucked into a cold balcony. The hostess will rarely sit down and the host will not allow your plate or your glass to be empty. This catering to every whim will go on for hours.

Last night, tucked into a small village in the heart of Transylvania, Pastor Magda Cini and her family prepared and served us traditional Romanian specialties. I even heard a rumor that they butchered a pig to create the meat platter.

table

This table laden with sarmali, salads, bread, and meat was delicious.

Hospitality has become a domesticated, materialized concept in our western cultures that renders it impotent for its actual purpose in our life. But, true hospitality is nothing less than salvation. God, our host, has prepared for us, lavished upon us, sacrificed for us, and invites us into his very heart.

From personal experience, I know that being a guest, the recipient of this overwhelming  attention, is a humbling experience. In some sense, you relinquish control. In some sense, you recognize that you are receiving something you do not deserve. In some sense, you understand that the host has sacrificed for your enjoyment and benefit. In some sense, you know that you can never repay this pouring out of love. And, it is all so very humbling. We are not good humble. We are not comfortable with being humbled, not even by God. Perhaps, our Sunday worship would be different if we recognized that our presence in the temple is as a guest and not the host.

Hospitality is also a spiritual gift. It has nothing to do with the art of decorating a home or creating themed snacks or the over indulgence of a lavish party. Rather, the gift of hospitality in its tamest form, is the welcoming of strangers into the very center of our life and the focusing of our attention, our time, our finances toward their well-being even at great sacrifice to ourself.

In the face of conversations about homosexuality and immigration and racial tensions and even politics, a plate of sarmali in a Transylvanian hillside might be a great place to begin. Our journey as believers is dependent upon learning the self sacrifice of giving hospitality to the stranger, the foreigner, the other that is so much unlike ourselves. How difficult is it to serve somebody that speaks in ways you cannot understand? How challenging is it to pour out your precious time and sacrifice your most intimate space for someone who values foreign concepts and lives by a different set of standards?

baklava

To welcome in the new year, the layers of dough, nuts, and butter become delicious baklava.

As I soak in the early morning pressure of a Carpathian mountain embrace, smoke rising from a hundred hillside terra-cotta roofs, and a strong mug of coffee at my side, I am more than a little convinced that the needs of our world can be met and indeed, our world transformed, by the re-imagining of the gift of hospitality. Would you begin this new year with a plate of sarmali? Open your life, open your home, make room for the stranger, the foreigner and the dialogue that our world is aching to have.

In Hungarian, the host pronounces a blessing as he welcomes you to the table:

Jó étvágyat.