Tag Archives: cross-culture

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.


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.



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?


shades of gray

IMGP7177‘Csilla, my hair is orange.’

It’s not what you expect to say when the towel comes off for the initial unveiling.

Nor does one anticipate your 7 year old son answering in the affirmative when you question whether his friend just referred to you as the ‘lady with blue hair’If memory serves correctly, my friend and colleague, Betsy living in Croatia came to terms with her color by referencing it as ‘midnight blue’.

Midnight blue. Fuchsia. Okay, electric blue. Yes, even vibrant purple. Shocking orange. All, valid and popular color choices for Eastern European hair. Continue reading

when missionaries are weird

When we left for Moscow all those years ago, young and carefree and very American, one of our best friends made us promise we would not morph into weird missionaries.  We have tried our best, Mark, to take your advice. Even so, being back in the States rams home the reality that we have changed, a fact that often becomes evident when we are at dinner.

My best guess is that the average person runs out of things to ask us about 2 minutes into the conversation, right around the time we start to grow multiple eyes and green, scaly skin.  It is an awkward silence around the dinner table at that point.

We basically have two audiences reading this blog:  the scaly, skinned, multi-eyed, half-normals and Mark (the old and new folks that are trying their best to be our friends).  I want to talk to Mark for a minute.

We are different and that is okay – the scaly skin sometimes itches but we are embracing it and we want you to embrace us.  You can poke and pry into our lives a little bit.  We will not be offended.  We want you to ask us questions.  We are dying to share about our lives because we miss it when we are here.  Ask questions.

We still like sports.  Jay is great at trash talk and stats.  We love the Chiefs and Patriots.  Some of us wear their t-shirts and get up at 2:00 AM to watch their games then work the next day.  See … weird.

We have electricity and toilets.  But, go ahead and ask because we have some great and hilarious stories about Turkish toilets.  If you do not know what that is, google it.

We know that you do not know where it is on a map.  That is okay – no offense.  But, we would love to show you some photos and tell you stories of places that you may never get to visit.

We do speak another language and we are in the process of learning. We would love to cry on your shoulder and tell you how difficult it is.  We know that the majority of you have not learned another language and may not even want to.  We could show you ours and explain why it sometimes makes us cry.  All half-normals have reality-show stories of language foibles.  Ask at your own risk and we will be happy to share.

Our children go to school but, like you, there are choices.  This is one of our most passionate topics because it hits at the heart of our struggle.  Please ask us and feel free to offer advice, insight, or a prayer.

We watch t.v., movies, and read books other than the Bible.  You can talk about your favorite show with us and even suggest your favorites.  We keep a list because we like to watch shows as a family.

Yeah, we want to tell you about the hard stuff.  Broken homes, human-trafficking, abuse, homelessness, prejudice are a reality where we live just like they are where you live.  It might be time to send the littles to another room and then ask us.  We have stories we need to share.

We struggle.  Someone said that going to the mission-field is like pouring miracle-grow on all of your weaknesses.  It is true.  We face our insecurities, our failures, our inadequacies.  It would be great if you were willing to hear some of the hard stuff.  You do not need to have answers.

You can support us financially but you do not have to.  We did not come to ask you for money.  We want relationship.  It is an awkward situation, we get it.  The other side of it is that sometimes God lays giving on your hearts and the needs we face might be how God is leading your heart.  Let us figure out together how to address this.  We do not want you to think we are in relationship for money.  We do not want to cheat you out of a chance to give if God is leading you.  It is complicated, true, but we are willing to figure it out if you are.  Regardless, you can pray since it is the best kind of support.

So, there you go – a beginner list:  bathroom conversation, sports talk, and free-time activities.  Not so hard.

Most of the time, you guys do not respond with comments but I am hoping you will this time.  Start the conversation on my facebook page where this posts.  Half-normals, feel free to pipe in.  Mark … what do you think?  Be honest.  Let’s talk.

take and remember

The city beckons to us as the lights create an incandescent dance on the Chain Bridge.  Tonight we will spend a warm evening enveloped into the home of Eugenius and Jurga who have become special friends over the last 18 months.  There is a magic that can happen when people from different cultures find a connection and it is priceless – the treasure of living cross-culturally.  This is how I know that we are wealthy in the ways that truly matter.  On this night, in the midst of delicious Lithuanian dishes with charming names like ‘herring under the coat’, our hearts dance.  

Tucked into Jurga and Eugenius’ living room with our Romanian friends, Anca and Dan, we are a fortunate six from three different cultures.  Our host and hostess serve us a beautiful, traditional meal and mixed into the unfamiliar flavors and the tantalizing aroma of coffee, we share an evening of friendship, laughter, and the exchange of traditions. 

Jurga meets us at the door of her apartment, beautifully dressed for the occasion.  We bring flowers, a must in European culture.  There are the cheek-kisses of greeting, the offer to remove the shoes, the reply that there is no need and the ensuing good-natured argument until someone triumphs.  The salads come first; beautiful and deceptive for they tempt you to eat your fill though you know that inevitably a second course is coming.  Jay puts the salads on his plate while Eugenius warns him to ‘eat responsibly’. We laugh.  Around that beautiful table, we dine leisurely, share smiles and give ourselves up to the enchantment that comes with such an evening.  

As we cross the Chain Bridge on our way home, my eyes feast hungrily on the outrageous beauty of this city wrapped in the arms of the Danube.  A Lithuanian desert tree is tucked by my side; a gift from Jurga and Eugenius.  According to Lithuanian tradition, a guest is always sent home with a gift to ensure that they take a piece of the host and hostess with them.  Tradition whispers a golden truth about our deep need to be bound to one another in relationship.  

Jesus chose a table with friends to be one of his last moments in his earthly journey.  Tonight’s meal around the table with our friends gives me cherished insights into the heart of our Saviour on another night long ago. The Danube lights flicker and bounce off of my Lithuanian desert tree and I smile tenderly.  A powerful gesture indeed, this taking and eating to receive the hospitality that comes at the table.


to munich with a friend

It is late on Wednesday evening and I have transitioned from coffee to tea. Tonight, I am enjoying Turkish apple while the girls finish their homework. There is a clarinet practice session – level 1 -happening in the background accompanied by the soft hum of the dishwasher. Another line of dirty supper plates are waiting on the counter since this afternoon’s Bible study dishes have created a backlog. My day was a lot busier than I had anticipated. How was yours?

I missed this morning’s deadline a bit – when I mentioned tomorrow morning in the Engage article, I meant morning in Europe. The day flew away and I found myself hanging on just like you might do with a kite in a high wind. I am so glad that you stopped by anyway.

In the Engage article, I mentioned the Missio Dei (the mission of God). Michael Frost is a missiologist from Australia who says that above all other activity focused on humanity, God’s primary intent is mission. He coined the phrase, ‘God is a missioning God’ – a God whose activity is focused on the recovery and redemption of his creation.

I agree with Frost. I think that when you read this beautiful story that God has authored for us, when you look at it as a whole, the driving theme is God’s amazing endeavor to bring us into relationship with him. God cares that much.

Now, that statement begins to influence every other nuance of how I live out my day. It determines how I spend my time, how I interpret the ‘chance’ meetings I encounter through my day, how I choose who to spend my free time with and how I interact with my family.

On the first leg of the train home from Frankfurt Saturday night, we settled into our seats for a 4 hour ride to Munich. An older, Korean couple boarded right after us and sat down by the door. I was watching when a young, German girl struggled to wrestle a gigantic suitcase and 3 bags onto the train. She still had the entirety of the aisle to maneuver them and she was exhausted but before she could begin, the man jumped up and offered to help. One by one, he drug the heavy bags to the storage bin. Then, he and his wife took the seats across the aisle from us and with a sheepish smile, he looked at me and said, ‘she reminds me of my daughter.’ I looked from this very Asian looking man dressed in a suit and tie at 8:00 in the evening to the very German girl with pixie cut burgundy hair, a pierced lip, and studded jeans and wondered about the similarity. I smiled and settled into the rhythm of the train.

My eyes wandered to the woman with him. There was something about her face that simply brought pleasure to my eyes. Soon, I saw her slipping feet out of tan boots and wiggling toes as she stretched them across the aisle into her husband’s lap. A look of sheer joy crossed her face as he began a deep foot massage. I felt her pleasure so deeply that my weary toes began to wiggle too. Rather shyly he looked over and said to me in hesitant English, ‘My wife just arrived from Korea and she has jet lag.’

Over the next 4 hours, we exchanged little smiles, little comments, little pieces of information and chocolate and then, at journey’s end, he simply got up and began to move the German girl’s luggage back to the door. Our train stopped and we all got off in Munich and with a bow to each other, parted ways as snow softly fell.

That is the end of the story except for the fact that the Asian couple has stayed in my mind all week. There was something about them that reflected an image beyond their own. When God looks at me, when he looks at you, I think he must get a little sheepish smile and say, ‘she reminds me of my son’ – it is the skin, it is the heavy baggage of humanness on an often exhausting journey. And, before we even have a chance to ask for help, he is already there, picking up the load and clearing our path.

Well, my tea is cold, the house is quiet, and the girls are breathing deep sleep-filled breaths. It is your turn. What do you think about this missioning God?