becoming American again

  It is early on this mid-week morning and I watch the rain falling on the edge of Indy. We are back together again as a family after the long journey home. Jet lag is almost a memory.  As we settle into new summer rythms for a family on the road,  cultural re-engagement is top on the list. We chuckle at the commentary from the girls. They are gentle, often funny reminders of the lens through which Jay and I once viewed our world. There is indeed a moment when we are becoming American again.

1. America smells.

To be fair, every country has its own smell, but it took a flat 13 seconds in the airport before one of the girls said, ‘Mmmm, it smells like America.’  What contributes to this specific smell, I cannot fathom, but these girls who breathed their first air in the US, identify it every time. Their satisfied exhale always comes from a place deep in the soul.

2. Playgrounds everywhere

Everyone has their own playground,’ commented one while another ran free and barefoot through a blanket of grass with joy. 

All the decks are high and they’re built on indoor stairs that are outside.’ Hmm, I’ve never noticed that before. 

Our girls grew up in neighborhood playgrounds where Mom checked for used needles and shards of broken bottles before setting them loose. In Budapest, one of our favorite memories were the homeless who slept on the benches where we played. It’s a favorite snapshot, not because we were happy for their homelessness, but rather because we did life together. Their presence birthed initiatives in our girls to plan a sandwich distribution that sadly went awry when on a cold December day, the police rounded everyone up and moved them to destination unknown.

And to be completely honest, we had a season in Bulgaria when we had a swing set in our own yard. We just happened to be in a host home this week where the neighborhood had open backyards. From that perspective, it seemed like a whopping number of playgrounds for one community.

3. The Walmart meltdown.

Every mom with re-entry MKs knows that the dreaded moment is coming. That first trip into the store is simply a sensual overload. There is just so much – so much that I never knew that I cannot live without. 

This time around, I bought a box of Twinkies after Jenna said, ‘Oh, I’ve always wondered what those taste like.’ Also on the list, a BIG box of Goldfish because they represent the taste of MK childhood on Home Assignment.

4. Chik-Fil-A still rules.

I don’t know why but this restaurant rules the restaurant roost. Jay and I are rather neutral on this one, but somehow our girls are unanimously convinced that the cows on the billboards have won the flavor war. If it is Chik-Fil-A that you want, it IS whats for dinner. We could do worse on the road.

5. Church is messy.

When it’s really the church, it is messy. We like it like that. Church is meant to be sanctuary, authentic, un-rehearsed. And even as I write this, I wonder if point #2 is somehow connected. Community means that we don’t pick and choose where we play and who breathes the air there. 

We come from contexts where church shows up in the most unlikely places. Maybe you have heat in the sanctuary, maybe you don’t. And air conditioning? Probably not. In several Scandinavian countries and Poland, worship space doubles as a coffee shop.

Duneland Community Church in Chesterton, Indiana is THAT church.  From the 29,000 bras that we helped sort on a Saturday morning for Free the Girls (a non-profit for prostituted women) to the non-performance worship team, to the pastoral staff and the people in the pews, we found the kingdom doors thrown wide open. 

  6. Handicapped spaces?

Has anybody else wondered how one culture could need that many handicapped spaces in one geographic location? To be honest, many of the countries in our context do not provide any extra facilities for the mobilely challenged. We think it is great, don’t get us wrong, but the sheer number of them is, well, surprising.

7. Super-size me!

Big! Big cars, big roads, big homes, big portions, big drinks. ‘Mom, I ordered a small rootbeer.’ 

‘Yeah, that IS a small.’ 

‘Oh. Okay. Umm, can we stop at the bathroom?’

For us, small is half the size and there are no free-refills.

8. Danger.

I had a lovely Sunday morning conversation with a man named Doug. He works on boilers – those huge machines that somehow keep our nation in electricity. I was just overwhelmed by the danger he faces in his job, so I thanked him. He looked at me and said, ‘But your work is dangerous too.

I am not sure that my work is dangerous, but in the wake of the Charleston shooting, it got me thinking. 

These issues of violence, of prejudice, of emotional pain … this question of raising our children to see people as the image of God, not a stereo-type, not a color, not a thing to be sold, maimed, or removed…this is kingdom work. This is the role of the church, and by that word, I mean the people who comprise the community that is the Body of Christ. We are meant to protect, to nurture, to bring healing in the dangerous places.

We toured Shepherd Community Church of the Nazarene in Indianapolis: urban farm, school, counselors, and a police officer at the door because they exist in the 3rd most dangerous neighborhood in the State. Its a place that you don’t journey into at night and yet people live there, raisie families, try to survive.

I learned a new word from Pastor Alan: food desert. It means that the people in the neighborhood must travel 4 miles to find a grocery store. Most don’t have cars. The bus ride to Aldi is 30 minutes. The bus ride home is 90 minutes. If you buy more than 2 bags of groceries, you pay for another seat on the bus. 

Suburban moms in our SUVS … are you wrapping your minds around this scenario?

Keep the screaming kids, yank the SUV, get rid of your credit cards, and two-thirds of the cash in your wallet right now. There’s no loving partner at home. No AC either. No freezer with back-up food. It’s 90 degrees outside, or maybe -5 degrees. 

Now. Grab the kids. Let’s go. 

Dangerous? That’s all kind of dangerous in all kinds of ways. I don’t deal in that kind of danger. Neither does Doug. Neither do you.

But maybe we should. In fact, I’m sure that we should.

Thank you, Doug for spending time with a missionary on a Sunday morning and for the dangerous work you do to keep us in electricity.

Thank you, Duneland and Shepherd for opening your arms to people like us and more importantly, for throwing open the Kingdom.

Thank you, churches and Nazarenes for welcoming a missionary family, for hospitality, and for patience as we rediscover what it means to be American again.

And help us Jesus, to be awake to the danger around us – not so that we can run away from it, but so that we can run into it, in your name. 

Let your kingdom come today … in us, in the dangerous places, in abundance.

~~~

Why are you in America anyway?

We are on Home Assignment [furlough / deputation] for the next 3 months. Our purpose is to share the story of God’s activity, to raise awareness for missions, and to raise support for our ministry in Central Europe. All 3 of those goals require more than just a Sunday service in a local church. We are extremely grateful for those services, though!

How can you be a part of our ministry?

Please follow and share our blog. Please pray. Of course, join us on the way, if you can.

If the Lord lays us, our ministry, or the people of Central Europe on your heart, would you consider making a donation? It is easy and all amounts bring cheers of joy.

To donate to our deputation account for our ministry: Sunberg Deputation

To give a non-tax deductible love gift: Click the ‘Donate to Family via Pay Pal’ button on the upper right.

Thank you!

The Sunbergs!

a church that dares

IMG_0034It is Jacques with his African rhythm in accents that the God of Berundi speaks and Annalee beside him embracing her uniqueness as if the Creator of the universe personally dabbled in her DNA. And there are their girls boldly bringing friends to church because God is powerful.

And there is this tremendous group of teens who each have a tale, some sordid and some heart breaking, but each one sounds like a miracle story scripted by a God who intimately cares.

And George with his virtuoso fingers flying over ivory keys in some magical improvisation of a worship song that I once new.

And Ruth and Helen beside us and Janet singing and Steve on the guitar and Matt keeping sound in the back, who spend their weekends and their life energy at church, buying bread for bacon rolls and single handedly frying up a zillion rashers of bacon on a Friday night so that people who roll out of bed on a ridiculously early Saturday morning have something to eat before they set to work praying for missionaries that they don’t even know. Who does that? Really. In the scope of the world, with its priorities, who actually does something like that?

And there is Pastor Jim who still wears a cross chain from his days as a rocker and he prays over us and I get God-chills.

And there are Hannah and Ben and James who spend their teen years at the church like it was their home or Scotland’s newest youth trend: chill at the church on the corner by the pub. Because they grew up here, playing hide and seek under the pews, this place really is their home. Every time the doors were open, they were at the church; taking their naps and learning to walk holding onto the altar.

It isn’t about state of the art anything or nice carpet or a multi-purpose room or a kickin’ sound system. This church knew Time long before Eastern Europe was a bloc or cars drove down streets. The stuff doesn’t make a vibrant church. The people do.

Truth be told. It is Jesus IN the people.

Truth be told, it is people who actually believe that being IN Jesus is sanctuary.

IMGP0159We don’t think a lot about sanctuary anymore. What, with our comfortable homes and our insulated lives, do we actually need Jesus? Sure, when the doctors cannot diagnose us, when governments of other countries threaten us, when nature goes nuts, then, we mention his name. But, on a day to day basis … we got this. Maybe that is why sanctuary becomes a big room with space for enough people to grow and matching carpet and high definition projectors. None of that is wrong, actually, but, honestly, that is not sanctuary.

IMG_1871Sanctuary is a dead straight run through solid-wood doors that slam your demons in the face. Sanctuary is the geographical line in the sand where death loses to life. Sanctuary is the one dry spot on a flooded Earth. Sanctuary is the only clean oxygen that does not tempt you to inhale, shoot up, or put out to escape pain. Sanctuary punches a fist in the plans of pimps. It locks the doors to dictators; it’s the one sane place on a planet gone wild. Sanctuary is safety.

IMGP9992When you live in another country, you start to conceptualize ‘sanctuary’. You know where your embassy is and how to get there in case of civil unrest. You keep a bag with the passports and enough cash to buy emergency airplane tickets hidden by the door. You have an emergency evacuation plan. Sanctuary is the geographical difference between life and death.

I felt that concept Friday night at the church around the corner from the pub in Perth. Gillian was there with her paper cup games and her candy for the tuck shop; a core group of teens came early to plan; the chairs rolled back in the room the church folk call the sanctuary and the teens came rolling in.

There was Conrad with his Polish-British accent who called me ‘Mama America’ and hugged me two sizes smaller and a new friend who came to the church when she was still using because Gillian kept returning to her public school annoying her with tales of a guy named Jesus. At 17, she had the sense to know that if she didn’t run for help, the drugs were gonna kill her. So she gathered up her pride and marched through the doors of Gillian’s church around the corner from the pub. She was thinking that she didn’t belong but where else do you run when life’s fuse is about to fizzle?

And there were the siblings who each live with a different divorced parent and the room that the folks call a sanctuary was full of teens on a Friday night; babies, who should be too young to know that they even need sanctuary. But, sometimes life stinks.

I was that teen once. Literally running through the streets from people in a pickup truck trying to catch me and drag me back to my past. I ran to the door of a youth pastor’s home and pounded with all my might. He opened and I fell over the threshold and slammed the door shut. Truth. And, he said to me, “I promise you they won’t get past my door. You are safe here.’

That. Is. Sanctuary.

THAT is why the church around the corner from the pub in Perth is full of teens on a Friday night, and prayers on a Saturday morning, and people on a Sunday.

There is a rescue going on.

An old-school sanctuary full of folk doing what Jesus did – laying down their comforts, their Friday nights, their money, their energy, their free-time, their family-time, their lives. Going into schools and neighborhoods with a message: ‘if hell’s hounds are at your back, and the war is raging in your home, and the demons are in you and all over you, if stuff is pierced and the clothes are tight, if the whisky is running out and hope is gone. Run!’

Run for. Cry for. Sanctuary.

So, are your doors open?

Thank you  Perth Trinity Church of the Nazarene for showing us Jesus

For King and Country has an incredible song called ‘The Proof of Your Love’. Click to listen.

In Need

In Need

no heroes tonight

no_heroes_

This nativity set has been around since the girls were tiny.

I think that I could capture you in this season of blinking lights and I’ll be home for Christmas promises. My fingers flutter above the keys as my mind stretches to capture a flittering thought, a sentence, a heartbeat in a phrase.  Writers do it all the time but I am sure that our weary world is growing tired of such antics.

I think that I could prick your fear with tales of that weary world and its prophetic end, though the details of its righteous timing most of us faithfully remember to forget. Nobody knows when; at least, I do not.

Perhaps I could shame you, if I tried. Shame you into giving. Shame you into feeling guilty for the gifts under your tree or the food in your pantry or the number in your bank account. But, I just do not have the heart for it. Continue reading

extravagant

20131003-232728.jpgAfter all of the excitement of Poland and a prayer of thanks because airplanes really can stay in the air and then miraculously and safely land on solid ground, we are home.

Funny; home seems bigger than a house on a street. Places and people easily take root. Though our bodies are in Budapest, a piece of our heart reaches backward to grasp that embrace of belonging found in Sweet Surrender Poznan. This is the very thing that we hope for each time Sweet Surrender’s bell rings over the door and somebody responds ‘Zheen dobray’ to a weary sojourner in need of strong coffee.  Continue reading

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

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buzzing around connecting point

Equipped with one enormous jelly green raffle ticket roll and cute little aprons, round and round we buzzed like the proverbial summer bee at a watermelon fest.  ‘We’re raising money for a little boy named ‘Cash’ who is sick. Would you like to buy a ticket to help his family?” A few folks swatted us away but most bought a ticket or twenty.

We wrapped up a 4 week stay in Denair, California with a antique car rally on Saturday that Denair Connecting Point Naz hosted for a sick little boy nicknamed Cash.  I punched in with the 6:30 AM early bird workers mostly to get first dibs on the breakfast tortillas and coffee.  As the community started wandering in, Amanda handed me two aprons, the jelly green raffle role and told me to ‘sell raffle tickets’. Continue reading

on furlough

‘It smells like America.’
‘Everything is made for a mobile society.’
‘It looks so different from Hungary.’

These are some of the comments we have been hearing as we ease back in to American life. I have always wanted to capture these moments, but in the past with little girls, it took everything we had to just keep everybody sane and relatively clean. Now that the girls are a bit older, it is little easier to find that moment to write a blog.

These feelings and emotions, so unique to third-culture people in the early stages of re-entry, are overwhelming. Where do I start? How can I ever really relay what we experience?

Today is Father’s Day and our 23rd wedding anniversary. It is also our first furlough service as a family for this 2013 deputation. Jay has been here for 10 days, so we are happy to be re-united. It as been hard to find a way to make these two important celebrations special while on the road. We opted for a stop at Dairy Queen where we surprised Jay with gifts. For furlough families, I think it is this sense of homelessness that can be at times challenging and at other times adventurous.

This morning, we held a service in the West Carrollton church but there was then 3 hours of downtime until the Harrison service tonight. Sometimes those middle Sunday afternoon hours can be long. How do you make a 40 minute journey into a 3 hour trip? Eventually, we set the girls loose with walkie talkies near the church and told them to ‘go exploring.’

Tonight after the service, it is a 2 hour drive to Indianapolis. Meetings begins bright and early on Monday morning.

For those of you coming to General Assembly, please find us at the EurAsia exhibit.
For those of you who want to GIVE YOUR LUNCH to enable us to continue the fight against HUMAN TRAFFICKING and resourcing our Roma ministries, please go to web.nazarene.org/goto/JTSunberg