Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Obedience vs. Doing More

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.
Words and Music by Daniel L Schutte © 1981

I remember singing this song when I prepared to come to Hungary more than ten years ago. Then I was a single woman in my late twenties heading to Budapest to teach English in Hungarian high schools. I was excited and driven, ready to serve, ready to minister. The years that followed were indeed golden ones as I felt very much on the cutting edge of ministry with my students, my Bible study, the refugees and the orphans.

Now ten years later, I am living in a Hungarian village and in alot of ways I am more a missionary wife than a missionary. More a mom than a minister. I have learned that it is a difficult catharsis for women who held the role of missionary before they became wife and mother. And it has been difficult for me.

I had no trouble giving up alot of the American luxuries to come to Hungary -- a car, central airconditioning, comfortable salaries, TexMex food -- all paled in comparison to the rich simple life of ministry in Hungary.

But giving up the thrill of being in cutting edge ministry, that is hard. I can recite all the trite sayings about family being first and it is. That is the choice I have made -- to make my family my primary ministry and use the limited energy I now have for them. But I must admit I like being the one in there on the cutting edge. I miss it. Unfortunately, I forget, ministry is not about what it does for me, or even what I could be doing for others. It is about obedience.

Ministry is all about sacrifice. And I have come to understand that, for this season of my life, giving up that cutting edge role is my sacrifice. Strange, isn't it? That obedience to God would lead one serve Him less.

But maybe it is not really serving Him less. Because ministry is not a matter of doing more or less, but rather it is about doing what he has called us to do right now. It is about obedience. For this season that cutting edge role has to die for me. But as Christians we know death is not the end. Even a long, lost ministry can be resurrected in its proper time.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Autumn and Death

Yesterday morning I awoke to find all the grass and flowers, all the beauty of summer, laced in ice. The vines and trees are turning gold and red and it's clear that Autumn has arrived in Hungary. I think it is beautiful. My husband, who grew up in Hawaii, finds it ugly and unpleasant. Fall means cold. Fall means death to the plants he has slaved over all summer.
I love the seasons -- even those that bring death to the plants, because without fall and winter, how could we experience springtime in the fullness of its glory. CS Lewis wrote to Sheldon VanAuken that things must die if we are experience resurrection. This makes me ponder what needs to die in me. Dying hurts. None of us likes it. Death is a product of sin. But God brings redemption, resurrection when we let die the things in our lives that need to die in us.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Gospel in Disney Packaging?

If only Christ came in Disney packaging ... Do you know what I mean? All Disney movies end with "... and they lived happily ever after" -- if not in explicit word, then certainly in concept. If only our acceptance of Christ came with some sort of guarantee that our life on this earth would be "happily ever after." But it doesn't. The cold, hard truth is that Christ gave us a very different guarantee: "In this life you will have tribulation..." (John 16:33)
During the summer we watched with great joy and awe as many of our Hungarian youth came to Christ. Last week, one of those kids ODed on tranquilizers after getting into some serious trouble at school. Last month, another who was living in a children's home, lost his brother in a knife fight outside a disco. That same week his mother died in hospital. The magnitude of human suffering all around us is staggering. And these few items just scratch the surface of the extraordinary hard knocks we see these new Christians facing.
Life is tough--so unjustly tough it seems at times. But Christ's guarantee did not end with his promise of tribulation. He goes on to say: "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." To be honest, I sometimes have a hard time keeping that perspective. I see the tribulation part all around me, but the overcoming part evades me. What's worse is that it seems to evade these young ones.
But maybe that's the whole point. Maybe we need to be in the place where overcoming tribulation seems unfathomable, because that's where genuine faith begins. If faith is truly the being sure of things hoped for and being certain of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1), perhaps it is only in our times of tribulation (when we see no evidence of God anywhere near us) that we learn whether we truly have any faith at all. If we do have the faith to push through those tough times, I trust we'll find that although life is indeed tough, God is still good.
Maybe there is a Disney ending out there for all of us, but as Christians our "happily ever after" is guaranteed only in the hereafter, not in the here and now.

So You Want to Be a Missionary?

“So you want to be a missionary?” the stout Hungarian man from my church in Washington, D.C. commented almost sarcastically. “You’re going to tell all the Hungarians they need Jesus.” I stood in awkward silence. I knew he was a believer in Christ. What was his point in all this?

“You know what the Hungarians are going to say?” he asked. “They’ll say we’ve been Christian long before your country was ever discovered! We’ve been a Catholic nation since St. Stephen got the crown from the Pope a thousand years ago. And they’ll wonder who you think you are to tell them they need to be Christians.”

I stammered from side to side, trying to come up with a gracious way to leave, but Laszlo had not made his point yet and would not let me escape until he had.

“Trudy,” his demeanor now softened. “Take the time to earn the right to share your faith.”

That was ten years ago. Since then, I have taught English in Hungarian High Schools and colleges, gotten married, had one daughter while living in Turkey and adopted another from a Hungarian orphanage. Now, living in a Hungarian village near the Romanian border, Laszlo’s words often echo back in my mind as I have learned what it means to honor and respect people and their ways. We Americans tend to think we are the ones who have it all together, but such attitudes make us miss out on all there is to learn from those we meet along the way. I have been blessed by the Hungarians and as much as I long for my Hungarian friends to know Christ. I will never love them any less if they do not choose Him.