Joan and I went with a small team to Slovenia in October. It was an amazing trip!
And it changed us.
The effects of travel upon the traveler are axiomatic. Since I like G.K. Chesterton, we can insert the gratuitous quote here, “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”
Loses its punch when your aim is to make that foreign land your country, but yeah. Keep in mind that in Chesterton’s day you didn’t travel overseas for just a week. It took a week just to get there. So is it drama or self-absorption or limited scope of imagination to claim to have been changed over the course of a week-long trip? What kind of changes are we talking about?
We have met our team-members. Before this trip we had met only one family of four out of the team we are going to join. We had Skyped a handful of times with our team leader and once with one of the other missionaries. Most of the team were pictures on prayer cards or at most talking heads. Now we’ve hugged them! Now we’ve prayed with them! Now we’ve worked with them, both in outreach and even physically. We’ve even cried with one of them. We’ve seen them get frustrated, we’ve seen them tired, we’ve worshipped with them, we’ve held one of their infants. Do we know them yet? Not even close. But now they are real people – and real people change you.
We have met Slovenes. Before this trip we learned, and often related to you, statistics about Slovenia and its people. We read books about Slovene culture and articles about Slovene food. Do I even need to finish this paragraph? I don’t think we were presumptuous – we knew that we knew nothing of Slovenes. That was a large part of the reason for making this Discovery Trip! Now we have met a few Slovenes. The lady selling produce in the market; the couple that runs the inn where we stayed. The server at the inn who was so surprised when we thanked her for serving us. The baristas at the coffee shops who were interested in conversing with the Americans. The lady whose shelves we assembled one morning who was a prolific artist. Do we know the Slovene people or their culture yet? Not even close. But when we think of Slovene people we no longer see numbers pop up in our heads, we think of Vladimir and Sandi and the gentleman who quit his job to run a vineyard and the computer programmer who competed internationally at chess when he was younger. Now we remember real people – and real people change you.
We have met some of the Slovene church. A thriving, growing, self-sufficient church is the end goal of our moving to Slovenia. What that means and how to move towards it is defined in very concrete terms. But that church is an abstract concept. It’s not real. Now we have met some of the Slovene church. We worshipped with one gathering of believers. We shared a meal with them, and through conversations and observation we glimpsed some of the joys, struggles, failures, and brilliance of that small body. We talked haltingly with many of the members, and what each of us was saying was obscured by the language barrier. But in many of the church members’ faces Christ and His glory shone unobscured. We spent an evening in the home of one of the young elders. He and his wife expressed their hearts for their fellow believers, some of their dreams and frustrations. We heard their testimonies and prayed with them. We met some elders from another gathering. We heard their testimonies and saw both the eager joy in walking with Christ and the eager desire to see Christ accomplish more in their gatherings. Do we know the Slovene church? Well, actually, in Christ we are one with them and in many small ways we experienced that oneness. But that is an area we look forward to growing in. And now the church in Slovenia is real to us – and real people change you.
So how have we been changed by knowing, in small ways, so many real people?
We’ve lost whatever we had of the “isn’t it fun to be preparing to move to Slovenia – isn’t it a grand adventure” feeling.
We have invested some of our selves in people in Slovenia.
We miss them.
We ache to go back.