So there will be more posts coming soon with pictures and kind of the “day-to-day” here, but right now I just had a few thoughts I wanted to get out.
The time spent so far has been good and growing. We’ve had our first few bible study sessions, and we’re working on bringing in more and more students each time.
Living together has introduced me to friendships I wish I’d had my whole lifetime. Lots of laughs and tears have been had already, and I’m touched at how much this group supports each other, and how much they love the Serbians we’ve gotten to know.
There’s also difficulties in living with so many; you have to learn to respect people’s space, including your own. Experiencing so many different personalities in a small hostel is a journey in humility, and everyone is stepping up well to learn.
As far as living in Belgrade, there’s a lot of joy being in a country where by default Christian means Orthodox. You don’t have to explain that you’re not Jewish or a particular denomination– people know. They know liturgical life and saints. At times, the relief of the cultural backdrop can almost make you forget why you’re here.
That’s something that’s been hard to put into words too: why, exactly, we’re here. It’s the crossroads of sharing our experience of faith as young American Orthodox people with those from a rich Orthodox history and heritage, building from each other’s strengths and learning together to grow in Christ. It’s something I think we all profoundly feel and understand in our hearts, but are still experiencing the learning curve of what it looks like in practice.
Last week, a few of us went out to an art gallery showing. Long story short, but it was terrible– nonsensical,arythmic guitar strumming, dim lights, and water color paintings with nihilist words printed on top. We left early, laughing and chatting on the way back. Then, one in our group stooped down and noticed a small wooden icon of the Theotokos, face down in the trash on the sidewalk. She rescued it and brought it back with us.
That image has stuck with me. It was a visual reminder of what I was slowly learning while being here: the work is bigger than us. We don’t have anything to offer. We don’t have the ability to come in, in 8 weeks, and cause a spiritual revival in a country that is beautiful but dry.
This is obvious, right? And you don’t go into it with those thoughts, that you’ll make a huge difference. But there’s something about being here and experiencing that inwardly that is very humbling, almost discouraging– unless it turns is to the remembrance of God.
Because the truth is, God is absent from nothing. Absolutely nothing is wasted. He uses all things to accomplish His love in a dying world that forgets Him whether they are surrounded by churches or have never heard the gospel. God uses our tiredness and inability far more than our skills or accomplishments. And part of sharing your faith, whether in another country or in your neighborhood, is learning that you may never see the fruits of seeds sown. The ministry is as much for us so as to become minsters of our own story of faith in Christ, so that this “mission” would not be a stand alone event, but an integral part of how we show Christ to our world, wherever we are living and whatever we are doing.
I’m feeling like the first work of missions is yourself. To empty yourself, to let yourself feel weak, to realize that if God does not bless what we do it’s in vain. Taking from the lessons we’ve learned while here, our greatest and most valuable struggle will be to seek God, to trust God, and to build loving, meaningful relationships with those here.
Pray that God will give us those opportunities to bring more and more to our group, and that we will be patient and trusting to receive those opportunities.