Here I sit, at the end of another week of teaching, pondering the rich gift that I have of being in the world of cross cultural ministry a few times a year. As the day comes to a close here, I ponder what it is about that aspect of my calling, this ministry in other cultures, that makes me feel so rich. There are many things, but I'll try to keep the list short. When teaching and sharing Christ's life across cultural boundaries, I feel wealthy because:
1. I am shaken from my daily world, and invited into a world much larger, a world of multiple perspectives on everything from politics, to women in ministry, from worship ("Americans use videos in worship? a video cafe even? unhead of!") to entetertainment, hospitality to recreation.
2. The unfamiliarity of it all attunes my senses to things I don't otherwise notice. For instance, I think I notice children more when travelling than I do in my own city. Or this because children in my own city are kept away somewhere out of sight, at a day care center in the shopping mall for instance? Maybe it's a little of both. I notice the smell of food, people's clothing, prevailing color schemes, architecture. It's like being a child again. And what's even better, I notice more when I come home too.
3. The gift of global friendships is, to my estimation, certainly one of God's greatest gifts and I feel privileged to enjoy it. A late afternoon coffee with a mother and daughter who are busy running a small Alpine farm and seeking to live faithfully as believers, a couple in Innsbruck making large life decisions, dear friends in Augsburg who love the outdoors, and are deeply involved in prayer ministries - in all these places conversation around the table lingers long after the food is gone - usually until the candles are gone too. We see each other only once - at best - twice a year. We must see each other deeply. And this is good.
4. Somehow there are moments - especially in this little village - when my heart nearly breaks because of the beauty. I'm running this week one late afternoon and the alpenglow lights the Dachstein Alps, bathing them in a color that escapes all words. They sit across the small river by which I'm running. There is an elderly woman walking by - hair pinned up, so dignified in her wool skirt and dark jacket. She stoops to feed the ducks and there's a smile on her face. She greets me with a smile and "Krist-ay" - the customary greeting here which has it's roots in Christ's name, as a young couple holding hands smiles, walking the other way. Who knows what each of them have faced? Who knows what any of us will face in the future. But for this moment, there's a sunset, a quiet walk, some ducks, and four people at peace. Click - it's a picture - of hope; a picture that, in the midst of radiation poisoning, and Iraqi madness, and so much more that is dark - there are still moments of light, hope, peace. Such moments occur everywhere - especially at GreenLake right by my house. But when they occur here - I absorb them.
None of this richness could exist without the best wife in the world - who understands such a calling and blesses it, as she holds so much together back home. And I think it wouldn't happen without being part of such a great congregation - a group that is so busy being community with one another that I can slip away once in awhile and serve in this - my other piece of calling.
I believe that taking my children with me on various trips to far corners of the world is the best contribution I've made to their education, and I'd encourage everyone to make the investment of experiencing other cultures a priority. When we do, our world expands, along with our capacity to contribute to it.