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After graduating from Seminary, several ‘coincidences’ led me to travel to Europe for a couple of months. This opportunity first emerged from a roommate who invited me to coach a youth band at a German-English language camp he was running. Two weeks after that, Christian Associates was running its summer conference to which I was invited. This allowed for two weeks in between where I could travel around Europe and travel I did.
One experience, on my way to Krakow Poland from Prague, caught my attention and represented a parable to me. When I got on the train, I ended up sitting with a young couple. They had met in film school – he was behind the camera and she was an actor. He was from Eastern Europe and she was from the West. They were from very different worlds. They were heading to the wedding of his brother. It would be the first time she was to meet his parents – so she was preparing herself by ramping up on her intoxication levels… but I digress. They both spoke English and we had a very enjoyable conversation – Europeans from my experience often enjoy discussing politics and world events without needing to be the winner the way in which Americans may often come across. Things are discussed in terms of similarity and differences and as preferences rather than better or worse and good or bad. This makes for easy and interesting conversation.
We had to switch trains once we entered into Poland. He was extremely helpful in quickly reading the sign and getting us all to the correct platform to catch the train to Krakow. We only had a minute between trains so his familiarity is Polish was tremendously helpful. Once we got on the next train, for whatever reason I entered into a box where there sat a nun. Don’t ask me why. (For this train, there were compartments which would seat 4 -6 people instead of subway type seating.) The young couple followed. This was all an odd set of events in and of themselves. So there we were in this one compartment- a European couple, a nun and myself.
So… a European couple, a nun and a Canadian (myself) are all seated in a train compartment. Here is the cue for one of the characters to say something, but the bizarre combination of people kept us quiet. The punch line would have to wait.
After a couple of stops, the young couple got off the train, I wished them well. About a mile down the tracks I thought it good to encourage the sister to pray for the heathen couple and in so doing delegate out my mission work to this professional. It was apparent that she didn’t understand English. I motioned to her, to pray, for them. She was very impressed and enthused to see me making the universally known clasping-of-the-hands motion for prayer. She then started talking to me in Polish but I had no idea what she was saying.
At this point I need to clarify the image of the nun you may have conjured up on your minds eye. She wasn’t a young attractive Polish woman – in case you were wondering. She was a large, jolly baby faced nun. Did I say large? She was pleasant enough as we sat in the same booth exchanging polite smiles and nodes – the kind people do when impeded by lack of social skills or a common language. However, this all changed once I motioned their need for prayer.
She became more excited and more animated. I said slowly, “I don’t understand”, but unfortunately, was unable to find a corresponding universally known hand motion. The more I defended my ignorance, the louder … and closer… and more enthusiastic this very large nun became. It was actually a little scary!
The stop at Krakow soon arrived and as it so happened she was getting off in Krakow as well. She convinced me to follow her off the train and introduced me to the priest who was there to pick her up. I had shown her where my youth hostel was on the map so I was hoping it was my lucky day with a car ride to the hostel – I was also partly afraid she was going to take me to the nunnery! Instead, our mode of transportation would be the bus – all very Europeanly efficient.
I reluctantly followed, unsure of the implications of the associations I was making with my new Catholic friends. We seemed to be going on a route that was towards the hostel. Time would tell. After several stops she began talking to me again – with the same assumption as before, as though if she was loud enough or dramatic enough somehow I would understand her. I think she forgot about that tower of Babel story.
So, after she made her last speech she pulled the chord to signal to the bus driver to stop at the next drop site. Out of the blue a young attractive Polish girl decked out in goth attire seated ahead of me, spun around and spoke to me in broken polish,
“she sezs, you muwst git uff eat negzed stoop.”
Finally, a familiar word in broken English from a Polish Goth.
I often look back at that experience as a parable of how the young pop culture is speaking this global language – or able to converse cross culture – weather the film school students or the young goth girl, while the church in their best intentions leave those they lead confused and unsure.
Can God’s people not do better in how we communicate? Can we not speak into their culture? It requires that we incarnationally be among them to truly reach them. Yet instead of “living among” it is so much easier to shut ourselves up in a convent and miss the world in transit. While I do have to acknowledge the sisters help and I don’t want to minimize the importance of solitude and the work that those in convents may do, perhaps there is a greater lesson even for us: That far too easily we can hedge ourselves in our own subculture instead of being God’s healing presence in the word. While there are many convents I do not see masses involved in missional engagement. Is not the great commission to go into all the world? Does that not include subcultures which may shelter people from the Gospel?
Live it Out:
Think about the subcultures around you – social groups which would otherwise have no intersection with God or His people. Try to name five. Be as specific as you can. Thinking of where they gather, their age, their uniqueness. This all helps with specificity. What would it take to connect with them? How would you go about speaking in their language? What are some cultural barriers? How would you overcome them? Is there a role you could play even though you may be outside of that culture?
What are some social circles you are in, in which your pastor or priest would not have access? These represent social circles that you have the opportunity to speak into. What advice would you give to missional thinkers who desire to speak hope and love into the social circle where you find yourself? What are the cultural barriers they may not be aware of and how would you suggest they overcome them?