Friday 10 July 2020

On finding new paths

I am a creature of habit. Which is a little funny when you consider how much I (normally) travel and am out of environments which can sustain my little habits. I have the same smoothie every morning for breakfast. I like to sit on my balcony and read. And, for my first six and three-quarter years of living here, I had a favourite walk in my town.

I'd walk down to the river, and then through the park that runs alongside the river until I got to the "pink bridge". At that point I'd cross over the river, and turn right to walk a loop through the woods on the Polish side of the river.

That route is my favourite. I can't even tell you how many times I've walked it or ran it. I love the peace of finding a little bit of countryside in the middle of my town. 

And then lockdown happened and my favourite route became off-limits. Because maybe you noticed above, or you already knew, but my favourite route includes crossing an international border. This wonderful little town I call home straddles the border, with the river being the border. 

So, while many people didn't notice the international borders closing much in their daily life, I had some pretty big reminders. Normally the only way to know if you've crossed the border is to pay attention - there's never any border guards or barrier of any kind. And yet overnight this was the scene:

Medical tents on the Polish side.

My beloved "pink bridge", totally cordoned and fenced off, with "no entry" tape.

The Czech police guarding the border.

More tents and structures, as we settled in for the long haul.

And, I'm not going to lie, in those early days of lockdown I was a little cranky at the loss of my favourite walking path. Especially as I needed the space and fresh air to process and decompress even more.

So I went on a hunt and explored some other options and I found a new route. It's a little longer but I head in the opposite direction now, pass my church, and walk along a wooded path by a lake, slowly looping back home. 

It's a beautiful route, and I have loved running along it and walking and praying my way around it these past few months. In the midst of all the crazy and the many losses of this pandemic, it was sweet to find this new path and some other new rhythms and habits that really brought life and joy to this harder season.

Last week the border opened again and so I can go back to my normal route. More and more, life is opening up here and in many countries.

But as we re-enter the world post-lockdown, I am finding it helpful to first reflect on what it is I want to return to, and what new paths and habits I've found during this lockdown have been really fruitful and I want to continue to walk in and practice. 

Have you enjoyed any new paths, activities or routines during this season? 

Friday 3 July 2020

Seven years on the mission field

This week marks seven years since I stepped off a one-way flight to the Czech Republic. Like so many things in life, it feels both like forever and a blink.

I remember when I'd been here only a couple of years and we had a guest in town from the UK. They shared that research with missionaries has suggested that it takes seven years for second-culture missionaries to be and to feel fully effective in their new contexts. 

When I heard that I felt both reassured and overwhelmed. Reassured because those first couple of years are always hard, as you learn language and culture, along with a new role. But I definitely felt overwhelmed, as I wondered if I'd make it to year three, nevermind year seven.

And, yet, here it is: seven years into this wild, cross-cultural ministry and life.

On my seven-year anniversary I was doing some reading for my upcoming thesis and I came across this sentence:

“[A pastor] discovered that God's plan had as much to do with who he was becoming as it did about what he was accomplishing” (from the book Resilient Ministry)

These words echo words that were spoken to me by Paul Bowman at my commissioning service before I left Northern Ireland that "The most important thing you can do for your students is to love Jesus more."

It's all so true and if I've learnt anything in the last seven years it's that I can buckle down and grit my teeth and get things done, but if it's not flowing out of a deep, abiding relationship with Christ, it's all futile.

And it's all his fruit anyway - we abide in the vine and he produces his fruit in us and through us. We may water or plant, but it's God that gives the growth. He is so faithful and able to do what he has promised. We also see it in the ministry of Jesus, who calls his disciples first to himself and then out in mission. 

I'm so grateful that that is how our God is with us - inviting us first into relationship with him, and then out, with him, into his great, wide mission in the world. 

I am so grateful for his sustaining grace in my life in how he has called me to himself and into his mission. And I'm so grateful for the many people who also follow his call by partnering with this ministry prayerfully and financially.

Let's see what year eight holds!