Last week, I got lost again. Actually, I wasn’t really lost, I just couldn’t find the place where I was trying to go. I headed there a little too confidently, I suppose. I left without a map. I thought – I’ve been there before. I thought – I know where I’m going. But I was wrong. I searched up and down the streets for a building that never appeared. Luckily, I had no formal appointment with anyone. Luckily, when I finally gave up, I was able to meet Jeremy and Ursula in a nearby beautiful park and calm down underneath a canopy of green trees, sipping black tea and honey, watching my daughter play in one of the numerous playgrounds of Bratislava.
But the experience has made me think a bit about what it means to live outside of your country and culture of origin. Very simply — you get lost more often. You fail to find things, people, agreed upon destinations. You plan thirty minutes to get somewhere, and that is not ever enough.
I think about being lost when I look out over the congregation of Bratislava International Church. The pulpit is high up, so I get a good view of folks on the ground floor and in the balcony. Most people worshipping here are not from here. Even the Slovaks come from other parts of Slovakia. Many others have traveled farther — from Iran, Korea, Ghana. They come here to worship because they want to worship in the English language – yet oftentimes English is a second, third, or even fourth language.
I’m sure many of them get lost in worship. We print a pretty detailed bulletin, yet I’m sure it’s still confusing. What is she doing up there now? What song are we supposed to be singing? What are the English words of the Lord’s Prayer? Some of the bi-cultural couples come to worship here because the Bratislava International Church represents a compromise between two different Christian backgrounds: Say — West African Pentecostal meets Roman Catholic Slovak. How, given such a background, could you not feel a bit lost, at least some of the time?
Yet stunningly, people continue to come, which certainly speaks to the power of the Holy Spirit, nothing less. The power of Word and Sacrament to bring lost people home, at least for a few moments, during Sunday morning worship.
In April, we made a trip back to the United States, at which time I got to know the four young adults who will come this August to be “Young Adults in Global Mission” in Hungary for one year. They are amazing young women and men, excited about devoting a year of their life to service in foreign land, in a foreign church, among people who they will not be able to understand for weeks, or months. (They are just-that-little-bit-scared-to-death about learning Hungarian.)
I know these four competent and intelligent young adults will get lost. More than once. And I know my family will get lost too. We head to Hungary this coming week, to visit the four sites where these young adults will live and work and learn and grow next year. Our trusty car, “Lola,” is not equipped with GPS. We will travel the old-fashioned way. With maps. And my spouse tells me I have ways to go before I would ever be chosen in a contest for “navigator.” We will certainly get lost.
And when you get lost, you are made to feel vulnerable.
But as a wise and beloved pastor recently reminded me, what it means to be Christian – on a deep level – is to welcome, even embrace vulnerability. After all, this is what God does in Jesus Christ – God enters into our human vulnerability, even to death. But somehow, we trust that in and through God’s vulnerability, we receive healing and salvation.
So perhaps there is something to all this getting lost. Perhaps I need to let it wash off my skin a little more easily.
Breathe deeply. Walk slowly. And prepare for getting lost (as it will happen.) But also trust that by the grace of God, I will be found. Again and again.