It's been one week since Justin and I and the girls returned from a three week trip to Croatia. We went to encourage Round Rock's missionaries there (Tom and Sandra Sibley), to lead marriage workshops, to preach, and to spend time connecting with young families working to advance the kingdom in dark places. We visited three different church families in three different cities (each one unique and beautiful). We spent hours and hours talking with Tom and Sandra (mostly listening, really). We watched our girls make friends with kids who didn't speak a word of English. And we held them as they cried when we had to say goodbye.
We also had a few days of relaxation and travel peppered in for good measure and mental health.
Over the next few days (maybe two weeks) I'm hoping to share two or three stories of God-scouting from this trip. Today, I thought I'd share a list I jotted down in my journal. It's a "things I learned" list, and it's already shaping the way I see and live. Here it is (minus a couple things we'll look at in detail later):
1. Long term hospitality is powerful and important.
Here in the states we usually think of hospitality as having people over for dinner. That's good. We should do that. But long-term hospitality is far more effective in blessing and shaping our struggling brothers and sisters. During our stay in Croatia, time and time again we heard young church members tell us about living in Tom and Sandra's house. One couple lived there for six months. Another a year. Yet another for two years. Each couple said that time was one of the most formative seasons of their spiritual lives. God calls us to be a light to the world; inviting people into our home in a long-term way draws them closer to that light.
2. God uses imperfect people to do perfecting work.
It's always surprising to watch God use my own tiny, imperfect efforts to accomplish big, important things. But He does. He always does. Again and again on this trip I watched God use humans to do superhuman things. He used selfish people and annoying people and people who had a lot of growing to do (me included). He used them despite their weaknesses and sometimes worked directly through their weaknesses to accomplish His purposes. God doesn't need a perfect church to do His work--just a church open to being used and eager to be perfected.
3. Kids are not a barrier to serving God.
If you're waiting until your kids are grown to jump into serving God fully, you're missing out and so are they. Serving God alongside our kids was, perhaps, our favorite part of going to Croatia. They loved meeting new people. They spoke blessings over their new friends. They crawled up into our missionaries' laps, offering needed and welcomed hugs and love. Their giggles added joy and delight to what could have been heavy moments. At every turn, we were glad they were with us. Last night Eve prayed for Justin and I and said (out of the blue, really), "God, thank you that my parents do church work." You should do church work, too--with and for your kids.
4. Talking about marriage is a great place to begin talking about God.
People really want help with their marriages. Really, really , really. And in their need, they are wide open to suggestions. Justin and I have found that in helping people learn to love one another, we get the chance to introduce them to the love of God in a powerful way. When we talk about good marriage, people come to know their good God.
5. Friends in Christ are quickly made and deeply felt.
When you go on a mission trip (as many of you have) you get the opportunity to connect with Christians you've never met before, Christians living completely different lives than the life you're living, Christians who speak a different language and like different food and watch soccer on TV. On paper, we could not be more different. And yet... On our first Sunday in Croatia we went to the city of Split to worship with a church there. Immediately upon meeting Justin's translator Mira, I felt like I'd known her for years. Something inside me connected with something inside her in a way I can't fully describe. When we parted, after only a short conversation, she said, "I don't know know that I'll see you again." And I said, "Not here." And she smiled and said "Bye" like we'd be meeting for lunch next week, casual and confident that we'd surely meet again and be friends in the long and lovely forever.
Later this week I'll write about three more things I learned on this trip. We'll call those posts How to be Old Well, Learning to Welcome Blessing, and Finding Home.