(Note: We have been asked not to name the country in which we have been serving this past week, nor its neighboring one, and to speak obliquely about the nature of our work here.)
Our time in our first country was more challenging than we had anticipated, and more inspiring and rewarding than we could have imagined. First, we had not known that a group would be coming from a neighboring country which is quite hostile to those follow the One we do. They traveled many miles to get here, seated scattered apart on the bus they took so they would not be identified as a group at the border, and they did not take the printed material home with them, since it could incriminate them. Their very presence in camp was incredibly moving: the first evening they showed up in indigenous clothing and did gorgeous regional dances for us. They are a strikingly beautiful people, with warm, open hearts. Part of what was so moving was that the country we’re currently in has had many members of this other ethnic group living here peaceably in the past, but a violent eruption four years ago caused many of them to leave. So it was a beautiful symbol of reconciliation to have them here, and their courage in coming at all inspired us.
But their presence has also highlighted for us how very remote we are here. It’s a bit humorous that our first invitation on this journey has involved so much cultural and linguistic distance. On Rich’s many trips to Eastern Europe, translation has really been surprisingly smooth, to the point that he’s become quite confident in the ease of teaching via translation. In Latvia, for example, where we had traveled as a family in 2005, translation had been needed into Estonian, Lithuanian, and Latvian, but the student movement had the resources to purchase headsets and it all happened with an unobtrusive ease. Here, translation was needed into Russian and simultaneously into two other Central Asian languages. The first evening this took place in a chaotic, distracting mélange. It felt much more like Babel than Pentecost! Rich was exhausted as the session ended, and we both felt unsure of how it had gone. We asked for G to encourage us. The next morning we made a few key adjustments to the tables, asked one of the simultaneous translators to be just a tad quieter, and subsequent sessions went much more smoothly.
I tend to think of Babel as a big mess, and Pentecost as a lovely, flowing miracle. But it strikes me that even if it felt miraculously smooth as Peter spoke, Pentecost birthed a grand mess. Cross-cultural mishaps were erupting within that new community within weeks of its formation. On one level we contributed to the Babel feel of camp. And let’s face it, so did these brave, beautiful new friends who risked so much to be there. Camp would have flowed more easily without them. But my life would be poorer without the chance to see their love and hear their stories. We pressed our translator into service for an afternoon and sat outside hearing two of them share stories of what they have suffered to follow the one we do. It was an unforgettable and deeply moving experience.
Our camp was on the shores of an eerily beautiful high-mountain lake. Our days began by dancing the Macarena and the Cha-Cha Slide outdoors, and they ended with games, dancing, and hilarious displays of talent. In between, passionate, gifted students who may just change their nations worked very hard, and gained skills, convictions, and tools for that endeavor. We are grateful to have played a small part in that.
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Rich and Lisa Lamb