"Those immigrants..." "That beggar..." "Oh, it's them..." You don't need me to fill in any more details to understand the tone conveyed in these statements. "Those," "that," and "them" are pieces of language, which when implemented, are usually very descriptive words in and of themselves. We don't need any more descriptors to know how the user feels about a group. While we can use these words to specify just about anything - positive or negative - we generally use different terms when discussing the positives. We tend to use "those," "that," and "them" as a distancing tool when speaking of people, as it removes us from an individual or a group. Sometimes our desire to distance ourselves stems from our feelings of superiority (e.g. "I would never date that guy."), and sometimes it is a distancing which stems from fear (e.g. "Those immigrants want to take our jobs").
Early on, Catalina and I mentioned how one of the biggest struggles for us here is knowing how to handle the needy in our community. We're often encountered by beggars in the parking lot of the grocery store or on the way to the bus stop, we've had beggars come to our house, and I've even been followed once for a good ten minutes by a couple who hounded me to give them money. They are often relentless in their expression of need, and it only takes one look at us to know we're foreigners who, in their minds, can provide them with everything. Today during lunch we had a woman stop by our house for what is the fourth or fifth time in the past few weeks - the third time in the last week alone. When the bell rang, I saw that it was this woman, looked at Catalina, and said, "I talked with her last time. It's your turn." I know, I know. I'm a horrible person. Truly, this was a horrible thing to say. But you do need to understand that this is a huge struggle for us. We know that best practice when working with the needy seems to be not handing out resources. You're not really fixing the problem when you do this. But in the States, we've never had to look people in the eyes over and over again because they live in our community, and say "no." This difficulty is compounded even more because, while we do speak much more Romanian than we did when we got here, we can't have a philosophical conversation about dependency, a rationale for why we're not helping. alternative ways which we might be able to help that aren't just handing out food or money, etc. Add to this that we know this particular woman is going to stand in the doorway asking over and over again, no matter how many times I say "I'm sorry," until I literally have to close the door in her face. All things considered, of course I don't want it to be my turn to answer the door!
But today, when I said, "it's that woman again. It's your turn," Catalina asked, "do we even know her name?" Crickets... Then, it hit me. I had been sabotaging the very thing I had been coming to do - to close the distance in relationships as a picture of and an introduction to the incarnate Christ who closed the distance between us and God. Back in the summer it was easy to walk to the park and purposefully strike up conversations with people along the way. While we were going to the park for our kids, we were also on a mission. We wanted to meet people in our community and learn about them. But sitting back in our house, eating lunch, and having an individual on a mission to get resources from us - that's just uncomfortable. I'm fine with directing my course and having people be my agenda, but when I am not in control, I create distance. While I don't think I struggle much with a distancing of superiority, I struggle greatly with a distancing of fear.
One of the ministry possibilities that drew us to Romania, and one of the emphases we are strongly considering here is mercy ministry - reaching out to individuals who are in need of finances, food, education, etc. It is sadly funny, then, that we have a woman who is in need, who comes directly to our door, and whom we have continued to keep at arms length. We are apparently fine with thinking about how we can create some sort of program or initiative to push out into the community and help the impoverished, but God forbid the impoverished in our community show up on our doorstep.
I recognize in some ways that I'm being a little hard on us right now. I understand that there are privacy issues, a concern for safety, and the consideration of not becoming a resource for people that leads to dependency. There are a lot of very difficult things we have to think through that most people we know haven't had to think about, because in the United States, we are generally partitioned into communities by socioeconomic status. In the States, most don't live in the same community as beggars. We don't have them coming door to door. We don't have to choose whether or not we look them in the eyes unless we trek downtown. It's easy to choose not to learn a stranger's name. We can rationalize that all day long, and we do. But how could Catalina and I have rationalized choosing not learn a neighbor's name? It's conceivable that a woman could come to us with a spoken need and we turn her down due to concerns based on best practice. But how could we have just said "no" to her four or five times, allowing her to walk away in the cold without inviting her in for tea?
We wanted to be open and honest with you about this struggle for several reasons. First and foremost, we know that we have a tremendous amount of individuals, families, and churches praying for us. We need so much wisdom as we seek to do what is best for God's Kingdom, for the country of Romania, for the city of Codlea, and for the community that directly surrounds us. There are so many difficult decisions we have to make, and often they don't have clear-cut answers. Second, we want to be open because we know that you will face similar situations in your life. Perhaps you won't ever have a beggar periodically stopping at your door, but you will meet people who are inconveniences, people to whom you feel superior, or people who strike up fear within you - either fear of them or fear of your inadequacy in handling their situation. We hope that a glimpse into our own struggle will help you to reflect on your heart and see who God wants you to be incarnational to, giving them a glimpse of what God has done for them. Finally, we hope that as others know about our struggle, they will help to keep us accountable. We have received so many Christmas cards, emails, packages, Facebook messages, etc - from so many people. We can't describe how encouraging those all are. We know that ministry anywhere requires the body of Christ, and we would love for the body of Christ all over the world to edify us as we journey with you.