We moved into this neighborhood eleven years ago now. The kids that were five and six are now sixteen and seventeen. The ones we watched get married are bringing home second and third kids. The ones who had kids have grandkids.
In the short version, we worked for an organization that wanted to change the big picture, while we saw the need—and maybe our place—in the small picture right in front of us. We wanted to invest here, so we started building.
We built our relationships slowly. In another language, over some tragedies and Memory games, over meals and community meetings. It was weird and nontraditional, to say the least.
And then somewhere along the way, we wondered if we were even the right people for this anyway. We wanted to see more local leadership, and we wondered if we were just in the way. And maybe I just felt like I’d been building for years but wasn’t sure what I was looking at.
I was ready to step back: back into my passport country, back into English, back into an adoption system that would tell me the next step in the process.
But in the most unexpected way, it felt like God said we were placed. We were in position for something. I’m not speaking to philosophy or ideology here, just my own story: while we might not be local or the best for the job or the ones you’d pick out in a crowd, we were placed now. We were in position. We did know the language. We did know the families. We did know the unknowns. We’d started building something that we should continue. It felt like God just said to stay put. Keep building. Wait.
So after that visit to the States, we still went back. With mixed feelings, yes; but we did.
I’ve had Ezekiel 37 on my mind for years, woven throughout this story. I’ve had different people speak to me about it; to share about our community and reference it. I memorized it earlier this year, meditating on the poetry of it.
“Oh, Lord God, you know.” (v.3)
It’s been a long decade of meditating and ruminating.
And then this year—amidst all that 2020 brought us!—there was a rattling.
It’s hard to put it into words. It was dreams, shared by a teenager in tears. It was in conversations, some very, very hard. It was in tears. It was in actual miracles. (Clearly I’m a skeptic. I’m using “actual miracles” so that I believe it, too.)
And then this.
In December, I was sitting on the steps of our church waiting for Stephen to return for the second trip home. This particular Sunday was the first of the month: we had brought bread for communion and flowers for the church from Flour & Flowers. The Reinforcers had run sound and managed the new projector recently installed. The Sunday school teachers fell through unexpectedly at the last minute. With ten or so kids from our community attending and dropping coins all over the tile floors, Stephen and I gathered all the kids outside for a pick up Sunday school lesson.
I was tired as I sat there.
“I’m getting baptized. I’m taking the class and then I’ll get baptized next month.”
“Baptized. You know? I’m getting baptized next month. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. And this is what I’m going to do. It’s true. It’s what I believe.”
Later in the week, as we did our Honest Advent by Scott Erickson (recommended!), we read this,
“It’s a surprise that life can come through barren places.
It’s a surprise that meek nobodies partake in divine plans.”
This is how I felt in that moment. I’ve been looking at this desert for a number of years. Sometimes the endless English classes and market runs; friends telling me of the problems in their marriages and families; language learning and impromptu Sunday school in my second language: it feels like endless desert sometimes. It feels like dry bones. It feels like God is asking me, “Can these bones live?”
And often I’m replying–with a sigh or groan–“Oh, Lord God, YOU KNOW.”
Subtext: Oh, Lord God, you know if this is worth anything. Oh, Lord God, you know if we are building anything.
And then life pops up. And I’m sitting in front of a fifteen-year-old that we’ve known since he was five. He’s walked in and out of that door hundred and hundreds of times. We’ve watched his face get rounder and then thinner over and over again. We’ve had conversations about who the Buddhist god is and who our God is. We’ve watched him draw on his hands while sitting in Bible study some weeks and eagerly join the discussion in others.
And now he’s telling me he’s choosing to blaze the path in his very Buddhist family. He’s pondered it, he’s considered what he sees. And he believes.
Because there is a divine plan here, and we as nobodies get to be a part of it. We get to sit on the steps in the middle of a desert and see the the life pop through. We are watching dry bones take on sinews and flesh and breathe life, because we serve a God who does that. He is Emmanuel, here with us in the desert and among the dry bones.