Between four worlds: Life on the mission field 20 years on
Twenty years ago today we left for the mission field for the first time. Lately, I’ve been thinking about my life between worlds.
I live my life between four worlds. Let me explain. First off, I am an American. I was born and raised in America and lived there exclusively until I was 27. It is part of who I am. I tend to think like an American, feel like an American, and have the world view of an American.
But secondly, I have served as a missionary to Eastern Europe for 20 years now. Most of that time was in Bosnia, where day-in-and-day-out, I lived and moved among Bosnians, spoke Bosnian, shopped, bought and sold, visited homes, paid bills, attended church, preached, taught and translated in Bosnian. Now we live in Hungary, striving to learn their language and culture, and yet focusing on reaching out to the Roma (Gypsies) who live not only in Hungary, but also in Croatia, Serbia and other European lands. This is the second world. The culture is different, the languages are different, the way people interact is different, the cultural dos and don’ts are different. I am never fully at home in this world since I am always a foreigner, always the visitor, never “from here”, speaking with a foreign accent and carrying a foreign passport, a guest in these countries and never a citizen. Incidentally, living for this long outside of American means that I don’t really fit there anymore. I think a bit differently and I have experienced so many different places (I’ve set foot in 25 countries, if you count airports!) and interacted with so many different nationalities, and seen so many different needs and issues, that I no longer really “fit” in America. I look like an American, and sound like an American, but I don’t necessarily still think as other Americans do.
But there is a third world, that of the Bible. What do I mean by that? As a Christian, as a scholar, as a Bible teacher and Bible translator, it is incumbent upon me to know the meaning of the Bible in its original context. I need to know Greek and Hebrew, I need to know the culture of the Ancient Near East, of the Hebrews and their neighbors, as well as of the Greco-Roman first-century Mediterranean world. Since the Bible was written in that culture, it is imperative that I understand how the people of that world thought, believed and saw life. The cultural background of the Old and New Testaments are cultural keys to properly understanding the message of the Bible. As a Bible translator, I spend a lot of time studying and seeking to fully understand the original text of the Bible and then turning around and studying the languages and cultures of the Roma of Eastern Europe so that I can be sure that I am actually communicating the biblical text in a way that they will accurately understand it. This is the third world in which I live.
And ultimately, and indeed primarily, I live in a fourth world. This earth is not my true home; I am on a journey to a new world—heaven, the Kingdom of God, the New Heavens and the New Earth. This is where my citizenship lies and it is where my thoughts should always return to. “2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:2-3 NIV84).
So I am heading to a new world. On my blog and in my letters, I seek to share something of life between these four worlds. I write for anyone who will read it, but I know that primarily my readership is my first world, Americans, with whom I share regular prayer needs, with whom I share praises and points for which to thank God, and, humanly speaking, to whom I look for financial support in our missionary endeavors. I write of my second world, life in Hungary and other parts of Eastern Europe among the Roma (Gypsy) people, since that is a fascinating world for you to also learn about. I will share from the third world of the Bible what I am discovering in the Bible and how I am seeking to explain it to the Roma in Bible translation and Bible teaching. And lastly, may I always keep my eyes on heaven, the fourth world, and help you keep your eyes there. “20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20 NIV84)