I sat along the edge of the Danube river. It was a cool, gray day. I was scratching out thoughts with pen and paper when I stopped and really saw them. The Shoes on the Danube Bank. Metal, weathered reminders of World War II when the people, mostly Jewish, who after being ordered to take off their shoes, were shot into the river.
I felt their bravery, their silent strength. I wondered at their last thoughts. My heart shattered as I gazed upon the tiny shoes–little lives so tragically lost. And I was humbled to touch this deep wound in this city, this country. From fascism to communism, the people were battered and beaten. It was a great, weeping thing I knew that day.
Every nation has a soul. It is the heart of its story and it is calling out to be known. We must make the journey to understand the imprint of this soul upon the holy ground of this nation.
When we become attuned to the soul of our host nation, we gain an entire framework for ministry. Our eyes are focused, our ears really hear and our hearts become like God’s.
So how do we come to know this heart of a nation’s story? The truth is we can never truly, completely know it, because it is as complex as the convergence of a million souls. Yet we can make this humble journey to know our new home more. To this end, I am going to list some practical steps:
Prioritize: With so many things vying for our attention, it is easy to forget the deep, contemplative things. But in order to learn the soul of our host nation, we must make it a priority. Time needs to be carved out to connect with the story and history of the people to whom we are called.
Plan: Next, we need to plan how we will become learners of the story and soul of this nation. There are memorials, monuments, museums, interviews, documentaries, holidays and history books. It is important to find something which connects with our soul too; something which speaks to our hearts.
Press in: Once we have made it a priority and planned how to learn about the soul of this nation, we press into this story we are learning. We sit with the things we are seeing, hearing, reading. We ask for new eyes to see meaning in the oppression, wars, desperation, heartache. We expect to be changed as we receive into our hearts the soul of the people.
Practice: Now, it is left to cultivate a cross-cultural ministry which is profoundly impacted by what we have come to know. We ought to feel like we have new eyes, ears and a heart prepared to walk ahead in understanding. So we do. We live like in the very depths, this new and different home is connected to ours. We become students of it in an on-going, life-changing way.
We can get so focused on our goals in ministry that we forget we have walked into a story and are meeting its soul. The nuances of our new life are not only adjustments to things like language, shopping and visas. There is, too, this deeper thing.
When Jesus came into the world, he entered time, space, history and culture. He had to do the work of understanding his culture on a soul level. In his ministry, he restored the dignity of the poorest of poor. He saw beyond the political structures and proud leaders to souls over whom he wept. He heard the yearning cries of a nation longing to be re-born. And he knew. He knew the story of humanity and the Jewish people found in the Scriptures. He stayed connected to this as a core element of his ministry.
How could we do anything less?
As I looked upon the shoes that day, I knew I was being handed a gift. Who was I to behold such a tragic, yet heroic memory? Who was I to walk those city streets over bridges repaired after bombings, look upon citadels, and bear witness to the greats?
This whole new life was so much more than me and what I would give. Its healing so beyond my capacity. Its story unable to be rendered in a day, week, month, year or a hundred years. It would take the work of my heart, my soul, and nothing less to learn it, embrace it and live it.
May you make this journey. If you have already begun, may you long to know more, dig deeper, find new parts of the story. It will refresh you in your ministry and connect you to the heart of God.
Do you have a place, memory or story which has connected you to the soul of your host nation?