Keith’s Sabbatical Journal — Darlene’s Reflections
Darlene’s Reflections on the Sabbatical:
As many of you know, I am not good at e-mail so that is why you have not heard from me, but I am going to attempt to write one note about the whole trip. So here goes: To start with, I have never really stopped being “homesick.” I haven’t really missed our house or our things. I have missed an intangible thing —a feeling of being “at home”—the sense that the space I am in is private for me, available when ever I need it, under my control. In most of the places where we have gone I have had private space and I’ve felt free to use it, but I haven’t quite relaxed and settled in as I do in our home. I am not quite able to describe my feeling – maybe it is a sense of ‘I belong here’—or ‘this is my place.’ I am talking about a concept that (as someone else said as she was in the growing process) “there is no place like home.” And it is true.
I have missed walking my dog and cuddling my cat. I’ve missed having history with people—of knowing and being known. I’ve missed my sense of belonging and maybe a bit of purpose. I’ve missed my kitchen and knowing whether or not I had the right utensils to prepare a certain dish. I’ve missed many little things.
We have been graciously received everywhere we have gone. People who didn’t even know us have warmly welcomed us and included us. The best part of this whole journey has been having the opportunity to get to know these brothers and sisters who are “spending their lives for the sake of the gospel.” They have hope and energy in the midst of what seems hopeless and overwhelming at times (at least to me). They are doing what God has called them to do and they are doing it wholeheartedly. I have sensed a deep love within them for the people they are ministering to. I feel so fortunate to have met and gotten to know them. Right now, I feel pride in the body of Christ—they are making a difference in their small part. They are serving with integrity, conviction, joy, and love.
I have felt so welcomed and embraced by everyone. I’ve been humbled by how the Lord has prepared the way before us and cared for us. Our basic needs have been met, we haven’t gotten ill, we’ve been safe thus far. Our luggage has made it without any problems and we have not had any major travel problems. I know that this has been God’s hand with us.
It doesn’t always go this way when you travel and maybe God has kept it fairly stress free because he knew how stressed I was already just by the change factor. Going somewhere new—meeting new people, going to each new country has been stressful for me adjusting every 40 days or so. I will be glad to get home, even thought I feel privileged to have done what we did.
I am now feeling anxiety about returning home. We will have a lot of adjustments to go through once again. I can’t even anticipate what will be difficult, but I expect having to work through stuff. I don’t know how I’ve changed or even what all I’ve learned through this journey. I expect to be processing this trip for quite some time to come. I am not sure why God gave us the privilege to do this trip. I am grateful but also have a sense of “why me?” Maybe it wasn’t really for me and I was just along for the ride, maybe it was more for Timothy or Keith. I don’t know. I know my heart has been squeezed often on this journey and whether it comes out the other side healthier, or shaped differently, or just less full of the ‘uglier stuff’—that is yet to be seen.
Our time in Canada was shorter than we expected but a good way to begin our journey. We were warmly received and I think we felt pretty much ‘at home.’ We especially felt kindred spirits and it was the beginning of our discovery of wonderful brethren. Timothy and I got a lot of schooling done and I even played a bit of Canadian softball (talk about feeling old and out of shape!) The death of Keith’s mother ended our time in Canada before we had even settled in. She was a good mother-in-law to me and we will miss her. She was one of the most gentle women I’ve ever known.
We were surrounded by noise, people, sirens, and concrete incessantly. I really missed my walks with Aslan (our golden retriever) and music. We had no radio, TV or music source. Everyone was gracious to us in an impersonal way. We were only invited to one person’s home and no one really spent much time with us. They were too busy and from what I understand it is partly the British way to remain private. Maybe they associated us with ‘work.’ I learned that hospitality has a personal element to it—you get personally involved with the person.
I hadn’t realized how much all of the concrete was getting to me until we were able to walk on some grass—ah! It was bliss. In London, what we call the butterfly bush grows wild. It grows in sidewalk cracks, holes in walls, along the train tracks etc. My heart was always lifted every time I saw one of these valiant plants (that I try to cultivate at home) growing in such hard environments. I have decided that I like the English countryside the best.
We worked mainly with the Salvation Army, which is run like a true army. You go where you are told to go and you do what you are asked to do to the best of your ability. The soldiers and officers were truly self-sacrificing.
Holland was a lovely country—very clean (no litter!) It was the first country I had ever spent anytime in where English wasn’t the first language. I assumed you could use context and similar spellings to figure some stuff out. It was more difficult than I thought and sometimes what I thought a word or phrase was ended up being totally different than what it was. I now understand that stunned look you sometimes see on international visitors’ faces. After a while, you don’t even want to try figuring it out. I’m sure it becomes more familiar the longer you are there.
I was intrigued by how many people use the bicycle for transportation. At times, in the center of town you could see 500 or more bicycles parked. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, to ride a bike to the shop, save energy and get exercise along with half your town. We saw all ages riding bikes and they had priority on the road!
Holland was flat, green, full of flowers, small fields with livestock, brick homes, quiet; and as I said, clean. Visiting the site of The Hiding Place was a moving experience. It was such a small space. The story of the Ten-Boom family who were really simply living out their faith as they understood it was a blessing to hear. They were gently deep lovers of the Lord and the Jewish people before the war, and they simply continued to walk out their care (but at great cost). God was the center of the whole family’s life.
South Africa was the most difficult part of the journey for me. I felt very weighed down the entire time I was there. I think I had too much knowledge about the issues and problems of the country. Even though I could tell that much of the land was physically lovely, I had a hard time letting go and appreciating what I was seeing. And to be frank—you can’t get away from the problems.
Everywhere you turn you encounter someone begging or see an informal settlement, or hear about a robbery, etc. You can not put your head in the sand and live a life of blissful ignorance. As Americans we can insulate ourselves from pain and poverty pretty easily, the South Africans cannot.
Beggars come to your front door, approach you on the street, every where—everywhere. You will be robbed at some point, maybe many times. You live behind iron bars and walls and gates and alarms and you still are not totally safe and unaffected. Many people made it a point to say that they loved South Africa even with all of its problems and they have hope that the future will be better. May God grant them grace to continue, for me it was very difficult to have hope.
Romania for me was the most physically taxing because I had to wash clothes by hand, take baths out of a bucket, heat water to wash dishes in and live in a construction site. I have a classic hand-washing-clothes story to tell. Okay, lets get down to the basics; first, you soak the cloths in warm soapy water for at least an hour. Slosh them up and down and rub them together a bit, squeeze them out by twisting, get a new bucket of water to soak them in a bit to rinse, slosh them up and down again and squeeze them out and if needed repeat. Hang them outside for as long as needed. In Romania, it took at least a day. (By the way, in all the countries we went to people hung their clothes out on the line to dry.)
One day I was attempting to wash our clothes and as I was washing out one of Keith’s tan pair of pants, I noticed what seemed to be large brown stains all over them. I wasn’t sure if they were stains or perhaps where the dye was doing odd things. So… I asked Keith if he knew what the stains might be; “no idea.” So…I hung the pants up to dry thinking the stains might now be so noticeable after they dried out. Perhaps there was some problem in the fabric when it was wet that I had never noticed before because I wasn’t washing them out by hand.
After the pants dried, they still had these brownish stains on them, so I thought I would try again. I pretreated many of the stains and then soaked the pants overnight. I then attempted to scrub the spots (no go) and rinsed out the pants. Everytime I soaked or rinsed the pants, the water got really brown, so I figured the dye was washing out. After rinsing and wringing the pants out, I hung them out to dry outside in the construction zone.
After they dried, Keith took a look at them as I was explaining that I couldn’t get the stains out with my amateur hand washing abilities. He placed his hand in the back pocket and drew out…a tea bag!
Well…he did live to see another day. And I rewashed the pants in fairly good humor—it was such a classic story. Who was more at fault? The one who left the teabag in the pocket or the one who forgot to check the pocket? I don’t tell this tale specifically on Keith, it could have happened to anyone. Needless to say, I will not soon forget hand washing our clothes. It is a common practice in Romania. Everyone does it. When there is an ad on T.V. for laundry soap they don’t even show a washing machine.
I was so glad to interact with the Romanian staff at the ministry where we were serving (Word Made Flesh). They were very talented, intelligent and gifted people. I am grateful that they knew English. I felt shame at not knowing their language and was proud of the Americans who had learned Romanian. They work with street children, some of whom are between the ages of 20-26. We would consider this age adult but these young people were still really children. They still really need a lot of help to get out of the situation they are in. I felt a sense of hope in Romania though because they are doing a lot of reconstruction and building up of the country. There were piles of rubble everywhere. Many people had flowers and grapevines in there yards. All the homes were surrounded by walls (perhaps for privacy because during the reign of communism one out of every five Romanians was an informant.) Everywhere you look things are made out of concrete and metal, from the telephone poles to the railroad ties. Concrete is obviously the favored building material of the country.
Some things I could do without attempting again:
- eating tripe soup
- hand washing Timothy’s socks
- spending over one million at the grocery store
- Walking past hundreds of stray dogs
- Traveling on a plane for over 20 hours
Our time here has seemed more like a tourist visit than any of our other places. People have been so generous to us and it seems that Keith has much to offer the ministry here that is going through a time of change. Keith has bravely and skillfully driven on the other side of the road, and we have been able to see much of the country in the car the ministry has graciously loaned to us while we are here.
They have kangaroos like we have deer! Grazing alongside the road in fields and with kangaroo crossing signs like our deer crossing signs. It is very dry here and much of the country is experiencing the 8th year of a drought or more. They have obnoxious flies (but they are only seasonal, we hear). Timothy says he wants to live here. It has been a “gorgeous” visit (as they say). The people we are visiting have been very sensitive to our returning home. It has been a good ending place in our journey.
We hope to be home in early December. See you all then, maybe (by the way—Australia is no where near as commercial with Christmas as the states. It has been refreshing to not get caught up in the invisible suction beam that reaches out about November 1st and pulls you inexorably towards December 25th.)
You have just experienced a historical milestone! Because you have just been reading one of the first major e-mails of my life. This was accomplished by my writing it out by hand and dictating it to Keith while he typed it out. So how impressive is that! (Some of you will say that it is obvious that some good has come out of this trip already.)