Have you heard the expression “Boots on the Ground?” Well our Live Dead Missionaries are the boots on the Silk Road. Here we’d like to take a moment and allow one of them to share a snapshot of their life with you. Some names and details have been changed, but this is a true story from this colorful, vibrant, and sometimes surprising region.
“You can speak well if your tongue can deliver the message of your heart.” John Ford (American Film Director)
All I wanted was ice cream. Some team members and I had made an impromptu trip across the city to one of the few places that serve American style ice cream, and we were finally standing at the counter deciding on what delicious flavor we would indulge in. The trip had involved what felt like miles of walking and a very crowded metro ride, a ride that was uncomfortable at best. “But ice cream,” a friend reminded me as even more people crammed onto the metro behind us. It had been months since I had the kind of ice cream we had waiting for us, otherwise it might not have been worth it.
As I stood waiting for my turn to order, I finally decided on a chocolatey cheesecake flavor. I had been studying the native language now for weeks, and was excited that the menu had numbers – I could try my budding skills and order in my new language! I stepped up and told the young man, “I’ll take number 20.” He was quick to motion no, and say something about number 3 … wait, what? Thinking and responding quickly in my new language is a skill I hadn’t quite built up yet. Looking at him with a puzzled look on my face, he responded in broken English “20 no… 3 good. Much better.” Thinking that they must be out of that flavor, I quickly scanned the menu for my second choice. “Number 6,” I said in my new language, making another valiant attempt at successful communication. Again, the young man responds in broken English, “No… number 3 much better. You like!” Only this time, I caught the smile – he was messing with the foreigner! Did I have a neon sign above my head that said I was new to his country? Was my accent or pronunciation of the language I have been laboring over and twisting my tongue to speak THAT bad? How did he pick me out so easily??
My friend commented on the humor of the moment, and with a sigh I firmly said again, I would take my second choice. The young man finally relented, and I pointed to the waffle cone I wanted. In the end, I had a big scope of berry cheesecake ice cream and a wonderful time enjoying it with those I was with. The cramped travel and the language humiliation were well worth the pay off, no matter how uncomfortable it was trying to achieve the result. My friend had been right, “but ice cream.”
As I try to make sense of my first few months on the Silk Road, and how difficult it has been at times, I realize that I have a friend trying to remind me of the result. “But the lost,” He will try to gently remind me after a hard day of language study, the ones that make me feel like a helpless child that can’t say anything intelligent. And the times that the culture of my host country has me missing home He whispers, “But the Cross.” When I feel overwhelmed with the darkness so many walk in, “But the empty tomb.” I can’t say I’ve always listened to Him, but He is still faithful to remind me of the purpose of the journey I am on here. So, I press on through the hard, uncomfortable times and the humbling interactions. I learn to let myself be tongue tied and sound ridiculous for now so that I might learn to speak well enough to share about His Cross and empty tomb. I know that my friend is right and the payoff is worth everything I can give, “But the lost.”