Friday, May 9, 2008

Border Crossing...

Over the past weeks Kristen and I have been forced to endure one of the more “unglamorous” aspects of international service: immigration paperwork.

As is the case with most countries, in order for us to live and serve in South Africa for an extended period of time, we require official authorization from local government authorities. In order to receive this approval, we require a variety of documents, such as: police clearances from the United States, medical evaluations, birth certificates, marriage certificates, proof of sustainable income, and various other papers which are intended to show why Kristen and I could be considered acceptable additions to South African society. Through it all, while we fully understand why these requirements are necessary, the process has been a great test in patience, and we are more than ready to have it finished as soon as possible!

Throughout this process of collecting, sending, receiving (and re-sending!) immigration paperwork, I have been reminded of how challenging it is to “cross borders” in life. And while border-crossing can certainly be difficult in the geographical sense (…and this has certainly been a “hot topic” of debate in the United States as of late), the borders I speak of are not necessarily geographical, but rather, the various mental and physical borders we place upon our own daily thoughts and actions. I figure all of us have “borders”. We often stay comfortably within them, and of course, it can be quite difficult to cross them.

An example…

A few weeks ago someone was telling me how they sit in the exact same seat during Sunday morning worship each and every week (…for those who attend a Lutheran Church worship service regularly, we know this is pretty common!). I asked how long this has been the case, and much to my surprise, she told me it has been close to forty years! Forty years sitting in the exact same spot! Amazing! The person who shared this information could see I was a bit surprised (…and I suppose she noticed how difficult it was for me to contain my laughter!), so she attempted to redeem herself by recounting the handful of times that she did not sit in her typical spot (…in reflection, what I find even more amazing than someone sitting in the same spot is that the person can actually remember the few times over the past forty years when she did not sit in that exact spot!) I was absolutely amazed by how consistent this person was in her habits, and how comfortable she had become in her standard seating position on Sunday mornings.

To the defense of Sunday morning same-seat culprits, the fact of the matter is that we all have routines. I surely have mine! I realize there are certain things I do day after day, most of the time without even thinking about it. I typically wake-up at the same time each day, eat many of the same foods, talk to some of the same people (complain about the same things!), participate in the same activities, and go to sleep at the same time. Like many people, I find the routines of life to be somewhat comforting, and I find something calming about feeling as if I am able to predict where I am going and what it is that I am going to do once I get there.

However, while there are numerous positives from having a routine, I do believe we can be enriched in many ways when we cross our self-imposed borders and try things in a new way. As much as we might enjoy the comfort of experiencing things consistently and feeling as if we can safely predict what is going to happen each day, I believe “sitting in a new spot” brings a fresh perspective, which offers new thoughts and understanding, great wisdom, and beautiful experiences of personal growth. Routines can be nice, but the thrill of the unexpected can be both life-giving and life-transforming.

One of the many blessings of serving with E.L.C.A. Global Mission has been crossing borders, not just geographically (…while that can certainly be a load of fun!), but crossing the numerous borders which I have placed around my own mind and heart. Like many people, I still have many self-imposed borders (…just ask my wife!), but living and serving in Guyana and South Africa has shown me that “different” does not always mean “wrong”, and that great insight can be gained when one is compelled to step outside of their mental and/or physical border, listen to alternative perspectives, and actually try something for the first time. On numerous occasions I have been shown fresh ways of thinking, doing, and believing, and while it has often been uncomfortable to break my habits, through it all I have learned a great deal. I feel that I have grown in ways that I simply could not have experienced if I had stayed inside my comfortable border.

And so, as the seasons change, and as we think about the transformation taking place around us in nature, perhaps this is a time for us to consider “crossing a border” and thinking about how we can allow God to open us up in order to try something new. Perhaps “crossing the border” means trying a new food, exploring a new hobby, traveling to a distant land, getting to know someone new in your neighborhood, attending a worship service for the first time, inviting someone to worship (…or, even sitting at a new place during worship!). Or, perhaps “crossing a border” means getting involved in a volunteer program, mentoring a child in your area, advocating for a global and/or local social justice concern, learning more about the Bible, or exploring faith through a classroom experience. Whatever the case may be, I believe that when we consider stepping outside of our routine, and when we try something new, we can be greatly enriched. A new perspective allows us see God, the world around us, and ourselves in a new way. And through it all, we are reminded that what matters most in life is not the predictability of routines, but the trust that God is with us, and we are given the freedom to cross borders in faith knowing that God is alongside us each step of the way.

As always, I thank you for the ongoing love and support. I thank you for “crossing the border” through your ongoing care and communication.

I look forward to hearing from you…

With peace and love,

Brian