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A journey in another culture

We were late, bad late.

So late that we were going to have to hope and pray for a miraculous trip across three countries to the airport.

We had left Turnu-Severin, Romania, that morning needing to get to Austria to fly back to Colorado after a two-week mission trip.

Then we came to the Hungarian border. The cars stretched towards us in a line well over a mile long, or 1.6 kilometers the people in front of us would say.

Not only was the line long, but it looked like it had been there some time. People were milling around in the hot sun. No vehicle sat idling. It pretty much looked like a tent city, with cars instead of canvas; an angry, restless, irritated tent city.

“Well, we gave it the good ol’ college try, gave it a shot, were weighed in the balance and found wanting,” I started to say unhelpfully, but instead I heard our driver — an ex-Romanian dissident, dual-citizen, wild woman — mutter something under her breath that was either Romaneste or glossolalia, and we careened to the wrong side of the road, slowing, but still moving forward.

As we continued forward, angry people began noticing us passing on the left. They moved towards us, with sweating, nasty looks. They were yelling at us, gesticulating (thankfully, I had not discovered various nuances of non-verbal communication in former iron-curtain countries), and a few were even smacking the vehicle with open palms.

It is almost impossible to describe how uncomfortable I was. Mortified is the right word, I suppose, but you need others — embarrassed, scared, lost.

We made it to the front of the line. It was clearly a scene from a World War II movie set. There was concertina wire, a draw-gate in the down position, and several guys in military uniforms with Uzi machine-guns in their hands. Unfortunately, there were no directors, lights, or make-up trailers. This was the real deal.

“We are going to jail. We are not getting to the airport today or in the next three to five years.” I was on the verge of crying like a big baby.

Our driver leaned out the window and shouted to the guards, “We are American citizens. We will be late to the airport in Vienna if we don’t cross right now.”

I now can empathize with the citizens of Israel when Moses smacked the Red Sea with his staff. The gates parted and we crossed the border on dry land, leaving the angry Egyptians behind.

In that moment I didn’t get the culture, the milieu, the … the … whole deal. I was American, they were Romanians, and that day it was apparent that, although we had many similarities, we were still very different.

So, here is the connection. As Christians we have entered another culture. I am a member of a Kingdom not built with hands (Acts 17:24). We don’t struggle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). These are only a few examples to demonstrate the difference between the environment seen with our eyes and the world experienced in our spirit.

Our challenge is to become comfortable in the culture of the Kingdom, and then become expert translators to those around us. When we see a person embarrassed, scared, or lost, we can become the tour guide.

Jesus used these words: “You are the light of the world … let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

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