So, it's been almost three weeks since I've been in Serbia, two for the rest of my family. Depending on who you ask, we've either done an incredible amount of work so far, or haven't even gotten started yet. It's almost impossible to explain in a blog the difficulty that comes with trying to assimilate into a new culture. Short term mission trips, even the month-long one we went on to Romania in 2011, are unique in that they are somewhat unreal. You find that you can endure pretty much anything, because in the back of your mind you're thinking, "this will be a great 'experience' that I'll really enjoy talking about back home". Also, short term trips are extremely focused and the schedules are packed out with activities and work.
When you actually move to a different culture, even one you've been on in a short term trip, it's completely different (speaking from my current experience). There's no schedule you should expect, because there's no need to pack out a two-week time frame. The nationals know you will be there indefinitely. You don't have a "guide", assistant, driver, host, or anything like that because now you are living there. They expect you to fend for yourself as much as possible because eventually you'll have to. People may welcome you there, get you the essentials you need, and then you have to start figuring things out.
When we tell our friends back home that on a given day we managed to buy groceries and figure out how the electricity works, they may think, "seriously, that's all you did today?" They don't know that we wanted to take a nap after accomplishing that. For Christmas Eve we went to the apartment of an American family we met in church. They've been here about 3 months, and were impressed that in two weeks, we were able to do things like drive and successfully order a washing machine!
What we've discovered is that, right now, thousands of things require lots of thought and figuring out. If you want chicken at the store, you have to be able to say chicken, and then understand when they ask you questions about said chicken in Serbian. When you check out, you may understand they are saying something about a "card" but no more, and there are 6 people behind you and you're drawing attention. You don't know how to get gas, how to change a tire, how to read street signs, what to do if your car gets towed because you're so confused about the parking, or why your landlady seems to want you to stay in the apartment today. You could call someone to ask a question, but you'd be calling hundreds of times a day, so you try not to. Martin Luther said that at one time in his life, he felt that if he were to confess his sins properly, he needed to carry a priest in his pocket all the time. I feel that way, only replace "priest" with "translator". And that's not even counting the questions about how to get a Visa, how to fix the problems with the internet or how to change the doorknob when you've never even seen doorknobs like this. Even moving a bed or a couch from one room to the next can take hours, because you have to take the things completely apart and they are made in a confusing, complicated way. We can't even figure out when Christmas is, as Serbia celebrates it on two days with each one having different celebrations.
So, right now, we haven't accomplished things the way we would in the States. We redefine "accomplishing", and are grateful when we feel like we've lived a normal day. I've started working, but haven't done the "9-5in the office" thing. I'm setting goals, communicating with those I'll be working with, meeting with other pastors, going to several churches to network,and starting to define a job that doesn't even exist yet. It's certainly astart.
Soon, I hope to be writing with news of kingdom things. For the moment, we're just trying to exist. And right now, that's pretty exhausting.