Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My First Women's Event

[what's brewing: my own concoction]

It was the day of my first women’s event in the church and to say I was nervous would be severely understated. I had written my lesson out in English two weeks earlier, translated it on my own to the best of my ability, then took it to my language lesson to get some extra editing help from my tutor. I had been reading it aloud to myself and to Jason all week, and still I felt nervous to deliver it before the group of women that would be gathered together that afternoon.

I had created a schedule for the entire event, breaking each song, game, craft and lesson down into their respective time chunks so that I could stay on track and effectively fill the 2 hour timeslot I had been planning for. I had prepared several American treats to serve in addition to the potato chips, popcorn and soda that the ladies had volunteered to bring. I showed up early to get the room set up and by the time I finished, things were looking good. The back table looked festive and well arranged for the women to grab a plate and select their treats at the appropriate time. The napkins were swirled with a feminine touch, the paper plates and plastic forks were creatively displayed and the arrangement of food on my serving trays impressed even my husband. I had my supplies set out so that I could easily move through the program without getting lost in the transitions. I was relieved that no one had come early so that I wouldn’t feel pressured to sit and make conversation when I wanted to be getting things ready, but now that I was ready to go and had 10 minutes to spare I was once again reminded of my nervousness and wished someone would show up to distract my nerves.

Three o’clock slowly turned into 3:15 and the room remained cold and empty. I couldn’t believe that I’d done all this preparation and absolutely no one had shown up. I called Jason in my shock and he reassured that the ladies would come, refuting my every doubt that we’d announced the wrong time, or forgotten to remind them last week, or perhaps I’d simply misunderstood their enthusiasm to start these events up again…

Just after I hung up the phone, I heard footsteps and turned to see two women coming through the doorway. They were followed by two older girls from the Children’s Home and my confidence was slowly being restored. By 3:40 we were still only a group of six; we were far behind my original schedule and I started to flounder, unsure if I should begin or continue to wait for the others to arrive. I had planned to start the meeting off with several songs but it seemed awkward to sing with such a small group. The games would definitely flop if we only had six participants, and I knew if we started a craft project it would be drawn out longer and longer as other showed up and started late.

The rest of the afternoon continued to reveal that my carefully laid plans held no clout here in this place. Women slowly trickled in throughout the event – one lady actually showed up as we were closing in prayer. There were awkward moments as we sang our songs with no chorus of voices to cover the missed notes and off-key voices. I floundered in trying to explain the rules of the game, and we ended up playing a new and different version of the game than I had intended. I cut the craft project out of the schedule entirely since we had started nearly an hour behind schedule. My mind ran ahead of my mouth as I shared my lesson with the ladies; I couldn’t keep my place on the page, much less deliver it with any semblance of confidence or animation. I called on someone else to say the closing prayer and was hit with a wave of relief when she said, “Amen.”

I showed up at church the next morning feeling rather embarrassed by the events of the previous afternoon. I wanted to stand up and explain that I was capable of leading a much more interesting, fun and meaningful event than the one they attended yesterday. I wanted to tell them what it was supposed to be like, and part of me wanted to blame them for showing up late and ruining the ambiance that my plan had been resting on.

And then I talked to Anna.

She explained that her disappointment over missing the meeting was doubled when she arrived at church and heard the ladies talking about the great fun they had together at the meeting. She recounted their reflections on the fun new game, the integration of music, and the challenge I had given them in my lesson. She said they had all agreed that we ought to do this more than once a month because it was so encouraging to them. I could hardly believe we were talking about the same meeting, because I’d been wondering if I could turn this into a quarterly event, rather than monthly. She explained that she wasn’t able to come because, like many women in the area, she must accomplish many tasks on Saturdays – an early morning market trip to negotiate for the best prices of the week, washing the children’s school uniforms in order to dry and press them for Monday morning, preparing lunch for the day and preparing lunch for Sunday since they’ll be at church the entire morning, etc. My embarrassment over the quality of the meeting quickly shifted to embarrassment over my own ignorance. I was humiliated that I had been offended by the tardiness of the ladies when I should have been grateful that they would take time out of their busiest work day to fellowship with other women in the church. My day of leisure is in fact their day of labor.

Several important lessons that I continue to learn as a result of that day:

* I frequently measure success by my own cultural standards, even when my plans have been adapted for proper cultural application.
* I am the only one concerned about the sound of my voice during worship; these women sing their hearts out before the Lord and may not even know when they’re off key.
*A quiet and primarily empty room is only awkward to me – these women perceive it as intimate. I perceive a situation as intimate if it was intended to be a small group in a small space. Large, empty spaces make me uncomfortable.
*God can allow others to hear His words even when I stutter, lose my place, and mispronounce the key words in my lesson.
*I need to let God set the expectations for my ministry; I will be sorely unsuccessful in telling him what it should look like.
*The presence of the Holy Spirit should be the only ambiance I rest my plans on.

13 comments:

junglewife said...

It's amazing to me every time I feel that I have failed miserably at something, and yet I so clearly can see God's hand in it, redeeming what I thought was a lost cause. Thank you for sharing your experience. Your lessons at the end are those things that are good to draw from, but sometimes hard to remember if/when something like that happens again!

angiewashington.com said...

Coffeegirl,

This post could have been written word for word by myself in our first year here in Bolivia, right down to the method you prepared for your message. These lessons you learned (and will have to learn over and over if experience serves me) are priceless.

Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

~ @ngie ~

Cindy said...

To allow God room for Him to accomplish His expectations for ministry...that is always a tough one.
We come out to 'do' ministry for God...not realizing that He wants to do 'ministry' in us!
Thanks for the great post.

Ellie said...

I'm impressed with you. It takes a lot of courage to do something like that! I panicked recently over having to give a devotion. Hadn't done it in so long, and the person who went the day before me was so perfect.

God uses imperfect people doing things imperfectly because He is reaching out to an imperfect world.

Keep going.

CA RN to Honduras Missionary said...

Oh yes - here...if a party starts at 10:00, then do NOT arrive until at LEAST 10:30, and probably even better to be there at 10:40. Never put an end time - it's quite rude, our "success" is rarely theirs. Oh the joys of learning a new culture :-) And ultimately, it's the Holy Spirit doing the work anyway - we are just along for the ride. Thank God for that indeed!

Duane and Carin said...

I could feel your awkwardness!
God bless you and thanks for the cross-cultural lesson.

Ruvin said...

It sounds so familiar...having everything planned out and then it not working out at all like that. I have stopped planning quite as much...I'm not sure if that's good or bad. When I first came to China our leaders told us one of the most important things we could learn was to "tolorate ambiguity" and that was definitely a good lesson I have to learn over and over again! It is so true that God uses our a lot of our least "together" moments for his glory. He uses the most unlikely situations - thankfully!

Ruvin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becky Aguirre said...

Oh, boy! I sympathize...cross-cultural ministry can be stretching, to say the least...thanks for sharing your experience, a helpful lesson for all of us! P.S. Have you ever read the book Foreign to Familiar by Sarah A. Lanier? It does a great job of explaining some of these cultural differences...

Grammy said...

please sign me up as a coffee girl
xxx.xanga.com/ahjimil

Kara said...

His grace is sufficient. His power is made perfect! in weakness. Thanks for fleshing out this truth. He is working in and through you!

jpierce said...

Hi Coffeegirl,
I am a regular reader who does short term mission work in India. Last January and February I lived there teaching English to 60children from ages 3-12. Humbling experience even though I have over 30 years of teaching experience in the states. I am working from the states to branch out from orphan support to a scholarship program for orphans. Would love to join your list of regulars. My blogsite is onehandfulofrice.org and is a wordpress blogsite.
Blessings to you. I love the way you capture the heart of living in another culture with all the complexities of culture and the daily need for God to help us through.

Jan Pierce

Shan in Japan said...

Amen! Thank you for sharing this experience. Thank you for reminding me to check for cultural clues when planning events and to remember that glorifying God is the real purpose!

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