?That which we have seen, which we have heard, which we have touched with our hands ? that we proclaim to you. We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.? ? 1 John 1:3?
During our last year in Vancouver, Lea joined a book local book club. In the evenings, I?d enviably watch her from behind my textbooks as she burned through classic fiction, curled up on the couch. Well, now that I?m a free man, I picked up a P.D. James crime. Towards the end of the first chapter, a new character came on the scene and the following exchange caught my attention:
When they were seated, she asked, ?Would you like some coffee??
?Real coffee or ersatz??
?Well, I suppose you?d call it ersatz. But best-quality ersatz.?
?Tea, then, if you have it, preferably Indian. Milk, please. No sugar. No biscuits.?
The form of the request was not meant to be offensive. He was used to ascertaining the facts and then asking for what he wanted.
That final interpretive line irritated me. What right did the author have to conclude this about a character we had only just met? But any seasoned novel reader knows that a relationship of trust must develop between the reader and the one doing the telling. P.D. James knows something I don?t. As the story begins, I need to trust her telling so that the facts of her story can eventually become our story. The apostle Paul makes the same truth clear in regards to the transmission of the Gospel. ?How will they know,? he asks, ?unless it is proclaimed to them??
As Lea and I travel between churches and gatherings raising support this fall, I?ve begun to feel some of these same tensions from the perspective of the storyteller. At each stop, we tell the story of Estonia according to our own observations and experiences. We paint in details according to our lenses and lead our listeners to agree with our conclusions. Generally, we have been invited to speak and so are regarded as reliable sources. But the fact is – as many writers will claim – the story has a life of its own and develops whether we are present or not, a fact which has become all too clear over our last four years in and out of Estonia. How is the story unfolding in Estonia? We?d like to share a few glimpses.
Alternate Readings The most engaging stories force us to look beyond the narrative to realities just below the surface. In the latter part of my first term in Estonia, I began to realize what the Estonians knew all along: the headlines report news in the cities while an entirely different reality exists in the country side. Urban and sub-urban churches have received enormous support in the last twenty years but many rural pastors have labored on overworked, underpaid and only seasonally supported. During our studies, Lea and I had the opportunity to explore the rural Estonian context in partnership with two pastor families. This is a subtext that we believe needs more attention, more sustained support and a deeper form of partnership.
Sub-plots As a story develops, we begin to recognize stories within the story. Characters who appeared to play minor or supporting roles move into prominence and take on a life of their own adding depth and life to the overall narrative. Nine years into our commitment to Estonia, we are beginning to see encouraging signs that ?the plot is thickening?. This summer, we began to support Astrid Raja, a young woman who grew up in our youth group and is now raising support to serve with an affiliate of Campus Crusade for Christ in Estonia. Astrid?s brother Andres, who has been a pillar of our children?s camp leadership teams in the last four years, also ventured into cross-cultural mission this summer joining a team sponsored by Alongside Ministries serving in Albania. Madis Raspel, also a member of the Viimsi Church youth group, spent his summer as a youth and children?s intern at the Presbyterian Church in Post Falls, Idaho. God?s unfolding story is dynamic: as disciples are made and the kingdom grows, it develops and moves in directions none of us can predict.
Narrative buy-in When The Lord of the Rings came out in film, I had a hard time believing this was the story I had read. The characters, the architecture and the landscapes were different than I had read them. I?d bought into the story and made it my own. Many of you have likewise bought in to and become a part of the unfolding story in Estonia. Much of this buy in comes in the form of prayer and financial support. As we prepare to return, we?ve been amazed at the track record of longtime support that has kept us in Estonia and the renewed interest in continuing forward together. But we?ve also seen buy-in in other exiting forms: short term teams who come to Estonia to serve and churches who receive Estonian interns like Madis. As the buy-in continues, ?readers? become ?writers?. What is happening in Estonia belongs to you as much as it belongs to us.
I?ve got to be honest, months on the road, telling and retelling the same stories is a long haul. Now that we?re nearing the end, we sigh each time we pack and re-pack the car. But this time more than ever, I?m coveting this season of storytelling. This is our chance to build the trust that will carry us deeper into God?s unfolding story. Do you want to know where the story goes from here? Well so do we! Turn the page and plunge in.