Stories in the Missional Journey of Bruce & Deborah Crowe

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May 26th, 2022

This may have been the longest (a month) since I posted to my blog since I started it some 15 years ago. I’ve found myself navigating a new city, country and rhythms, and not given a lot of time to personal process, but more ‘ministry’ updating. I’d like this to change, as the Lord is grinding away in my life, revealing, convicting, shifting my reality in such a way that I’d be amiss to leave such things out of what has otherwise been my personal, family, unfolding story space – whether I intended it to be this or not.

So, let me get an update out of the way so ‘ministry’ life enjoy a little continuity with my personal life for those that may enjoy context like I do

On Sunday, we will gather the family (Deb and I, Clark, Noah, Abbey and Claire) and head to the airport for our flight to JFK. Tucker will hopefully meet us, and take us to our place at Eagle Rock in PA. We’re heading back for Bronwyn’s and Logan’s wedding. I can’t hardly believe it, typing it makes it even more surreal. Our first born daughter is getting married.

We had originally planned to return to the US in September, and planned our rental houses around this here in Cluj. Instead, we booked round trip tickets to fly over for the month of June, and will extend out our September return tickets sometime into the future. We are still uncertain what the immediate future holds for our family and ministry over here. We feel quite divided. After returning from Ukraine last week, the affirmation that the Spirit is at work and my heart is still very much there sort of leaves me second guessing any long term purpose here in Romania. We have been useful the several families and lives over our time here, holding physical and communal space for refugee friends, but what is next?

Some of our Ukrainians that first arrived at the start of the war are now planning to return to the Kyiv region in June. They are longing for home, and these particular ladies and families have apartments unharmed by the war. The problem is that the food, gasoline, and other infrastructure issues are quite unstable, so I’m not sure they really understand how unpredictable Ukraine is still. As much as we all would like, we simply can’t ‘wish’ Ukraine back to a place of livability. I feel for the elderly now abroad, particularly those who have no way to return even if they wanted, or have no home to return to. The anxiety, fear, pain they must be experiencing on a daily basis. You can run on adrenaline for a few months, but we’re into month 3 and see a different situation now among both hosting countries (attitudes, capabilities to sustain relief efforts) and those frankly tired of being in positions of helplessness – it’s debilitating to not participate in life, to work, to produce, and simply be living on handouts and the kindness of others for too long. It robs of dignity and and respect. It’s not just humbling, it’s inhumane. We are created in God’s image, I think, to co-create, to hold space, to serve others, to cultivate a little part of our world which gives us and other meaning. Rob the human of that opportunity, and you’ve robbed the person of their imago Dei.

So what’s next? Romania is truly a beautiful country, a mix of Euro-Slavic-Eastern blend. It reminded of of where Ukraine would be if left alone to flourish another 10 yrs.. at least before the war. It’s the poorest country in the EU, but if Ukraine were to join the EU, it would become the second poorest:) Clark and Noah have enjoyed living in the city, at least within 10 minutes of the center. They have friends, music lessons, and its been really cool to see them develop themselves in some new ways either socially or skillfully. The girls enjoy twice weekly gymnastics, if you call it that, more like some little monkeys going around these little stations, doing jumps, little kicks, or twirls. They take it quite seriously, and look forward to it each time.

We have been hosting weekly community style group in our home here. We’ve enjoyed it, some new friends, and old ones from Ukraine. We miss our Lighthouse community. There’s simply no way to replace the mileage under the hood with long invested relationships. When I was back in Ukraine, I had some conversations that were like a glass of cool water on a hot summer day. They deeply nourished me, reminded me of who I am. Friendships are rooting, they anchor us in our identity and allow us to fully chill, and just be. I wish we could simply fast forward these new friendships, but alas, relatedness is a slow speed, a journey with required milestones, some of those milestones include trust, vulnerability, and the pace that intentionally has that deeper place in mind. I’m pretty sure most of the west forgoes these relationships because they neither have the time nor vision for such meaningful friendships. It’s a blessing of eastern cultures, the journey is understood and usually welcomed.

Last week we went to see a space in the center of Cluj that a friend has rented.It’s in the bar/club district, and this old bar they’ve secured for two years is a place they hope to occupy with believers to shine for Christ in this sphere. Their vision is quite similar to Lighthouse, and this ragtag crew has had enough of religion, and been mostly ostracized from it anyway. They love engaging people, and work with gypsies and others on the fringes of society. They are still quite religious however themselves, not seeing the mental models still in place in their vision (e.g. they envision church services eventually in this space.. the default teleological end of us Christendom shaped believers). Love, not folks going through our protestant liturgies should be our end right? But they have a really good start, a vision to unpack, I’ve offered myself to them, and the learning I have compiled over my Fuller season would be so enjoyed by this group – how to hold this space for Jesus without sliding into religious forms and being right back where they started.. folks are tired of institutions, but institutionalism if not replaced by a missiological framework (missio Dei) will keep the church going in circles instead of being the revolutionary force that we are

Didn’t mean to start heading down that path. I need to write more, there is so much in my heart and mind. I feel, however, that my current ‘position’ as a charity director, and now one that has some resources to dream forward with, is helping my particular giftedness or passion. I am daily acting more as an ATM dispenser, channeling resources to Ukraine, to widows, to projects, refugees, and I’m honestly quite miserable doing it. I am a starter, a pioneer, I die managing and maintaining. I found myself in this eerily familiar place as a business owner with Cypress, then EDsuite, then Lighthouse, I find myself again at this bridge with Mir, the entity is ready to be guided and led by others, I can play a part, but it will begin to suffer (along with me) unless it’s detached from me and I am liberated from it.

So what is next? We will journey in a purposeful transition. I will use my ‘change dynamics’ and divesting style of leadership to walk with others toward the next stage, with pace, discernment with others, and I pray, the clear leading and affirmation of the Spirit. I don’t have an end in sight per say, but I know I’ll be freshly dependent on the Lord for provision (how we will feed our family I’m not sure), but we have been there before! I’ll take the challenge of trusting God in this next season over being sequestered in a structure that isn’t for me. I am proud of Deb and her formation and learning into a Spiritual Director. I think it would be cool if we began to serve together in this area more in the future, perhaps as a spiritual formation ministry, with various types of mentoring, coaching, direction.. I’m looking now at a trauma course which I think would be quite useful to have in our toolkit in this new context. I’m not sure if we’ll live over here in Romania in the coming season, or the US, or if Ukraine will become stable enough to live inside again for our entire family?

One step at a time, each day I pray will have the grace and leading of Jesus. I hope my heart will become and remain sensitive enough as not to rush or be impulsive. I can sense a growing dissatisfaction with my current place in life, I realize part of this is due to the war, and the being quite clearly displaced and anchored.. but this feeling began months before the war, as I began concluding my Fuller journey. Our life is in segue mode, and I can’t say I’m enjoying it. I am, however, learning to be content with my fears, and uncertainty. It’s from this place the Lord will meet me, grow me, and Lord willing use us all for His glory.

Bronwyn is Engaged!

Our first-born daughter, Bronwyn Leigh Crowe, aka Brown-pony has accepted the proposal offered by Logan. We have enjoyed getting to know Logan this past year, and honestly have never seen Bronwyn so happy.

Nobody knows just yet when the wedding will be. They are a creative, and I think a little spontaneous so I suspect it will be different. Our family will be back in the US this fall, so I hope it all line up for everyone to be up north celebrating.

This couple makes me smile.

What’s next?

Thinking ahead, planning. These are things that require predictability. Without knowing with a degree of certainty how your days, and weeks will unfold, planning seems to be a waste of energy and time.

With the war in Ukraine now reaching 50 consecutive days, one approaches planning with a degree of skepticism, if not hopelessness. For westerners, whose lives have been bench-marked by the clock, calendar and alarm bells, living an unfolding organic life is a foreign experience. What’s next is what’s next. We can plan, we can attempt to execute said plan, but there comes a point when the forced outcomes are just too much work, and the disappointment of failing to meet those objectives is real.

I don’t know what’s next. Russian troops exited rather hastily from the Kyiv region, only to re-group, re-arm in the Donbass region for what looks like a strategic push to ‘liberate’ the coveted industrial heartland of Ukraine. Evacuations have been ongoing for the past two weeks from this area. Many villages are now abandoned, with the exception of babushkas who refuse to leave. What will come to these folks in direct line with the incoming battle? Does Ukraine stand a chance, the sheer numbers of Russia’s army, air power, military resources.. logically would suggest this will be a war of attrition, with Ukraine suffering the brunt of this fabricated hostility.

What if this war drags on for another year? What if an ongoing war is exactly what dictators relish and embrace as means of securing their teetering, fragile power? What then? In a scenario like this, where war becomes the new normal for months ahead, what’s next for:

  • Refugee women and children scattered abroad.
  • Elderly trapped in war zones.
  • Our home town in central Ukraine and the friends and communities in the rest of Ukraine? How do they survive, work, eat?
  • Missionary families uprooted around and inside Ukraine?
  • For the rest of the world? Do they simply keep watching the news, or eventually just turn away?
  • Charities that serve Slavic culture, does the mission change, adapt, innovate? It seems almost all charities I know have become swallowed up in humanitarian efforts, and addressing human suffering.

What’s next for our family? We have to get visas here in Romania. We have only 45 days left by law, before we have to leave. We have a pathway for getting 1 year permits, this is our plan. Plans, but so much depends on what’s next. Or does it?

As I consider what’s next for our family, and consider the rational potentialities with this war, I’m reminded of the surprising ways of God. Many-a-kings had their best counseled plans upended. The tides of this evil could very well be turned, a new pathway emerge for Ukraine, even Russia. We are so focused on physical military might that we can forget there is an agenda, a way of the Spirit in motion in this world, a war behind the wars. What’s next could surprise us, send us back to the drawing board.

Perhaps the best place to be is in prayer, in silence, listening, and navigating by faith, not by sight. I vacillate between trying to discern spiritual things and considering intellectually the variables. We really can’t ‘not’ use our minds, our minds are our friends if renewed, washed and regenerated by the Spirit. Surely we can come alongside the Spirit with our question of what’s next, and be participating in the unfolding reality that is in the heart of God. None of us know this perfectly, neither do I believe everything is perfectly set – we’re invited to pray, to join in this unfolding reality. One thing I do know, is that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy, so whenever the kingdom of Jesus is advancing, these things will be seen and experienced.

Until then, we live for today, laying down our what’s next, and trusting the goodness of our Savior to reveal the light we desperately need on this darkened path.

Converging Realities

Last night, we gathered for our second Friday evening together with area Ukrainian refugees. The meeting takes place a floor above a church sanctuary for the bible college “Christ for Romania.” Last Friday, our meeting space was quiet, but this time, there was a music / worship event below.

It was quite surreal to hear the deep muffled bass, shouting, and celebratory atmosphere rising up to greet our quite different reality. As the 15-20 of us gathered in an intimate circle, each taking turns engaging some open questions concerning the state of our soul, our emotional health, areas of struggle currently or request for prayer, the two diametrically opposed realities were difficult to process.

Believers, engaging different realities. One (below) lost in the goodness of a victorious risen savior, the other (above) identifying with the suffering Servant on the Cross, embracing us in our pain. Two realities, one building.

In the corner of our room wasn’t a lively band and revved up stage ambience, but rather a wooden cross with Christ upon it. One of our ladies, with streams of tears rolling down her face, was recalling the journey of her son, now serving on the front-lines, had called her and asked her to pray as Russian forces were gearing up for a major offensive. Her son, Sasha, had been through so much, from drug addiction, to recovery, rejecting his faith, to now repenting and reconciling with those like his dear mama that he has brought so much suffering to. As the mama shared, we could feel this story, this journey, now consummating in a strange mix of pride for her son who voluntarily is fighting for his country, and yet a mama who fears his life won’t now have the opportunity to enjoy the better parts of that inward and outward freedom.

Then the shouts, the praises, eliminating from under our feet. Two realities, each expressing our stories, the places in life, legitimate, but strangely in-congruent.

How does God, by His Spirit, process all of these realities at the same time? How can God both grieve and rejoice at the same time? Are the believers beneath us and among us (in countries like Romania) oblivious to the carnage, the death, suffering and disillusionment around them that they could simply close their eyes, raise their hands and have it removed so easily from their reality?

Isn’t love, it’s very nature, to lift up the other before we lift up ourselves? Should there be praise and victory in our lips families are suffering on a cross of injustice? Are these judgments too harsh, am I too close to this war to make any sense of these realities literally stacked upon one another?

Surely, the body of Christ is fragmented, well beyond its intent. Without wars, in the best of times, the bride of Christ, particularly in the West has never been so divided into tribes and streams of expression. As a global force, united, we can accomplish so much more than when we drive in our own lanes. We know this. More healing, more praise. More celebration and witness, more lament and solidarity. Doing these in unison surely has the greater impact in our hearts and this broken world.

There is a time for weeping, and a time for rejoicing scripture says. I wonder if in our independence, we’ve forgotten these could and perhaps should be done in unison, by the leading of the Spirit. What if the Spirit is willing to guide us into these deeper reflections of unity, but we’re too interested in our particular outcomes?

In closing our meeting, as we, by the grace of God were able to push out the noise and enjoy a very meaningful time together, we recalled the moments that brought sunshine in our hearts. One older grandma shared how before the war, she had a wonderful summer lined up – her children were returning to work in the garden soon, travel to bring the kids in the summer, and she would bake, and gather them around the table, a true grandma’s heart! We all smiled inside, even as she shared it with tears, we knew what she was saying. Our best plans, our hopes, those moments of love, peace and when all is right in the world, have been shattered as far as loved ones have been scattered. But we do remember them, the feelings of hope, they are powerful, and the praises of those moments we all agreed, will again fill our own hearts and mouths.

But not yet. Jesus, unite your people, humanity, around the thick, solid, lamenting part of us. It’s meaty, it’s raw, it’s challenging, it’s where your Spirit is working. I’m sure the Spirit touched lives last night in the first floor’s victorious moments, but isn’t it interesting in charismatic circles it always seems to be in the quiet, humble, broken moments that God does His best formational work. When I walked past the sanctuary, I saw their event was over, and some were lingering in their seats with heads bowed, eyes closed…. thank you Jesus for working in all our hearts, somehow you do process it all, and this what makes you who you are.

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