The war in Ukraine has altered the history of so many. 13.6 million according to the UN. While we are not suffering by any stretch of the imagination, change is hard and adapting to new surroundings in Romania is an ongoing challenge. Yet, within the altered rhythms, there are new ideas, new questions, and opportunities for growth.
I’ve blogged our families journey on this little site for 15 years now. I’ve been blogging for long, I don’t think this term is even relevant anymore. I remember when a personal blog, especially for missionaries, was cutting edge! It replaced the pricey, outdated printed newsletter. Fancy, fast, yet over time my little blog has became swallowed up in the glut of the information highway now filled with motion, sounds, talking heads.
I’m still very thankful for friends that still click over and check out recent news, prayer requests, though over the past year this has become more convenient to do over on Facebook. Sigh. For someone that enjoys context and story, texting updates on these tiny phones is a little depressing. Tidbits of info, flying past your face, will something be caught, read, and for what?
I heard one futurist warn, “The things that have been invented in the last 20 years will not be here in another 20 years.” Maybe the typed word, or printed newsletter is still the way to go. But, for this next season, I shall explore the verbal. Though the podcast is no longer new, and I’m probably way too late for that dance, I am going to try it. It will get me, hopefully, of this dreaded laptop screen more, a fast becoming life goal.
Like many of you 40-50 somethings, I’ve spent the better part of the past 20 years using technology as a means to an end. Spreadsheets, project management, putting out fires, sending invoices. By the time the iPhone was launched in 2008, I had already been living behind screens for the better part of 10 years.
When I started Cypress Interactive, back in 2003, I was excited to create, to be involved in bringing artistic things to life. We would be a tech company that stayed true to humanity, and nature, thus the Cypress trees. We deployed 100’s of projects over a decade, and we learned so much. Yet, I personally did very little of the creating, and more of the administration, making sure pieces moved, people got their deliverables, and we got paid. It was a blessed season of growth, formation, learning. I think I sort of lost my way, pragmatically producing results, rather than the joy of human creativity. America sort of does that to you, lures you in, entices you with production markers, rewards and you find yourself just running faster without thinking about deeper meaning in life.
I, unfortunately took that posture to Ukraine. This focus on doing, on results, is hard to discern until you find yourself slowly being formed within another culture. Instead of adapting to the contours of Ukrainian culture, I found myself bent on shaping a Christianity and worldview that that fit my own native lens. I didn’t mean to do this, I was just reading my Bible and seeing the Gospel through my natural habitat of production. Events, buildings, scale, decisions.
Sure, we can serve a widow in one village, but why not expand to regions, and more countries? We can host one evening of prayer and worship, but why not brand it and take it on the road, create movement and have something to show for our efforts? Without giving it much thought, I was applying western pragmatic, and consumer-driven mental models to Christian mission. While I wasn’t focused on quick ‘salvation prayers’ (I wasn’t that misled), I was however overly focused on starting things, then like moth to flame, seeing them expand.
But there’s a catch. When things expand, they carry with them a weight of logistical responsibility. The same spreadsheets, the same invoices, staff needs and time investments all follow you. Maybe that’s what I wanted, to feel comfortable in my own western skin in an uncomfortable foreign culture? In any case, I transitioned eventually from managing US businesses poorly from afar, to managing Lighthouse Cafe, and then re-starting a defunct NGO. By 2020, I was neatly wrapped inside a suffocating cocoon of my own making. 14 hour days on my laptop, surprising new health issues, increased stress, charity boards, meetings, expanding budgets, more staff, and simmering anger.
The vision God puts on our lives seems to be purposefully ellusive. There’s enough there to set some trajectories, but not enough to apply all the details. It’s enough to motivate, but not enough to keep us out of making a mess of things. The past year, before the war, I felt an unsettled feeling, like I was being shaped for something entirely different that was my reality was providing me at the time. That feeling followed me through Christmas, as we watched the war in Ukraine become a reality. I didn’t want to do my life anymore, not the one I had unwittingly created. It was a young man’s life, filled with management and laptops.
War. Jolted out of our comfort zone. No time to think about life directions and career paths. While the first months were spent in ‘hero mode’, connecting resources to endangered folks, and caring, along with thousands of others for desperate needs, the adrenaline soon waned. The past month has been like waking up from a dream, coming out of a fog. Where have I been? Why am I doing this, that? Who am I? What, in my life, do I actually do that I choose to? Want to? Would do if given permission?
To be honest, it’s taken me a few grueling months here in Romania wrestling through these questions. I still don’t have any long term answers. I don’t know where we will be living in 2023 and beyond. Forget about geography, I don’t know what I’ll be doing. I do, however, feel the sense of the Spirit encouraging me to take risks. Not the kind of risk that the younger Bruce would take, tickets in hand, passports and some impulse. This kind of risk is more difficult. It’s facing the inner world and recognizing God is installing a new operating system for this next phase. My old parts, my drivers, and apps, they can’t make the upgrade, they’ll need to be let go, they’ve run their course.
When we were in PA this summer for Bron’s wedding, we spent some lovely time enjoying nature. I was mediating by a small river and I felt the Spirit encourage me to try and get across the part of a river where some slippery logs lay. It was against all common sense. But I did it, and began to regret it halfway though. Deb was near, and I thought for sure I was going to fall in and make her day. I remember the child-like adrenaline having to balance myself along this log for a few meters, water rushing one both sides. It was SO worth it!
I’ve begun swimming laps 3 times per week in Romania. It’s vastly improved my breathing issues and overall health. I’ve taken up some photography lately, at least allowing myself to embrace this hobby I enjoy. It’s in this odd season of self discovery, or perhaps better coined self-care, that I’m venturing into this world of podcasting. It’s something I thought about for a few years, and for the past several months thought long and hard about. It’s been the invitation, I believe, of the Spirit to step on some slippery logs, and not worry about falling in.
I miss our living room, our home in Ukraine. There, we have held space, loved on people by being just a caring couple. We know this is the strength of our ministry to others in many respects, and why folks journey with us still. We have been learning to genuinely love people, not for any personal gain, but for the beauty of listening as a practice, for affirming the dignity of others. Allowing, even encouraging others to unpack their stories in a safe, accepting space is for me, immensely life-giving.
I am, by nature and to the surprise of some, an introvert. Introverts gain energy in solitude, they get rooted and ready for the world, but it takes time. I really don’t like crowds, and I loathe chit chat for it’s own sake. A podcast, I hope, will be a way to enjoy conversation, and deeper dialogue around meaningful topics, without having to type away on the dreaded laptop.
With the encouragement of the Spirit, and my lovely wife, I will host and upload a podcast at least once per week. I’m ready to try and bring my full self to something again, and let the Spirit form me in the process. If it turns out I’m terrible at it, so be it. Falling into a river is worth the risk.
Some of my favorite themes to explore will be:
- Missional movement & the deconstruction of Christendom (the West)
- Mentoring, coaching, leadership, spiritual direction
- Marriage & family
- Andragogy (How adults learn vs children)
- Culture making
- Power structures (hierarchies, sociology, how to initiate change).
- Personal formation and spiritual growth
- Russian history (the real history, not Putin’s version)
- Canadian politics
- Toronto Maple leafs
The format will include conversations with guests. I want to have some specific Ukrainian – Russian related themes and interviews to break down some western mental models. Cultural perspectives are so fascinating and broaden our worldview.
I would like to highlight some books as well. Particularly some literature that will help middle aged folks integrate faith and practice through difficult seasons of rediscovery and second half living.
Well, that’s all for now, wanted to lay down context for this podcast, and remind myself why I need to keep going! Thanks to Bronwyn for my logo.