becoming American again

  It is early on this mid-week morning and I watch the rain falling on the edge of Indy. We are back together again as a family after the long journey home. Jet lag is almost a memory.  As we settle into new summer rythms for a family on the road,  cultural re-engagement is top on the list. We chuckle at the commentary from the girls. They are gentle, often funny reminders of the lens through which Jay and I once viewed our world. There is indeed a moment when we are becoming American again.

1. America smells.

To be fair, every country has its own smell, but it took a flat 13 seconds in the airport before one of the girls said, ‘Mmmm, it smells like America.’  What contributes to this specific smell, I cannot fathom, but these girls who breathed their first air in the US, identify it every time. Their satisfied exhale always comes from a place deep in the soul.

2. Playgrounds everywhere

Everyone has their own playground,’ commented one while another ran free and barefoot through a blanket of grass with joy. 

All the decks are high and they’re built on indoor stairs that are outside.’ Hmm, I’ve never noticed that before. 

Our girls grew up in neighborhood playgrounds where Mom checked for used needles and shards of broken bottles before setting them loose. In Budapest, one of our favorite memories were the homeless who slept on the benches where we played. It’s a favorite snapshot, not because we were happy for their homelessness, but rather because we did life together. Their presence birthed initiatives in our girls to plan a sandwich distribution that sadly went awry when on a cold December day, the police rounded everyone up and moved them to destination unknown.

And to be completely honest, we had a season in Bulgaria when we had a swing set in our own yard. We just happened to be in a host home this week where the neighborhood had open backyards. From that perspective, it seemed like a whopping number of playgrounds for one community.

3. The Walmart meltdown.

Every mom with re-entry MKs knows that the dreaded moment is coming. That first trip into the store is simply a sensual overload. There is just so much – so much that I never knew that I cannot live without. 

This time around, I bought a box of Twinkies after Jenna said, ‘Oh, I’ve always wondered what those taste like.’ Also on the list, a BIG box of Goldfish because they represent the taste of MK childhood on Home Assignment.

4. Chik-Fil-A still rules.

I don’t know why but this restaurant rules the restaurant roost. Jay and I are rather neutral on this one, but somehow our girls are unanimously convinced that the cows on the billboards have won the flavor war. If it is Chik-Fil-A that you want, it IS whats for dinner. We could do worse on the road.

5. Church is messy.

When it’s really the church, it is messy. We like it like that. Church is meant to be sanctuary, authentic, un-rehearsed. And even as I write this, I wonder if point #2 is somehow connected. Community means that we don’t pick and choose where we play and who breathes the air there. 

We come from contexts where church shows up in the most unlikely places. Maybe you have heat in the sanctuary, maybe you don’t. And air conditioning? Probably not. In several Scandinavian countries and Poland, worship space doubles as a coffee shop.

Duneland Community Church in Chesterton, Indiana is THAT church.  From the 29,000 bras that we helped sort on a Saturday morning for Free the Girls (a non-profit for prostituted women) to the non-performance worship team, to the pastoral staff and the people in the pews, we found the kingdom doors thrown wide open. 

  6. Handicapped spaces?

Has anybody else wondered how one culture could need that many handicapped spaces in one geographic location? To be honest, many of the countries in our context do not provide any extra facilities for the mobilely challenged. We think it is great, don’t get us wrong, but the sheer number of them is, well, surprising.

7. Super-size me!

Big! Big cars, big roads, big homes, big portions, big drinks. ‘Mom, I ordered a small rootbeer.’ 

‘Yeah, that IS a small.’ 

‘Oh. Okay. Umm, can we stop at the bathroom?’

For us, small is half the size and there are no free-refills.

8. Danger.

I had a lovely Sunday morning conversation with a man named Doug. He works on boilers – those huge machines that somehow keep our nation in electricity. I was just overwhelmed by the danger he faces in his job, so I thanked him. He looked at me and said, ‘But your work is dangerous too.

I am not sure that my work is dangerous, but in the wake of the Charleston shooting, it got me thinking. 

These issues of violence, of prejudice, of emotional pain … this question of raising our children to see people as the image of God, not a stereo-type, not a color, not a thing to be sold, maimed, or removed…this is kingdom work. This is the role of the church, and by that word, I mean the people who comprise the community that is the Body of Christ. We are meant to protect, to nurture, to bring healing in the dangerous places.

We toured Shepherd Community Church of the Nazarene in Indianapolis: urban farm, school, counselors, and a police officer at the door because they exist in the 3rd most dangerous neighborhood in the State. Its a place that you don’t journey into at night and yet people live there, raisie families, try to survive.

I learned a new word from Pastor Alan: food desert. It means that the people in the neighborhood must travel 4 miles to find a grocery store. Most don’t have cars. The bus ride to Aldi is 30 minutes. The bus ride home is 90 minutes. If you buy more than 2 bags of groceries, you pay for another seat on the bus. 

Suburban moms in our SUVS … are you wrapping your minds around this scenario?

Keep the screaming kids, yank the SUV, get rid of your credit cards, and two-thirds of the cash in your wallet right now. There’s no loving partner at home. No AC either. No freezer with back-up food. It’s 90 degrees outside, or maybe -5 degrees. 

Now. Grab the kids. Let’s go. 

Dangerous? That’s all kind of dangerous in all kinds of ways. I don’t deal in that kind of danger. Neither does Doug. Neither do you.

But maybe we should. In fact, I’m sure that we should.

Thank you, Doug for spending time with a missionary on a Sunday morning and for the dangerous work you do to keep us in electricity.

Thank you, Duneland and Shepherd for opening your arms to people like us and more importantly, for throwing open the Kingdom.

Thank you, churches and Nazarenes for welcoming a missionary family, for hospitality, and for patience as we rediscover what it means to be American again.

And help us Jesus, to be awake to the danger around us – not so that we can run away from it, but so that we can run into it, in your name. 

Let your kingdom come today … in us, in the dangerous places, in abundance.


Why are you in America anyway?

We are on Home Assignment [furlough / deputation] for the next 3 months. Our purpose is to share the story of God’s activity, to raise awareness for missions, and to raise support for our ministry in Central Europe. All 3 of those goals require more than just a Sunday service in a local church. We are extremely grateful for those services, though!

How can you be a part of our ministry?

Please follow and share our blog. Please pray. Of course, join us on the way, if you can.

If the Lord lays us, our ministry, or the people of Central Europe on your heart, would you consider making a donation? It is easy and all amounts bring cheers of joy.

To donate to our deputation account for our ministry: Sunberg Deputation

To give a non-tax deductible love gift: Click the ‘Donate to Family via Pay Pal’ button on the upper right.

Thank you!

The Sunbergs!

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