Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Love 'em, Dread 'em, or ...?

What do you do about Sundays?  I remember the conflict dh* and I had back in our infamous “Jungle Camp” training, when the leaders disallowed Sunday services as a group.  The intent was to train us to find our own ways of worshiping and self-feeding, considering most of us would be allocated to places without the option of an English church service.

There we sat with open Bible and a tiny baby in our arms, trying to “do church” by ourselves.  Of course the luggage restriction (one suitcase and one apple box apiece) had been filled with cloth diapers and baby things, so we had failed to bring even a small hymnal.  It was an awkward and unrewarding experience each Sunday of “camp.”

Sure enough, once we arrived in our Guatemalan village assignment, we were faced with the reality of no viable church options.  Often we attempted “church” by ourselves at home.  Sometimes we were blessed to receive sermon tapes from supporting churches.  Then the post office went on strike and we received nothing for many weeks and months, forcing our return to sleeping in on Sundays self-feeding again.

Other times we attempted to join local indigenous church services.  Those were always educational for learning about the people and culture, but rather disappointing if we had hoped to actually worship.  For me, it was the slow torture of sitting on a hard bench with no backrest, trying to keep a one-year-old quiet in the women’s section, while Jim sat across the room with the men, unable to help me out.

Being pregnant at the time, those long services always meant at least one trip to the outhouse with a toddler in tow, and then convincing him (and myself) to go back into the tightly packed pew reeking of the same cook-fire smoke and sweaty feet that sent me to the outhouse in the first place.

Then there was the Sunday we were in the Mam-speaking church, and my baby suddenly decided it would be fun to start showing off his “what-does-the-Indian-say?” trick, patting his little hand over his mouth while making LOUD woo-woo-woo-woo noises.  One by one the other toddlers and babies started copying him. 

Watching to see how the other mothers handled it, I saw them give their papoose (colorfully typical “Mobi” wrap) a tight yank, whereupon each child became quiet instantly.  Not mine.  I had to waddle out into the dirt yard, sit on a stone, and wait out the service with my incorrigible (though amusing) baby.

Those were the days…. Since then we have tried Union Church, home church, local church, Mexican church in the city, and everything in between.  Currently we are back to another “union church” of sorts, using podcast sermons from the Internet, which we watch and discuss with other ex-pats in our community. 

At one point we recognized the irony that we had come to this country so indigenous people could worship in their own language – yet we were requiring our own dc* to worship in their second language.

How about you?  How do you feel about Sundays?  Love ‘em?  Dread ‘em?  Or are they just one more painful reminder that “We’re not in Kansas any more”?

IRL:  For me, “sleeping in on Sunday” is still a weekly temptation no matter where we live.


  1. I've been the whole gambit of kinds of church as well. Those toddler years were killers! I might as well have not gone to church for all I got out of it!

    We attended a national church here in town for the first 4+ years. It finally got so stressful for me with the "felt neediness" (obstinate clinginess) of the ladies that we had to find a different alternative. Now we have a home church that meets in Spanish or English depending on who shows up each week. Some Sundays I find myself dreading it and others I find myself looking forward to it. Some Sundays, like today, I can't decide.

    I normally teach all the kids and that can be hard depending on the combination of kids that show up any given week. This week one of the Mom's took the kids to give me a break, enabling me to join the adults. An argumentative discussion broke out toward the end with one adult being particularly obtuse (granted the person is not saved and I should be more patient). I finally quietly got up and went downstairs to "check on the kids." I don't think I'll be dreading being with the kids anymore for a while!

    When we are in the U.S. and aren't "on" of a Sunday morning we do the *ahem* self feeding quite often! =)

    Beth (from Mexico)

    1. Two important points you bring up (what about Sunday school and other options for the kids, and the problem of the felt neediness - slash - obstinate clinginess of the ladies) show there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of Sunday.

  2. Jamie, you have given me such a light bulb moment. We've been requiring our dc to worship in their 2nd language (and a couple of them don't have much of that at all). Ding! Changes are ahead for us, but I'll be factoring this in too now as my dh and I pray about our next steps. Thanks SO much for your transparency in this post. (((hugs)))

    For us: we're in a church planting team. At times various of my dc have really hated going to church. Sometimes I've said: "It's ok. Don't go. Don't confuse church with God, though. Don't give up on Him!!" My eldest once said: "How would it look if the MISSIONARIES didn't even want to go to church?" and he went anyway...out of duty. It made my heart ache - full of love for him, and yet pain in the reality of our church experience.

    1. Thanks for highlighting this issue about the kids. Honestly I think more than one of my dc grew up basically hating church. What a shame! Some of the ladies here will have to force their dc to attend church, but I think it's vital to separate "church" and "God" as you point out. I'm not sure the options are always kid-friendly, but we can certainly introduce our children to a more appealing God than they may find in some of our local churches overseas.

      Glad to have provided a light bulb experience. I hope it doesn't cause stress in your home as you try to work out a viable solution for your family.

    2. I can relate to church planting not being so positive for the kids, "Lillypilly." I have to remember that my 13 year old girl cannot be responsible for all of the smaller children every Sunday!

  3. There is just no one-answer-fits-all to this question. I wish there was, and I wish we would have found it when we still had children at home! But even now I often dread going to church. I can understand the language, but since we travel to a different church each week I hear the same message over and over again until we've made our rounds. Church is definitely for the people here, and not for our own personal edification. Something we've recently found that is working for us is to spend the night at our friend's house on Saturday and then Sunday we all go to the village church. Afterward we go back to their house and fellowship, or listen to a message. And now this next Sunday they are hosting all the missionary families we have close fellowship with to their house for a worship service. (We'll not be going to the village church, but just having "church" at their house.) This will allow us to be spiritually fed in English, in our own cultural setting. So maybe the answer for us isn't an English service every Sunday, but taking some Sundays to feed ourselves among other Western believers.

    Whatever the situation, I hope missionaries keep working to find the balance for their families. Don't just give up on church all together, and be sure to find ways to feed yourselves or you'll burn out quickly!

    1. "Church is... for the people here, and not for our own edification." I can see that going back to your friends' house for fellowship and a message in English would be far preferable.

      Even occasional worship times with other workers in the area can be such a blessing! I'm glad you have that opportunity.

      "Be sure to find ways to feed yourselves or you'll burn out quickly." Such wise words.

  4. Those toddler years WERE killers! I remember struggling with mine all the way through church in El Salvador. Then they would SLEEP in the car on the way home, therefore taking NO NAP at home Sunday afternoon, by which time I was exhausted. I hated Sundays then.

    Now I like them, but in our "line of work," Sunday is not a day of rest. We are working in church planting and meeting in our homes, which means opening my home, cooking, preparing worship or a short study. I finally asked the group to excuse me from leading worship or teaching on the Sundays it's at my house, Cooking is enough. Not all of us are proficient in the language to lead, so for two years my husband and I have juggled those responsibilities. I'm so thankful now that we have more people on our team to help lead.

    1. "Those killer toddler years." You should write an article about that, or another one about how "Sunday is not a day of rest." Such truisms.

      I'm glad you have more helpers on your team now.


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