Saturday, August 11, 2007

Undercover (BBB Part 25)

Before we had departed for the States in December, Jennifer and I agreed with our fellow team members Bob and Melanie to continue to study Orthodoxy and to prayerfully seek God’s will on whether or not to continue toward the ancient faith. After the retreat was over, the four of us came together to discuss what we had learned and/or decided. Jennifer and I were somewhat disappointed to learn that while we had moved toward Orthodoxy, our dear friends had moved away from it. Whereas we were ready to convert as soon as we could, they had too many questions and doubts about Orthodoxy to do so. Many of the answers Jennifer and I had found to the questions that we had all had about the Church did not satisfy Bob and Melanie.

Soon after our meeting, Bob and I had another long conversation, in which I revealed to him that not only did Jennifer and I desire to convert to Orthodoxy, but also that I sensed that God was calling me to become an Orthodox priest. To my surprise, he was not in the least caught off guard. For some reason, I think he had been expecting this. He and his family were about to go to Prague for a nearly month-long training conference, and he encouraged me to keep praying and thinking about what to do while he and Melanie were gone. I promised to do this.

During February, while Bob and Melanie were gone, I continued carrying out my job responsibilities as best I could, given that in my heart I was now fully Orthodox. I began keeping an Orthodox rule of liturgical prayer, attended the Divine Liturgy when I could, and continued to read the Orthodox Study Bible and other books about Orthodoxy. I now felt very torn, as if I was an undercover Orthodox “agent” merely posing as a Baptist missionary!

Part of me said that I should just go home and begin the formal conversion process immediately. Jennifer agreed with this inclination. But then the practical side of me kicked in. Jennifer and I were doing very well financially, being able to save quite a bit of money each month. As had been the case when I was in South Carolina, contemplating whether to quit my job and go to seminary, I realized that I had no job to go back to. How would I support myself and my growing family (we were by then expecting a third child) if we left the mission field? Unfortunately, I had almost totally forgotten the lessons that God had taught me eight years earlier about his provision of our needs.

So, I decided to continue to be an “undercover” Orthodox Christian while continuing to work indefinitely as a Baptist missionary. This would have been hard enough if I was still a regular missionary, serving with only Bob and Melanie. For example, if and when I led a Serbian unbeliever to faith in Christ, what church would I encourage them to join? I knew it couldn’t be the Baptist church! My “undercover” plan was complicated further by two things: First, I had just been placed in a supervisory role, and second, another missionary family was about to come join our team in March. This couple were to be under my supervision. As Jennifer pointed out to me, I was soon going to have to carry the Baptist “flag” and lead a team, which would be impossible to do convincingly if I no longer even agreed with much of the Baptist church’s teaching.

As a new supervisor, I was scheduled to attend the same training conference in March that Bob and Melanie had attended in February. I had absolutely no desire to go, but in keeping with my plan, I resolved to attend anyway. The day after Bob and Melanie returned from Prague, Jennifer and I met with Bob. Trying to avoid the subject of us possibly leaving the mission field, I rattled on for nearly an hour about all the things that had to be done to prepare for our new team members, what I had done, and what still needed to be done. Bob patiently waited until I was done, and then he turned to me and abruptly said, “So, have you decided what to do about converting to Orthodoxy?” I was busted!

I told him of my plan to stay in Banja Luka, while Jennifer and I would be undercover Orthodox Christians. Boldly and wisely, Bob said, “That’s not going to work.” He proceeded to explain how at the training conference, I would be asked to share my own vision for the expansion of the Baptist faith in my adopted country and to develop a plan to make it happen. He described how the entire month would be, in his words, “one big pep-rally for the Baptist missionary effort.” Finally, he said with love and frankness, “If you two are definitely planning to convert to Orthodoxy, then you need to go ahead and go home now.” It is not that he wanted to get rid of us. But he knew that my “undercover” plan was complete folly. Jennifer fully agreed with him, and between the two of them they persuaded me.

The next day, I went and obtained a partial refund on my plane ticket to Prague. Then I called my supervisor Ted in Zagreb. I said, “Ted, I’m not going to Prague, and I need to come up there and talk to you about something.”


Clint said...

My wife has gotten hooked on your saga as well. She told me today that she can't wait for your next installment. I can't either.

Fr. James Early said...

Thanks, Clint. You guys are a real blessing to me. I'm about to post the latest installment in a few minutes!