Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Hales' Journey, part 18 - Debbie's Perspective (2)

We went to Estonia with a couple (Urmas and Kadri from Clint’s story) that we had become good friends with while at Preaching School. I do not think any of us were prepared for how difficult it was going to be to live in a foreign country, away from our families, or for how difficult it was going to be to share the gospel with the Estonian people. Because of the extreme difficulties we were having with reaching the Estonians, along with the “culture shock” that seemed to drag on and on, we were all really stressed out.

After two and a half years, and only a handful of people (mostly teenagers) to show for all our hard work, we were all beginning to feel a bit desperate. I really did not become concerned when Clint and Urmas decided to start visiting other churches on Sunday morning. (We had our church services in the afternoons, so there was no conflict there). They really thought that they were going to learn something useful that would help them better reach out to the Estonian people, so while Kadri and I stayed home with the kids, they started visiting other churches.

I really was not worried at that point. The guys are known for starting something new, doing it for a while, and then moving on to the next “new” thing. I honestly thought this would be one of their “phases” and that once they both got it out of their systems, it would blow over. But, it did not blow over. In fact it got worse.

One week they attended an Orthodox church—a church I had never even heard of—and came home and told us all about it. I thought it was a bit strange, but even then I just kind of blew it off, thinking that once they visited somewhere else, they would forget all about it. But they never went anywhere else. They ended up going back to the Orthodox Church every Sunday, and that is when Kadri and I knew something was terribly wrong.

When Clint and Urmas finally sat us down (at our favorite Chinese food restaurant) and told us that they wanted to convert to Orthodoxy, we were both completely thrown for a loop. How could they do this to us? I honestly thought my husband had lost his mind. This was not just a phase anymore, and I did not know what I was going to do. He was turning his back on his faith to join some idol-worshipping church? His very soul was at stake. I was scared, and I did not know what I was going to do.

I remember how Kadri and I would get together while they were at the Orthodox Church and discuss what we should do. At one point I remember calling my mother, in hysterics, and telling her all about the situation. I did not know what to do. If Clint was serious, should I divorce him? Thankfully, my mother calmed me down, and I knew that “for better or for worse” was the best option.

Clint wanted me to visit the Orthodox Church with him, but I put my foot down. Now, you have to understand that in the Church of Christ, we are taught that WE were the only true church and everyone else is lost, so even visiting another church is scandalous. I had let his previous “visitings” slide, because, after all, he was only going to learn how to better reach the Estonian people, not change religions. I, however, was not going to be swayed. There was no way I was stepping one foot into an Orthodox church.

When Clint and Urmas informed our sponsoring congregations about their change of heart, they naturally decided to drag us all off the mission field, as soon as possible. Even though I knew it was coming, it didn’t make it hurt any less. I had been betrayed by my husband, and I felt like I was being punished for something I did not even do. What were the Estonians going to think? How would they survive, without our help? What were we going to do once we got home? I felt completely helpless.

The next year was a complete mess. Clint was working all the time, for little pay. I was home alone all day with three kids to take care of, and we were not attending church regularly. Neither of us was happy, and you could tell. I started going back to church and eventually convinced Clint that he needed to come back with me. After a few months, he seemed to be back to his old self, so I figured that perhaps it was time for him to go back to preaching. He agreed half-heartedly, and eventually got a job at a small church in Virginia.

When we arrived in Virginia, I was so happy and relieved. I thought I had finally gotten my husband back, and I was so glad to have all that Orthodox nonsense behind us. We liked the congregation we worked for and bought a house. I was ready to put down some roots and enjoy the rest of my life. Who knew that God was going to use that transition time to light a spark in my soul.


elizabeth said...

Thank you again Debbie. It is really great to read - it is helpful to remember how converts can be seen by those who do not (or not yet, as in your case) convert ...

Culture shock is not an easy thing, also...

Isabel said...

Reading your warm and interesting tale led me to re-read Michael Gallatin's "Thirsting for God". Although I finally came east to find my spiritual home, I tend to forget where I was when it all started. Thank you so much for writing. Thanks be to God for all things.

Jessica said...

Hi Debbie, good writing! I can definitely understand your initial objections to Orthodoxy a lot better after reading about your Church of Christ background. But I'm really looking forward to the next part!