Staff conferences tend to make me feel like a caged animal, surrounded by people I don’t know very well, an inability to effectively communicate, and sprinkled with a few show-stopping highlights. Days of whisper translation and strategic planning are like being tortured by a trainer. A week of sharing a room with others, some going to bed late and others with alarms that ring out too early, brings out the grouch in me (boy am I in trouble whenever I get married…) and if I were a lion I would probably be the one about to bite some unsuspecting visitor.
Originally planning to skip this summer’s staff conference, I was drawn by the fact that it was in Yalta by the Black Sea and decided I could suffer for the sake of being near the sea. (Totally selfish reasons I admit.)
Don’t get me wrong, staff conferences aren’t all bad. They do give the opportunity to to sit around eating ice cream and playing games and sharing life together, there’s a camaraderie that comes from being in the fight together and all needing a bit of R&R. There’s joy that comes in seeing and hearing how God has moved in the different regions throughout the semester/year. There is time to pray together, sing together, laugh together.
Slowly I’m getting to know people but my timidity and lack of Russian skills still holds me back too often. It’s a little overwhelming when there are 4 native English speakers that you work with constantly and don’t really want to spend all your time with and everyone else speaks Ukrainian and Russian. Of course, many speak some English but I know that it’s hard work trying to converse in a language that you are far from fluent in.
One afternoon during this conference one of my roommates, Julia, and I had a great and unexpected discussion as we waited out a nasty thunderstorm safe within our cozy room. She has been a part of CCX long before I came along but we have never talked past the normal, “Hey. How are you?” conversation. I’ve always seen Julia as a strong leader, a bit intimidating, and just never thought she would want to suffer through trying to have a conversation with me. But as the rain poured from dark gray clouds outside trapping our other roommate in the building where meetings were held, it just seemed the perfect time to talk. So a conversation ensued about the differences in Ukrainian culture and American culture and also some ministry joys and woes.
At the end of the week as we were walking to the bus stop to leave, Julia mentioned being glad that we roomed together. It was a sentiment I wholeheartedly shared.
Then she confessed that she had never really interacted with us English speakers because she was afraid we wouldn’t want to deal with her poor English. That shocked me as I explained that I often avoid interaction with her and the other Ukrainian staff because of my poor Russian and feeling that they wouldn’t want to deal with the frustration.
So I discovered that the only barrier between getting to know each other was both of us fearing that we would be a burden to the other. And I began to wonder, how often do we miss out on relationships because of fear, assuming that the other person feels a certain way?
It isn’t just something that happens to those of us living in a foreign land with language differences, I think it happens daily around the world. People refusing to step out of the known comfort and be vulnerable because of a lack of trust, fearing rejection or looking stupid, assuming instead that it will all go badly and avoiding the situation completely. But that isn’t loving others, that is living in fear and self-protection.
That’s not how we are created to live and, hopefully, not how we desire to live.
So how do we move past this fear that grips us and keeps us from reaching out to others?
I think a big part is being willing to step past the fear and speak.
Often my words seem to catch in my throat, or suddenly I can’t seem to breathe very well, I get anxious at the thought of speaking to people I don’t really know and it’s kind of a huge part of my “job”. Some days I have no problem with this and other days it’s like the courage vanishes, but on those days I can look back and see all the relationships God has given me because one of was willing to bridge the gap and speak.
Start with something simple and safe.
My conversation with Julia started when I decided to take the risk, put down my Kindle, and ask a simple question, “So Julia, how long have you been part of the CCX team?” Who knew it would lead to such great conversation. It wasn’t a deep question but it opened up the door to other questions.
Maybe you have other suggestions for how to get past the fear and start conversations? Maybe there is someone you need to stop running away from and just talk with?
I realized the reason I feel like a caged animal is because I’ve put myself in that cage, it feels safer there but it isn’t where I’m meant to live. It’s not where you are meant to live either.
We’re meant to be free not caged by fear.
Let’s stop letting fear hold us back from getting to know the people God has placed around us. What do you think?