11. Steam boat
From the life-changing, thrilling bank experience we ventured on to the supermarket. Perhaps for one of the first times in my life I actually understood the word ‘super’ before market. It does not refer to the size of the building. Oh no, because then this one would have to be called an average market.
One thing many of you may be interested in and highly amused by is the names of our local supermarkets in Lithuania. And here I promise you, I kid you not. The supermarket chain is called Maxima, they are the Wal-mart/ASDA of Lithuania. Until recently they had little shops called ‘Minima’. Then they had medium size shops called, well you can probably guess, Media. Then their big shops were called ‘Maxima’. And if you wanted a really big shop you looked for Hyper Maxima. Now, because of our short twitter attention spans they have simplified things. They are called something like Maxima X, Maxima XX, Maxima XXX and Hyper Maxima. I am sure that there is someone who cares enough to correct me on this, but I am close and I don’t really care.
Anyhow back to this average building containing this supermarket. Non Americans, have you seen the size of American milk bottles? I mean these things are so huge that you could cut one of them open and float Moses down the Nile in it. Ice cream pottles have become ice cream buckets, crisp bags have become crisp sacks. Everything in this place was super huge, thus the warranting of the name supermarket.
I knew that my first supermarket experience was going to mean culture-shock and we had avoided supermarkets until now. However now was the time, and yes upon entering the supermarket door culture-shock reared its ugly head like a bad blue cheese that stinks for attention. So as usual when I need to combat the ugliness of culture-shock, I started searching for anything familiar. Off to the wine section I went. Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, South Africa, Spain. Wooo! Slow down, where is the New Zealand wine? Pratts, they didn’t have any! What kind of supermarket is this, how can they call themselves a supermarket without New Zealand wine? Man this place sucks, this town sucks, this country sucks, these people suck.
There is nothing like a little bit of culture shock to spoil your fun and blow things way out of proportion. Sure I exaggerate, but this is a pretty realistic situation. After a while I found a bottle of Jacob’s Creek. It was Australian, can’t help that, but until recently we Kiwis struggled to make a good red, so we kind of adopted Jacob’s Creek as our own quality, cheap red wine. At last I had found a bearing for my compass. I was on the map again, thus allowing the shock to subside. Oh this was a great supermarket, great place, great town, great country and great people. It really can sometimes be that easy to combat culture shock. Once in Texas I was freaking out majorly and ended up walking into a pet shop talking to the parrots. Literally it made a world of difference. When the sky is right at night, the northern hemisphere has some of the same stars as the New Zealand sky, this is always a comfort for me.
Anyhow back to the supermarket, I put my head down, focused on as little as possible and went looking for candy. Somehow I got caught up in the spirit of things. We wanted a few boiled sweets to help our ears as the planes were descending. With seemingly everything on every shelf being so gigantic, we walked out of there with a bag of selected candy about four times bigger than we actually needed. We were sucking those boiled sweets for months afterwards, they were excessively cheap, but still why oh why did we waste our money buying so much more than we needed? There is probably some merchandising/advertising executive reading this right now thinking ‘mission accomplished you sucker’. I was glad to be out of there as I knew that my real supermarket experience was yet to come and that it would be in the form of a weekly shop. I was dreading it with the same passion that I dread going to the dentist. But for now I was content to leave it as the on-coming train at the end of the tunnel.
Speaking of trains and tunnels, our next stop was to be something by the name of ‘steam boat’ or if you prefer, and I definitely do not prefer, you could call it ‘Asian fondue’. In fact the whole concept of Asian food covered in cheese was enough to start me reaching for my passport and airline tickets to get the hang out of there.
We had been invited around to our friend’s house to eat Indonesian steamed food mixed into a sauce that we prepared on our own plates. It was a cool idea that involved lots of chilli and no cheese. The food tasted great, however the sauce I created for myself only served to resemble something that appeared to have come from the inner-workings of a dog. The scary bit is, I am not sure what end of the dog it would have come from. It is safe to say that my sauce tasted great and looked like crap.
But the food from the steam boat is not what I want to talk about It is the predicament that I find myself in at such places. We lead an interesting lifestyle. I always have a love/hate relationship with it. In some parts of the Christian world it would be said that we ‘live by faith’. A strange phrase, true enough. What it is trying to say is that we are volunteers, the money that it takes for us to survive and work here in Lithuania is all donated. It is a strange existence, sometimes we have enough to scrape by, but usually we are cutting every financial corner that we can and are dreading the next heating or car repair bill. On the flip side of this our work is always busy, interesting and often takes us to other cultures and brings us new and exciting friends. Most of the people who give financially to us are our friends. And most of them also pray for us and God’s work here in Lithuania. Sometimes they don’t just give money, some give care packages of things that we need, some give craft supplies or similar things for the orphanage and some even give us airline tickets.
We trust God for what we call our support, while God mostly trusts our friends to provide it. This is a very humbling way to live and also, because we seldom know who is going to give when, it can become a very scary way to live. Thus taking faith in God to trust him for his provision so that we can live. Hence ‘living by faith’.
There are many ways to live by faith. Some I think are a little closer to living-by-marketing than ‘living by faith’. One of the ways to live by faith is to send ‘support’ letters out to everyone you know, asking them if they would consider donating money and then when you return to your home country, you visit their churches and report back. I think this is what we call furlough. Years and years ago when we knew nothing else we tried this. For some people this works, but for us, it just did not feel right, in fact it was horrible. We were blessed enough to come into contact with some Youth With A Mission(48) literature and their way of praying and waiting for God to provide seemed to fit us better. Sometimes we make our needs known to closer friends or colleagues, but usually we just pray. Sometimes we tighten our belts and sometimes we get holidays, sometimes we cannot afford to buy food parcels for the children of addicts and street prostitutes and sometimes we can. We learn to live with these seasons. The hard part is learning to find our joy in God rather than in our circumstances.
In my rebellious youth I had a short stint at multi-level-marketing. Though most of the products were of good quality, I am still quite critical of it. Basically for me multi-level-marketing was the art of exploiting my friends and acquaintances for my financial gain, under the false pretence that it will increase their financial security and quality of life. I believe that ‘support-raising’ not submitted to God can be exactly that. I absolutely refuse to market God or my lifestyle for the financial gain of the kingdom of God or our personal journey. During those dark geeky multi-level-marketing days, my friends and especially my new acquaintances were all targets acquired for my personal gain, these relationships were nothing more than thinly-disguised lies. It was all about me!
I think God may have given me this nightmarish experience, which incidentally was well before I knew him, to equip me for these days of once again having my financial situation and relationships so closely interwined. I came into multi-level-marketing to serve someone else’s ‘me syndrome’. Of course my seeming inability to milk my friends failed those above me miserably, but it did teach me the ‘what it is like to be used through false relationships’ lesson well. I mean this style of thing simply does not honour people, let alone God. Sure some people’s experiences may be different and that is great for them. But I cannot do it.
Which takes me back to Steamboat. I was looking forward to seeing old friends and perhaps even meeting some new ones. But what I was terrified about was knowing that this meal was set up to be both relational and a time for us to share what God is doing here in Lithuania. Sharing means that people may want to support us or increase their support. Which means the battle continues. Does God want us to promote ourselves or does he want us to simply hang, share, have fun and see what he does if anything.
Regardless of the reasons for the evening, I enjoyed it. We were spending time with friends, whom we very rarely get to see. It was nice to be with people who were interested in what we were doing and it was nice to have time to hear what was happening in their lives as well. It was a very relaxed evening, I did not feel pressure to perform, and bizarrely enough we were unexpectedly blessed with a cheque.
In chapter 12 Idaho is invaded by aliens, I suggest you read it.
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Ta (Kiwi for thank you)