Accompaniment is hard, at least for me. The ELCA model for global mission is at the same time fantastic and frustrating. Let me try to explain. The basic idea is that we are coming alongside people and "walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality." Basically it is all about relationships. It is a drastic change from other models of mission in that we are not bringing something new to a community, rather we recognize that God is already active there and join in with the mission that is already occuring.
In theory I love this idea. Everyone coming together as equals, and supporting each other so that together we can further the work of the church. So what you might ask is the problem? Well, living out accompaniment is not as simple as it sounds (or at least sounded to me). Because the focus is building relationships, there is often not a tangible project to work on, thus there is also no tangible result. I had never realized how much the importance of this was ingrained in me by growing up in American culture.
In my work with the church here I am doing a lot of accompanying. I literally go along with the pastor when he goes places and then sit there and listen while he does stuff. Most of the time it is hard to see how this is any different from him going by himself to these things. Though I know that accompaniment is about relationships and so my presence there is important, it is often hard to remind myself of that. But every once in a while I will have a shining ah ha moment where I feel like I really get it. This is the story of one of those moments:
A week ago I went to Buenos Aires for the weekend to go to a churchwide assembly about life and mission in the church. One of the people who went with us to represent Nuestro Salvador (my church here in Montevideo) was Marisol. She is the mom of the kids me and the pastor work with on Saturday mornings and she also cleans the church. She is really nice, but I hadn’t really talked with her before last weekend. But in Buenos Aires we drank a lot of mate together and had some bonding moments. On Friday while I was in the office we got to have a good conversation and drink mate together. Then on Saturday morning when we got to her house she wasn’t there, but she had left her mate and terma with hot water ready for us on the table. Drinking mate together with someone is how you share community here. When someone offers you mate they are inviting you into their life. I felt so loved and included by the simple action of Marisol leaving her mate there on the table for me.
I felt like for the first time I really understood how accompaniment could work. The relationships that I am slowly building here are more important then any project that I could do. My presence is enough and I need to stop trying so hard. But this is easier said then done so I pray that God will continue to remind me of this when I get focused on "achieving" things, that I won't lose focus on the people I am here to love.