Rinnnggg! The doorbell announced their arrival, and I raced to respond. Throwing open the front door, my tears started to flow. There they stood - luggage and all - my precious friends. Let the reunion begin! Squeals, screams, smiles and hugs declared our togetherness. Then, standing in my foyer, our huddle of humanity instinctively joined hands, prayed, and sang The Doxology.
Please allow me to describe a group of women who mean the world to me. My story is their story; to know me is to know them. We call ourselves The Cepelia Society. This name is derived from the famous Cepelia folk art shops in the land where are our journey began.
We are not a clique, but we are close. We are not alike, but we like to be together. We are stubborn, strong-willed, opinionated, and bossy. And…we are fiercely loyal. Our Uncommon Common History keeps us tenaciously committed and tightly connected to each other, and to other women who also march in our ranks.
Uncommon Common History
We are Women Who Survived The Cold War, missionary women who lived covertly behind the Iron Curtain in Poland - most of us in a nation not our own. Brought together by God’s Common Calling, we faced the daunting challenge to merge lives and move forward.
Under other circumstances we might not even be friends. We never were and never will be a homogeneous group. Our personalities are as varied as our zip codes; our preferences are as different as our backgrounds. Our opinions are as strong as horse radish.
Yet, because we have been to war together, we are bonded for life. In spiritual terms, we represent a female version of Band of Brothers. God gave us each other, and our relationships are near sacred. Not one of us could have made it alone, and we are quick to tell you that.
Clandestine camaraderie created the most inspiring connections. Behind the lines of NATO, a special brand of faithfulness flourished in our friendships.
Our manifesto emerged from the words of Proverbs 27:17: As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Language learning and potty training had to co-exist, and so did we. We learned to give - to give grace and to give space. We learned to forgive; we learned to laugh. (Did I say we learned to forgive?) Eventually, we learned to love each other because of our overarching love for Him. (I John 4:19)
We shared life on multiple levels: holidays, happy days, and hard days. Somehow, we survived hurtful days. We shared baby showers, birthdays, babysitting, and books.
Most of all, we shared Jesus.
Our commitment to the Gospel called us; our commitment to the Gospel kept us.
We managed to make life work, because we determined to work together. We learned to learn from each other. Humility helped us realize how to benefit from our different God-given strengths, and show grace for our glaring human weaknesses. Our ongoing challenge persisted – focus on fighting the Enemy, not on fixing each other.
Our mission was greater than any of our disagreements. It was never about us; it was always about Him. We stood on this common ground, and learned to let differences make us stronger. The Holy War in the midst of The Cold War remained:
Us against him (the devil)
Us against them (the Communist authorities)
Never, us against each other
That. Luxury. Did. Not. Exist.
Missionaries share horror stories of life with other missionaries. By His grace, God spared us. Our desperate need for each other taught this group of women to collectively lean desperately into Him. After years of togetherness, we emerged from the foxhole clinging first to Him and clinging fast to each other – for life.
Since those days, God has taken us down different paths. But every so often our paths converge for a reunion. The Wall came down historically, and the walls come down relationally when we gather. “How are you doing?” gets a real answer, not a sanitized one. “How can we pray for you?” prompts praying here and now, with desperate urgency and passionate fervency. Bearing one another’s burdens means just that, bearing one another’s burdens. (Galatians 6:2)
Much too soon, what began with the ring of a doorbell ends with one last hug good-bye. Having relived shared memories, retold common stories, and consumed gallons of coffee in Bolesławiec mugs, we turn away to reenter the world of today. I go back into my house, close the door, and sit down and cry. I cry for joy, for the privilege of calling these women my friends. I cry for sorrow, for the length of time until we are together again.
But our Uncommon Common History will always bring us back, for with each other, we find a part of ourselves the rest of the world does not understand.
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred time as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – (Mark 10:29-30)