This year my partner, Kelly, and I started serving as ELCA global missionaries in Central Europe. As part of our orientation, we’re taking Hungarian language classes to better communicate with our church partners. For the unfamiliar, Hungarian is one of the more difficult languages to learn! Despite excellent tutors, we feel so incompetent. We make a lot of mistakes and struggle to follow along in conversations with native speakers.

That was our experience recently at a neighborhood cookout in the small town of Piliscsaba. Kelly and I found ourselves welcomed by native Hungarian speakers who attempted to strike up conversations with us—in Hungarian, German and English. Despite our frustration and apologies, they didn’t give up. By piecing together words and phrases we all knew from each language, we were able to connect, and had a wonderful time.

The ELCA’s model for mission is accompaniment, which it defines as “walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality.” In the Evangelii Gaudium (2013), Pope Francis articulates this as “a spiritual journey practiced alongside others and God that draws us into a closer, cooperative relationship with the same.”

Accompaniment becomes an act of faith, and the connection it brings can fill our hearts and spirits.

These definitions make an important distinction. We tend to think that competence—mastery of a particular task or sufficient knowledge of a topic—is essential to accompaniment. Yet when Kelly and I think about our recent experience, we realize that accompaniment is ultimately about connecting with God and those we meet. We may feel incompetent, but when we exercise vulnerability and courage, accompaniment becomes an act of faith, and the connection it brings can fill our hearts and spirits.

The Old Testament texts in the lectionary are from Exodus, the story of the Israelites’ flight from slavery in Egypt and subsequent wilderness journey. Throughout the narrative the Israelites doubt God’s competence. Moses questions his qualifications to be God’s chosen missionary (chapter 3). The Israelites whine about life in the wilderness (16 and 17), fear hardship (14) and finally rebel (32). In their need for God to demonstrate competence, they fail to see that God longs for connection. God is faithful and never gives up on accompanying them on their journey.

As we consider our own journeys and those whom God calls us to travel alongside, is our practice of accompaniment based on our need to feel competent or on the joyful possibility of connection? Reflecting on the Exodus narrative and our own stories, let us rejoice in and be led by the one who accompanies us and connects us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Aaron Fuller
Aaron Fuller is an ELCA multi-vocational pastor serving Bratislava International Church and as a chaplain in the Navy Reserve. He also supports his partner Kelly Schumacher Fuller in carrying out the Young Adults in Global Mission program in Central Europe.  

Read more about: