LA, HOTH, reputations, & other musings…

HOTHSummer of 1986, I participated in an outreach to Mexico City. The City was hosting the World Cup & our team was helping with a church start that launched during the tournament. On our way to Mexico, our team stopped in Los Angeles for a night… my youth pastor had attended LIFE Bible College when it was in Echo Park,  & he was able to get us a hook up so we could stay in the LIFE dorms for one night for free. The girls dorms. (This blog isn’t about that, but it was a pretty cool experience for a 16 year old boy to open a door to a dormitory & find out he is surrounded, literally, by dozens of college aged women. Makes me smile even recalling that memory.)

My youth pastor had regaled us with stories of how dangerous  Echo Park was… stories of muggings, vandalism, drugs, & burglaries. We were told not to leave the dorm & most definitely DON’T walk the streets. The stories stuck with me for the last 30 years, & in my mind, I have always seen downtown LA/Echo Park as a pretty dicey place, a dangerous place, a place I didn’t want to stop & smell the proverbial roses.

Last week, theBean & I went to LA for a 2-day coaching/mentoring intensive…& it was going to be happening in the “House on the Hill,” (a.k.a. HOTH, not the ice-planet. No Taun Tauns were seen,) so named because its a very big 9000+ sq/ft house on a hill. I knew the house was really nice, but it was in downtown LA.. a block from Sunset Blvd. Echo Park. Lots of crime. Gang activity. Bars on the windows & doors.  After we checked in, we talked with our hosts about the usual important stuff: where can we get food? He mentioned several places, noting that they were all in walking distance from the HOTH.

Walking? As in, walking walking?

Yes. Walking distance. And he told us a story. Over the years, the neighborhood changed. It got better. It became a really nice place to live, whether it was due to gentrificationurban renewal, new people/people groups moving into the area, or something else. I almost couldn’t believe it, & had difficulty trying to imagine the neighborhood being as my host described it, contrasted with the memories & ideas about it that were bouncing around my head at a million miles an hour.

And so we decided to walk to dinner. We’d been craving Italian food, specifically pizza, & of course one of the Best Pizza Places In All The Land happened to be a 15 minute walk away. (BTW – if you are in the area, you have to go to Masa of Echo Park We had the Lots of Meat Chicago-style pizza, & in my opinion, it was the best Chicago-style pizza I’ve ever had. And that includes Chicago-style pizza that I had in Chicago at the Pizzeria Uno. But I digress.) 

It was beautiful.

It reminded me of walking in a German city… the air was fresh & clean, & the streets were filled with  neighborhood markets, mom & pop stores, restaurants, & music shops (it is LA). And a COMMUNITY – a real, tangible community of people. It was obvious that it wouldn’t take too long to get to meet & interact with the people who lived there… the people in the neighborhood, living life, raising their families, & enjoying themselves.

My daily walks with our host confirmed it – we walked for about 2 hours each morning on a trail that took us through Elysian Park (We actually only walked for about an hour, but my host stopped & talked to people in their stores & along the trail so often the 1 hour walk lasted 2 hours. But that’s how he rolls. But I digress.) It is a truly incredible neighborhood.

I think one of the favorite memories I will take from this trip comes from walking the streets of the neighborhood, in Echo Park. The sights, sounds, smells, & PEOPLE of the city. I walk here at home, but its definitely not the same experience. No one will ever confuse Reno with downtown LA.

It also made me wonder. Did I do the same thing with people that I’d done with Echo Park? Here’s what I mean:

For years, I had “known” the bad reputation Echo Park had, & I’d rehearsed it often in my head & in conversations as friends talked about visiting LA… I didn’t need anyone to tell me anything new about LA or Echo Park, because I “knew” everything I needed to know about it. It’s a bad, dangerous, place. I had written it off.

Until reality confronted me – it’s changed. It’s transformed. Its the kind of place I want to take my grandkids to walk around & expose them to a different way of life. Its the kind of place I want to go back to. For the people. The restaurants. The feeling of life in the city.

And if we hadn’t decided to risk & trust our hosts & get out & walk the streets, we would have missed it.

People can get reputations too. One’s they’ve earned. Bad ones. Reputations that make you want to steer clear of them, because you “know” them & how they are. Except… what if they’ve changed? Been transformed? Experienced new life?

It’s worth it to try, to risk, to keep an open heart towards others… to NOT write them off as lost causes. Because God is a specialist in lost causes… in people with bad reputations. And He has a way of making them new.



Deutschland #11, #12, #13+

I’m writing my last couple of Germany posts from home, very jet-lagged, sleep-deprived & very fuzzy. So if/when you read this & it doesn’t make sense, that’s my excuse.


Like at home, I woke up early… it’s Sunday & I’m speaking… my brain was running a mile a minute, so it was pointless to attempt to catch an additional 20 minutes of sleep. Ate some oatmeal with Jan, then headed off to church. He delivered me to the espresso bar in the fellowship area, where I was able to caffeinate to my hearts content while he took care of business.

The EnChristo Church in Mainz feels a lot like home – informal, personal, & relational with a definite focus on Jesus. I really enjoyed worship & also connecting with Flo (big guy, about 6’6″) my translator for the service. I find that it always helps me to talk with the person translating me in advance of the actual message. Spoke on John 20:19-22 – simple message on Jesus sending us as His representatives into the world where we live, work, & play. Had several comments afterward on the simplicity of the message – & its applicability. That’s what I was aiming for. Had an interesting moment in the beginning of the message when a lady in the front row started yelling… she eventually stopped, got up & left. No one knew who she was. Good times.

After service, Jan & I grabbed a quick bite at one of his favorite Chinese restaurants – then headed to the train station.

Waves of fatigue hit me when I got on the train. Hard. I have been pushing myself for the last 3 weeks of travel (Mexico & then here) & have been running on fumes, knowing that at some point I would have to pay the price for it. And that was today. I fought off slumber because I knew if I crashed, I would miss my train stop & end up drooling & confused on the other side of Frankfurt. Somehow, I managed to stay awake until my stop – at which time the heaven’s opened & a thundershower of epic proportions kicked into full gear. It was only about a mile from the station to my host’s flat, & I was thoroughly soaked by the time I arrived. They weren’t home from their own weekend jaunt yet, so I dried myself off & threw myself on the bed. Don’t know how long I was out, but Alex woke me up just in time to head out to watch the World Cup Finale – Deutschland v. Argentina.

I can honestly say that the atmosphere in the pub was the most electric of any I’ve ever experienced – & the tension was tangible. And when Mario Goetze buried his shot in the upper right corner of the net during extra time, the celebration was beyond words… only to be surpassed when the final whistle blew. Unbelievable. Truly a life-highlight for me, as was the celebration afterwards. We drove around Frankfurt along with thousands of others, honking horns, waving flags, singing at the top of our lungs. It was AWESOME. The theme for the night was Pharrell’s “Happy.” Every time I hear it from now on, I will be transported back to that moment.

DAY 12 & 13

My last full day in Germany was packed – &, as hard as I tried, I was unable to connect with several people that I really wanted to see. Such is life. Had a great final evening of talks & dinner with Alex & Linda.

Then, on Tuesday, Levent & Ines picked me up & took me to the airport (thank you!) & I spent the whole trip home reading & trying to stay awake to make my acclimation to Pacific Standard Time easier.

Slept most of my Wednesday, & now I’m trying to stay awake so I don’t mess with my sleep cycle any more than I already have.

I’m grateful for the last 2 weeks – for the opportunity to see friends & for God to work in & through me in reaching a people/place that I love so much. And I’m so happy to be home with my theBean & my kids. And I can’t wait to reconnect with my church family – so thankful for them.

Now, back to real life. After a nap.

Thank you for your prayers while I traveled – it made a difference. Blessings to you.


Deutschland #9 & #10

#9 – My good friend Eddy picked me up from Alex and Linda’s with his car full of kids… really fun to see how much they’ve grown, & also to meet their new addition: the adorable & precocious Kira. When we arrived at their home, Laura, Eddy’s wife was preparing a round of gluten-free pizzas to go along with the Dueck’s weekly/Friday “Pizza & A Movie Night.” The pizzas including pepperoni, peppers & mushrooms, hawaiian, & regular cheese. Laura can cook.

While the kids watched “Ice Age,” (which I haven’t seen. Any of them. Not because I hate movies. Or animation. Just because, man. Just because,) Eddy, Laura & I caught up on the happenings of the last couple of years since Eddy left as pastor of TPLF. Most of it I’d already heard, as Eddy & I Skype & pray with each other, but it was great to hear from Laura as well. The Dueck’s are doing great, & it makes my heart happy to see that even in a very trying, difficult situation, they are coming through it with grace & their genuine smiles intact. Also got to meet Reinhard at dinner, a Spanish/German musician from Colombia. We got lost in the labyrinth of musical inspiration & favorite guitarists (started with Jimi & Jimmy, headed to Roland Orzabal, & Clapton, then meandered around through the maze that is modern music. A really fun time that I thoroughly enjoyed.

FRA-bridge-nite800-1Too quickly it ended & Eddy dropped me off to meet Alex & Linda – though I’ve been staying at the house, we haven’t had a ton of time together, so Friday night on the town with the Kriegers it was. They wanted to take me to a favorite place of theirs. From the outside, it looks like any of the entrances to the myriad flats lining the Main River.  A knock on the door (along with the appropriate password/reservation) revealed a 20’s style speakeasy. No pictures are allowed of the inside, but suffice it to say, it was a memorable & tasty experience.

We walked from there to a local pub to hang out & talk – the time flew by as we wrestled through all sorts of meaning of life (& also totally fun) questions, thoughts, & musings. They are musers, like me. Which makes for good talks. Called an Uber private taxi around 1:30 a.m. & went straight to bed & crashed hard.

#10 – Woke up early-ish for breakfast, then packed up a borrowed backpack (so I didn’t have to take the monster bag on my travels) & headed to the train station for my hour long trip to Mainz, the city where Jan, the Foursquare Deutschland national leader & pastor of EnChristo Gemeinde (In Christ Fellowship) is based. Got to see my first “pro-Palestine, death to Israel,” demonstration outside the train station. I will come back to that in a later blog.

Jan picked me up, & we walked to a Lebanese restaurant for Schawarma, & then to a local cafe for espresso. We spent several hours in the afternoon sitting in an open square next to a huge church (St. Martin’s I think) talking about life, & family, & the like. It’s one of many things I appreciate about Jan – when we talk, he starts with the important stuff, (his phrase is “let’s talk like men!”) which to him seems to be focus on the things that are eternal, personal, & precious. Church talk happens too, but it isn’t at the forefront & it surely doesn’t define us.

Spent the last part of the evening outside on the veranda with Jan & Susanna (Jan’s wife) talking more about family, husband/wife relationships & parenting. Sat in the dark with a beautiful lamp throwing the only light. Finally, around 11, everyone was tired, so I headed to my room & crashed hard.

Thank you for your prayers – blessings to you.


Deutschland #8… a Thursday

DAY 7, Part Deux –

I left the house around 12:15 p.m. to head over to the home of Levent & Ines  via the Ubahn. One of the most confusing things about using the transit system isn’t figuring out the trains – instead, its deciding which of the 4 exits leaving the underground to take. Each one leads to a different corner of the block, so choosing wrong can mean that you’re exactly opposite of where you wanted to go, & to make it worse, you can’t just ‘cross the street’ to get where you need to be. Instead, you have to go back down into the underground & guesstimate which exit is the correct one. Today, I ended up going to three (yes. 3) different exits, walking up 2 flights of stairs for each, only to find that I’d chosen…. poorly. There’s just some things you don’t know until you memorize them I guess.

My appointment was for 14:00 (2 p.m. for us ‘mericans) & I was running a little early, so I stopped at a pizza place for a slice. Turns out, ordering was simple – the majority of the staff spoke Spanish; while I’m definitely not fluent, I can have a conversation. And so I did. It was nice, & a little bit surreal to be speaking Spanish in Germany. But at least I got the right pizza. I walked across the street to Levent & Ines beautiful big Green Apartment Building, & within a couple of minutes, I was sitting at their kitchen table, watching 1 year old Samuel crawling around the room, stopping every couple seconds to try to figure out just WHO this person was in his house.

Levent & Ines were some of the first people I met when I came back to Frankfurt in March 2005 – they had just been married a year at that time. Over the years, they’ve added two kids to the family, 3 year old Saraya & the aforementioned 1 year old Samuel. The last 6 months have been very stressful on them, as Samuel has had to be hospitalized with an unknown condition that caused a lot of physical issues, including seizures. I can imagine that the strain of that, plus trying to care for another child, plus trying to work must have been overwhelming. We had great talks, & I was very blessed & honored to be able to be with them today, just a few days short of their 10th wedding anniversary.

IMG_1595After hanging out for a couple of hours, Levent needed to leave to pick up Saraya from her kindergarten, so he offered to drop me at the rendezvous point for my next meeting in Bockenheim, a region of Frankfurt I’m pretty familiar with because it is where the German church we have had relationship with, Treffpunkt Leben (TPLF) is located. (The picture to the left is the Bockenheim Tower, an old military/defensive installation set up on the edge of the city to give warning if any danger approached.) Saraya’s kindergarten is bilingual, using both German & Spanish. It was pretty cool to be able to hear the 3-6 year olds speaking both languages, sometimes in the same sentence. One of the students was a little Korean girl – couldn’t have been more than 3 years old, & she was talking to her mother, a mile a minute, in Spanish, about her music & dance class. It was precious.

IMG_1593Levent, Saraya, & I parked & walked to Leipziger Strasse so IMG_1594that they could buy a pastry, then we said our goodbyes, & I headed up the street & towards Kurfuerstenstrasse 14, where TPLF used to meet. A few years ago, the old church building was torn down, & this was built in its place.

IMG_1592I also went by to see if anyone might be at the TPLF office, but it was too late in the day, so I missed everyone. Ended up walking to the Kurfuerstenstrasse Park & sitting on one of the park benches & people watching until it was time to go meet Steve. Walked back to the Ubahn station just in time to catch him – we decided to head back to the park to talk until it was time to meet his wife, Sarah, for dinner. I had never met her (Steve was only engaged when he was in Reno, & they just celebrated their first anniversary last week.)

We had a great time catching up over the events of the last couple years since Steve visited us in Reno – the time almost got away from us. Fortunately, Sarah called & reminded us that she was on her way, so we walked back to Leipzieger Strasse to get dinner at KISH, a Persian restaurant right off of the main street with a great outdoor eating space. That the owner of the restaurant didn’t want us to sit at. He wanted us inside for some reason – didn’t catch it, but I think it had to do with the fact that it was a ‘prime table’ & we were there a little before ‘prime time’ with no reservations. Not that we needed them at that point, as there were a grand total of 5 other people at the place, & there were at least 40 open tables. He finally agreed to seat us outside, & brought us menus. The food followed quickly.

And then the rain started. It began with rolling thunder & a light sprinkle.

That lasted for about 10 minutes – we were protected from the rain by a large sun shade, so we didn’t think we had to worry about anything. Until the rain began to fall in earnest. Sideways. After a couple minutes of trying to ‘weather’ the weather, we gave up & took our food inside to an open table. And we watched the lightning show. And the rain falling, harder & harder until it seemed like the downpour rivaled the hurricane theBean & I endured in the summer of ’94. Ok, it wasn’t that bad, but I had no umbrella & I forgot my rain jacket at home. IMG_1597

We finished dinner & tea, all the while hoping for a brief respite that would allow us to walk the 1/2 mile or so to the Ubahn station. It didn’t happen, so we decided to make a run for it. By the time we hit the station, I was soaked. But it was a warm rain.

Said goodbye to the Greenhills at the main U station, & we went our separate ways. Fortunately,  I had a beautiful walk home from the station near Alex & Linda’s. I tried to be as quiet as possible so I wouldn’t wake them if they were sleeping, yet somehow in my attempt to turn off the light outside their front door, I managed to ring their doorbell, making their giant Rhodesian Ridgeback bark at the sudden noise. Smooth. Very smooth.

Alex was just finishing a workout, & Linda didn’t wake up, so my faux pas wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Took out my contacts & headed towards bed, & took a couple of minutes to catch up on emails that couldn’t wait to be dealt with until later. It was a great day.

As I think about my yesterday (Thursday) on  this fine morning (Friday, about 10:40 a.m.) I’m musing on how much has changed since I was last here almost 4 years ago. In me. In others. And it feels really good to know that in the middle of all of that, we still have something very, very important: Friendship.

Thank you for praying. Blessings to you.


Deutschland #7+

DAY 7 –
I have to confess, I’m a little discombobulated & am not really sure what day it is… either of the week or the # of days I’ve been in Germany. I do know that this day was my last with Julia’s family. Woke up early & drank coffee & spent the day with Julia talking about everything. And nothing. Made our way to a favorite spot of hers in beautiful downtown Achern, the RatKeller, which literally means, “the advice cellar” as it used to be a place where the local politicians gathered to share information. I ordered “Grandma’s potato soup” & a salad. The soup was inedibly salty – when I told the waitress, she shrugged & said, “The cook must be in love,” which evidently is an acceptable explanation as to why it was ok for me to be served the Great Salt Lake with potatoes… & pay for it.

The family Kern came home just in time for me to depart for the train station. What a special family. Saying “goodbye” is tough – it makes me sad, but thankful to have such wonderful people in my life. Pia (Julia’s mom) told me next time I come to their region, I will have to stay with Julia & her husband, who is not currently in the picture :). Yes, that would be nice. I’m praying for him right NOW. And if I need to export an American who wants to live in Germany & marry a beautiful, smart, & confident woman, I will do it. :)

The train trip from Baden-Baden to Frankfurt was fast & uneventful. Jumped on the U-Bahn & made it to the grocery story meeting place where Alex picked me up so I wouldn’t have to walk in the rain. We made it home just in time for a phenomenal dinner Linda made for us – it was several different types of sweet potatoes baked with peaches, chilis, shallots, & radishes, along with some red-wine vinegar & balsamic, acoompanied by carmelized bacon-wrapped dates. Dessert was a coconut milk-vanilla pudding with rose-water & Johannes berries, a tart berry that added a great kick to the dessert. Fan-TASTIC. Alex & Linda usually eat paleo-style, & Linda is ultra-creative when it comes to making great-tasting & very healthy foods. Alex & Linda remind me a lot of Colby & Claire in so many ways, (interests, gifts, personality, etc…) & I dream of eating a dinner prepared by Claire & Linda one day. It shall happen, I declare.

I was pretty wiped out from staying up so late the previous night celebrating the German victory that I headed to bed fairly early for a night of fitful sleep.


DAY 8?

Woke up this morning just in time to wish theBean a good night’s sleep. Sigh. Coffee & good talks, along with another great meal – omelette, proschutto, salad, a corn muffin & banana-crumble. Goodness.

It’s about 11:27 a.m. & I will be heading out in just a few minutes. My appointments today include Levent & Ines this afternoon, then Steve Greenhill this evening. I am looking forward to meeting Levent & Ines’ 2 kids for the first time, & celebrating their anniversary with them. And I haven’t seen Steve since he got married. I’ve got a feeling today is going to be great.

Talk to you soon – many blessings to you, & thank you for praying.

Deutschland #5 & #6a – in brief

DAY 5 – Finished my Monday off with a dinner at a great Sicilian restaurant with Jochen & his wife Brigidda & Tim & Deborah – we dined, Italian style, over a several hour period, & the food was really great.

Except it came back up a few hours later… with interest. I’ll spare you the gory details, but I have done more than my time holding on to the toilet to keep from falling off the world. I think it was the gnocchi & its sauce that must have done it. Finally went to sleep about 4, & then woke up early Tuesday for a Skype & headed back to bed until 1.


DAY 6 Felt a lot better after waking up – good enough to grab some coffee & bread, & then get cleaned up in preparation for going bowling with the Kern family before the Deutschland/Brasil football game. Julia likes to bowl, & was feeling so confident that she decided to make a bet with me: WHEN she won, I would have to sing the German National anthem outside (which is never done, save during the World Cup.) And if by some miraculous chance I won, she would drink an espresso, with no milk or sugar. For her to propose that as her ‘punishment’ for losing gives you some insight to how much she detests the taste of coffee. The closest she comes to drinking a hot beverage close to coffee is 4 fingers of warm milk & 1 finger of hot coffee.

So, of course, I won – both games. I posted a video of her drinking her coffee on Facebook if you’re interested.

After bowling, we grabbed a doner, burrito style, & headed to Heiko & Linda’s to watch the game, which started at 10 p.m. local time. I even stood & sang the national anthem with the family. Instead of ‘game’  I should say, the rout.. None of us had ever seen anything like it in such a high level of soccer. After the 3rd goal, we were almost speechless… not quite, as my hosts made sure to yell their lungs out. I have to say, every time the TV showed Brazil’s fans weeping in the stands, I laughed really hard. Evidently, it is NOT just a game to them, but something more. And it was funny to watch.

Can’t wait for the final on Sunday – I’m pulling for an all European final – Deutschland/Netherlands.

This is a short blog – I didn’t do much since last night except barf & bowl, & it is now 1:20 a.m. So, I hope to write a bit more tomorrow before I head back into Frankfurt.

Many blessings to you – & thank you for the prayers.



Deutschland #2 & #3

This post will be a sum up of the last 2 days – life has been busy, & it’s been very late by the time bedtime comes… so late that I have prioritized sleep & rest over blogging. But tonight, I’ll at least give the “sum up” version of what’s up so that you can be praying for me.

Day #2 – Independence Day began for me with a great breakfast – lots of coffee & a paleo-friendly plate of food which included cucumbers, carrots, hummus, an egg, & an oven-baked peach sweetened with honey & balsamic. Great stuff.

Even better were the talks over food – I have to say, one of my favorite things is being able to pick up with friends after a couple years worth of life & ‘catch up” without missing a beat. Alex & Linda are those kinds of friends, & I am coming away rich & blessed from our conversations.

The time came for me to head to Baden-Baden (Southwest Germany) for my next round of commitments – I bought a train ticket & took an Uber ride to the main staition. My train was delayed for a 1/2 hour, so I had some rodeo burgers from Burger King & then caught the train.

Which was full. To overflowing. Turns out, one of the passenger carts was condemned/closed, so there were more people on the train than seats. Which meant that my place for the entire 90 minute trip was standing in a hallway directly outside the bathroom. With no A/C. And with an extra pungent toilet to boot. It took all of 10 seconds for me to start sweating, & within 10 minutes, I was soaked. I tried to help the problem by fanning myself & using paper towels to wipe away the perspiration. But to no avail. After soaking (I could wring out the towels) my 5th set of 3 towels, I decided, “what the heck,” & sweated like a beast for the remainder of the ride. The arrival in Baden-Baden was celebrated with great joy.

IMG_1545Julia picked me up & took me to her family’s home in Achern, about 20 minutes away. I quickly cooled down & caught up with my adopted German daughter. On the way, I found out that the plans for the night included watching the Germany/France World Cup match with a crowd of people. Boom!.  After freshening up, Julia & I headed to the home where we would watch the soccer game – it was broadcast on a big screen about 8×10 feet, in a room with about 30 people in it. And it was hot.

IMG_1547And the best part was the people watching. Everyone, ladies included, are hard core fans. The lady in the picture looks sweet & kind & self-controlled. And she was. Until Germany was close to scoring. Then, she would jump & scream at the screen along with everyone else. It was beautiful, & would make the most ardent SEC Football fan proud.

SIDE NOTE: I’m really proud of myself too – I was able to sneak a photo without even looking. I may even be able to take a selfie at some point. But I won’t. Because, hey, guys shouldn’t take selfies.

After Germany’s victory, we ended the day with pizza & I headed to my room to FaceTime theBean & then head to sleep. Waaaaaay too late, especially knowing I had a 7 a.m. wakeup call the next day.


Day #3 – I woke up right before my alarm & decided to FaceTime my girlfriend. Because I can. Personal connections, even for a few moments, make the weeks apart more bearable. Julia’s mom is an incredible hostess, & prepared a great German breakfast – kaffee, rolls, jam, meats & cheeses. The best. Benny, my ride to today’s pastor’s meeting showed up way too soon, & I had to leave to make the 2 hour trek to Engstingen (near Stuttgart.)

The weather was rainy & overcast – which meant a well – needed respite from the hot. We arrived at the pastor’s meeting, & there were about 9 churches represented, & approximately 25 people in total. The program for the day included food (yes) plenty of coffee (double yes) & discussions led by my good friend Tim Clark (triple yes.) He talked from Exodus 3 on the calling of Moses… he’d intended to develop the idea of “Pastor Moses” but we never got beyond the calling. Our meeting developed into a Q&A session, with many people weighing in & speaking “real-talk” from their hearts. We finished about 4 hours later with prayer for each other. It was a divinely appointed time that was very impactful for all involved. I am blessed beyond words to have been with the men & women living & serving on the front lines of the church in Germany. They are true heroes of the faith – living faithful, obedient lives in the face of great opposition. These are Hebrews 11 people.

IMG_1551I ate too much blackforest cake at the meeting, so I got a little car sick on the way back to Baden-Baden. It wasn’t that we were traveling at 110 mph. (170 kmh) Truly. I managed not to barf in the back seat, & we arrived back in Baden-Baden just in time for Julia’s mom’s chili. And I was feeling better. So yay for me.

We ended up spending the rest of the evening (about 5 hours) eating & hanging out on the back porch. Talking about important things: theology, asking questions, joking, & sharing meaning of life interactions. Klaus & Pia, Julia’s parents, have blessed me so much in the short time I’ve been here. Can’t wait for the next 2 days of fun, laughter, & great, great talks.

I finally stole away to write this at about midnight. Klaus & I have been watching the Belgium/Costa Rica World Cup match out of the corner of our eye, & as of now, there is still no winner. No matter. I will wake up tomorrow & know. And then Tuesday, there is a late-night fest at a friend’s home to watch Brazil/Deutschland. It starts at 10 p.m. local time, so we will be up LATE.

Tomorrow is church – Tim is speaking, & I don’t have an explicit assignment, which means I get to show up & talk to people. Easy peezy. I love this place. I aim to blog again tomorrow – please know, if I wrote down everything that happened in the last 2 days, it would fill more books than you would want to read. But these are the highlights. And I am a thankful & blessed man. And one of the best parts of life is sharing it with brothers & sisters in Christ from Germany.

Please pray for me as you think of it. Many blessings & much love to you!


Deutschland, #1

On a whirlwind trip.

My flights to San Francisco & then to Frankfurt were on time… early even. For the 11 hour flight to Frankfurt, I ended up next to a burly Russian bear of a man. He claimed the center seat’s armrests & didn’t give them up for the entire flight.

Either I haven’t flown United in a long time or my memory of palatable airplane food is revisionist history – both dinner & ‘breakfast’ this morning went largely uneaten, in large part to a) my inability to discern WHAT it was I was eating & b) the gnarly gnarly odors coming from the food trays. I ate yesterday, thanks. I’m good.

Claimed my bags (yes!) & navigated out to the U-Bahn – I had confirmed with Alex that I’d be going to the Hauptwache (main station) & waiting until I heard from him, so I followed the plan & grabbed an authentic German delicacy, “Coke Light” from the McDonald’s. And I waited, read, people watched. And then I got Alex’s call. Jump on a U1, U2 or U3 (UBahn trains) & get off at Hueglestrasse. And then wait for instructions. Man. It seemed like I was James Bond for a second.

After getting off on Hueglestrasse, I waited at the Rewe (local supermarket) for the Uber taxi driver to pick me up. Uber is a phenomena we experienced in San Francisco over spring break – & I’m really glad its made its way to Germany. Uber are run by private citizens with 2010 or newer cars – & they serve as an on-demand taxi service. I was picked up by my driver & delivered to Alex & Linda’s home in about 20 minutes.

Words can’t describe the joy I feel at reconnecting with Alex & Linda – a very special couple who we hit it off with in 2007– &, on top of that, the joy of being able to be in their home again. Alex was at the dentist when I arrived, so I had a glass of water & took some time with Linda to catch up on the happenings of life for the last 3 years. Linda is a teacher – & she is a bundle of energy, very passionate about education… but even more so, she is passionate about Jesus. With her job in the German school system, she gets paid to share the gospel – to give students an understanding of what Christianity is – & I can’t think of a better messenger than her. If you are a Hillsider, let me describe Linda for you, using people in our church family as examples of a little of what she’s like. Imagine crossing Katy D & Danae L – & you get a little insight as to the kind of person Linda is. Alex arrived home & our talks were precious – pointed, raw, real, & full of wonder. I love these 2.

Tomorrow I’m off to Baden-Baden to see our dear Julia, our adopted daughter who lives near the Germany/France border… Julia lived with us for about 6 months, then came back & visited for about 2 more months. Can’t wait to see that girl & her family too. Also, we’ll be connecting with the regional pastors for a youth group/youth leaders event. Saturday, we’re heading to a town on the Swiss border called “Engstingen.” It’s a one-day gathering of pastors from all over the southwestern/south central region of Germany. Then Sunday, I will be joining a gathering of 5 churches for their monthly ‘celebration’ service.

I’m having fun already :)

Rosarito, Day 6

After breakfast & devotions, we joined Pastors Don & Sandy, their daughter Emily & our buddy Mario to go to a rehabilitation center located about 5 miles from the middle of nowhere. It’s a place for addicts to get clean & to receive spiritual training & become disciples of Christ. The program is 9 months long, & there are currently 36 men going through the program.

I’m not kidding when I say the center is in the middle of nowhere: once you leave the highway & paved roads, it’s another 5 miles on a bumpy, pothole ridden “come to Jesus” dirt road, so named because it is so treacherous it makes you repent & cry out to the Lord for deliverance. The rehab center has no running water or electricity; the guys at the center survive day-to-day off the land. They cut firewood for heat/heating water for showers/dishes. They draw their own water & lug it by hand to their kitchen, dorms, & restrooms. They wash their clothes on ancient washboards, & hang them to dry on cacti (true story!) They raise rabbits, chickens, & a pig for… food for special occasions. (The pig is for Christmas.) They pray & read their Bibles on the top of a hard-to-climb hill with a million dollar view, deafening silence, & a tangible presence of God. The center is rustic, yet homey. Isolated, though in the “Moses in the wilderness” type of isolation. There are several guys who have been through the program who serve as mentors & coaches for the newbies, whether they are detoxing in the infirmary, or actively participating in the daily chores necessary for survival.

Our guide, Frank, explained: “God uses everything here at the center to teach us, to help us to grow, to overcome addiction. We work hard, but we see His hand in our lives, & we experience salvation, deliverance, healing, & redemption. Many of us tried to waste our lives, but God had a plan to rescue us, & He’s using this place to help do that.”

The team arrived just as a church service was starting – most everyone went in, while theBean & I partnered with Emily to prepare the hotdogs & other food we brought for lunch. The service went on for quite a while (3 hours?) – & it would be easy for me to say, “man, that was too long.” At the same time, for many of these guys, this is the last option they have, the last chance to get clean, to save their lives. And they treat their church service like it matters, like it can change their lives. Like they’re desperate for change, desperate for God to do a miracle in them. They’re doing the hard work of admitting their wrong, their sin, & their inability to solve the problem themselves. And by coming to the rehab center, they’re submitting themselves to the mighty hand of God, asking Him for divine intervention. So I guess when they have church, its more than an event on their calendar: its an encounter with God, in the context of relationship with each other.

After the service, the guys came out & set up tables & chairs – & then proceeded to share the tortas (sandwiches) they had made for the day, which just happened to be Family Day. One Saturday a month, the guys’ families are permitted to visit them in the afternoon. On this day, there was 1 (one) lady & her daughter who came. 1 (one) family represented, out of 36 guys. As I think about it, I reflect on the immaculate grounds, the parking spots in the dirt that were freshly chalked & numbered, the tables set in preparation for loved ones that didn’t make the trek. And I weep.

I know many of these guys have burned bridges with years of broken promises – promises to quit using, to quit stealing, to quit lying & manipulating –  to be the dad/husband/son/friend their loved ones needed them to be. And they didn’t do it. They have broken many hearts, & some might say they are reaping the consequences of their actions. Maybe they’d be right. I don’t know.

What I do know is this: Jesus Christ REDEEMS broken, twisted, wasted lives. He specializes in resurrecting the spiritually (& even physically) dead, in doing the impossible. And as for the forgotten, abandoned, hurting rehab guys? He places them in families – surrounded by people who will support them in their new life in Christ. And I am honored & privileged that our team was able to be at the center today to act as surrogate family, to share a simple meal, to play volleyball, basketball, & pool. To engage in conversation, to listen to the stories of real CHANGE that God is doing in their lives. To be witnesses to the evidence of what had once been hardened, even bad men, whose hearts have been softened & made new by the love, forgiveness, & redemption available through Christ. And I am so proud of every one of the Hillside-ers for engaging the men in their current life situation, & treating them with compassion & dignity. Not for cameras or so that it could be seen; rather, it was because it was what Jesus would do, if He were walking in our shoes today.

Our crew was somber as we left the center – the significance of what had happened today was weighty on our shoulders & hearts. So we came back into Rosarito & got ice-cream. While we were eating our frozen yummies, we sat outside & watched the life of downtown Rosarito on a Saturday unfold in front of us. American tourists everywhere. Busy police officers directing traffic & dealing with the unruly. Local indigenous people (Mexican indians) weaving in & out of traffic & the sidewalks, hawking their trinkets, blankets, chicle, & ponchos. The sensory experience was overwhelming – sights, sounds, & smells.

We have had a quiet night at La Casa de Descansa – ate leftovers (4th times a charm for me & nachos) & played UNO on the outside patio. Prepped for our Sunday service at Hope Chapel Rosarito tomorrow. Debriefed about our experiences of today, & prayed: for the guys at the center, for our host pastors, the Godwins, & for Hillside. Sang a couple of songs. Headed in the direction of bed. Mostly.

I’ve been sitting at the desk in the room 5 of us guys share, looking out the window at a field full of locals gathered for a night out of music & food. Mariachi music blaring from speakers as big as a truck. Hoping the generator running them runs out of juice soon. Catching up on the SF Giants. Snatching yet another defeat from the jaws of victory (how long must this go on?) Contemplating life here in Rosarito, & what we’ve been exposed to. Pondering home, & knowing that I know that I know that theBean & I are incredibly blessed to have Hillside as our church home & community. I feel such joy & support from those at home.

Well, the music shows no sign of fading, & the dancers in the field must not be subject to foot fatigue like I am, because they’re still going strong after 4 hours. But I’m not. I’m heading to bed, for realsies this time.

May God bless you richly – & may you know the height, depth, & breadth of His love for you – & the power of the redemptive work in your life, through the Holy Spirit. And may God work in you the mercy, compassion, & fierceness of His Son, Jesus Christ, so you are compelled to carry out His mission wherever you are…. Doing what Jesus would be doing, if He was walking in your shoes.

Because He is.


Rosarito, Day 5

This is a day late – due to the fact that we rolled into where we’re staying at 10:30 p.m., absolutely fried after a long day. Here’s what I recall:

For our devotions this week, we’re going through the Psalms of Ascent, Psalm 120-134. It’s a collection of songs that Hebrew pilgrims would sing as they climbed the hills toward Jerusalem during the 3 major feasts on the Jewish calendar. Each morning, a team member or 2 takes one of the Psalms, reads it out loud, & shares what stands out about the Psalm, what God is speaking to them, &/or something significant. Then the rest of the team weighs in with their own insights. We close with prayer & start the day.

After breakfast & devotions, we headed to Hope Chapel Rosarito to join Emily & our buddy Mario for a prayer walk in the neighborhoods around the church. We broke into 2 teams, & took some ‘invitation flyers’ to pass out to anyone we happened to see, then we headed out. As we walked, we encouraged all of the team members to pray for the people of the neighborhood – that they would come to know Christ & find a life-giving community to be a part of. Over the next 2 hours, we didn’t engage a whole lot of people, but we did cover a lot of ground & spent some time praying over a section of property next to the church… asking God that it would be used for His kingdom & His glory. TheWeez used an app to determine how far we traveled & it turned out we walked about 6.5 miles. No wonder my feet are tired & sore.


The afternoon consisted of lunch & preparing for Friday night church at Vista Marina, HCR’s spanish speaking outreach to a neighboring community. We arrived around 4:45 to find most of the church gathered, awaiting our arrival. We played some soccer, gave horsie rides, & engaged the people as best we could in conversation. Service this week consisted of some worship (in Spanish) & an encore presentation of the 2 dance numbers we did earlier in the week. Shake it, shake it we did.

I had an opportunity to speak, & I explained about what we’ve been doing at Hillside – sharing our story, an area where God has intersected our life in a powerful way (based upon the Scripture Revelation 12:11, which says, “they overcame hm (the enemy) by the blood of the Lamb & by the word of their testimony… & they didn’t love their lives to the death.”  Four members of our team shared their stories, & I wrapped up with an encouragement from Matthew 5:14 – reminding each of us that we are the light of the world… & we bring God glory when we let it shine. Further, even if it seems our light is small & insignificant, it shines bright & drives out the darkness.

We went straight from Vista Marina to the beach, eating the sandwiches we had prepared on the way. Beach night means a bonfire with the fledgling HCR youth group & their youth pastors, Jose & Megan. Fire is always a good idea, & when accompanied by marshmallows, chocolate, & graham crackers, it is even better. Add to that the sound of crashing waves & a beautiful night & it was pretty awesome. Most of all, I was so proud of how our team engaged with the others. It made for a great night of conversation, snacks, & burning every piece of wood we could find, culminating in our s’mores sticks. Rolled into the Casa de Descansa (House of Rest) at 10:30, & quickly debriefed about the day, then straggled off to bed.

At this point, we’re tired, sore, kinda stretched thin & worn out. And yet, its a good tired. Feels like significant things are happening with our team, & with our friends at HCR. We’re finding it easier & easier to go to sleep & harder & harder to get up in the morning. It helps that Tony Mac gets the coffee brewing bright & early, & the smell of fresh java makes its way up the stairs & helps shake off the last remnants of drowsiness, reminding us, we’re still on a mission & we’re not done yet.

Please pray for us – for endurance, flexibility, & sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.