Deutschland Travels, Spring 2010 – musings from a long day…

The last couple of days have been something of a blur, which usually happens on the travels home from East to West. My core42 processor in my brain is on the fritz, so I’m trying to set myself up to have a ‘reboot’ week & ease back into life at a rhythm & pace that is healthy for me & others, & also engaging. At some point in the not so distant past, I might have tried to hit the ground running, frantically trying to catch up on & make up for the time out of country over the last 2 weeks; an impossible task. So rather than attempt the impossible (& thereby delay the reboot by denying my own limits & humanity,) I’m trying to take it slow. But steady. And a ‘musings’ post…

Checked in to my United flight #901 on Saturday night, & all was right with the world. Woke up Sunday, & double-checked my check in, only to find that the status of my flight had changed from “On-time scheduled departure” to “Cancelled.” No explanations. Just a phone number. So I called.

Unfortunately, the ‘customer service’ had been outsourced, & communication was tough. In 45 minutes, I learned that there were no other flights on my route on Sunday, (Frankfurt to SF,) & that I’d have to hope to get one on Monday. Tried to get the rep to check other potential routes (to Denver, Chicago, Washington-Dulles, & other United International hubs…), but to no avail. Said she couldn’t do it. Sigh. Booked for Monday, then called theBean to explain what was up & recruit her to do what I couldn’t: spend time on the phone trying to get me on another route &/or a partner airline. And expectantly thanked God in advance for His favor & blessing.

Turns out she was just on her way to bed (the 9 hour difference :) & she was NOT happy about me not coming home for ANOTHER day. So, she took the mission & said she’d get back to me.

About 15 minutes later, myGirl called with a revised itinerary – she got the rep she spoke with to switch me to the #1 United partner in Germany – Lufthansa – on a flight scheduled to leave at the same time THAT day as my original, with a connection to Reno through Denver.

Excellent. And THAT is myBean.

The change in plans (& the knowledge that the FraPort would be crazy,) meant a rushed goodbye to my wonderful hosts, the Dueck’s, & a voyage via u-bahn to the airport. And it was a good thing I got there when I did.

My flight hadn’t been the only one canceled, & about 15 minutes after I arrived in the Lufthansa line, about 400 frantic travelers queued up behind me. The LH desk attendant was great, & confirmed my seat on a flight… but told me that I’d have to make sure to get the specific seat assignment at the gate – As she talked, I pictured myself in the middle of the last row on the plane, squished between Gunther & Hans. Banished that thought from my mind, & thanked God again for favor… & a good seat. Which turned out to be a window seat next to a smallish person. Booyah!

Flight was delayed for 97 minutes (yes, I was counting.) Which meant that about 200 of those on the flight to Denver would miss their connecting flights & have to be rebooked by the United personnel in Denver. I didn’t care… I was coming home.

Going through the inconvenience of missing a flight AFTER being on a cramped plane for almost 12 hours is quite the experience. My people watching skills were in effect as I got to observe people from a variety of backgrounds, countries, & cultures in various states of meltdown. The Americans were the best at complaining. Go figure. Loud & often… Go figure.

My rescheduled flight was only 2 hours later than my original flight (thank you Jesus! Again.) So I made my way to the New Belgium Hub for nachos, a stout, & NBA playoff hoops. Nice.

Slept the whole flight. Barely made it through the boarding process before my eyelids crashed together.

TheBean picked me up solo. And we were THAT couple having the reunion in the airport at 11 p.m. You know the ones that I’m talking about.

Thank you all for your prayers in my travels. It was a great trip. And still, it is So good to be in my city. In my home. In my own bed. With my fam. Sigh.

Deutschland Travels, Spring 2010, Day #13

Meeting for breakfast with an old friend, Claudius – took the u-bahn in the brisk morning air to the Willy-Brandt-Platz (named after a German politician.) I got there a bit early, & spent some time people watching. Met a guy from Brazil who is playing basketball at Westerm Michigan U in Kalamazoo, Michigan, & talked hoops a bit. He’s traveling with friends, & I took some pictures of them in the park, standing under the big “E” monument celebrating the European Union.

Claudius arrived & we made our way to a café we’ve visited many times over the last few years. He is something of a ‘romantic’ in that he likes to plan surprises & this time was no different. The breakfast that came out for me was nothing short of incredible, with an American style omelette with all of my favorite ingredients; fresh squeezed orange juice, a croissant & brotchen (little bread) & of course a bottomless cup of coffee. It is truly meaningful to be thought of & planned for. I greatly appreciated our talks, the opportunity to catch up & hear about the happenings in each others lives. Good times.

Made my way to the KonstablerWache (a kind of police station in the downtown of Frankfurt,) & met with our dear friend Dudi (sister of Philip, who I got together with for breakfast a couple days ago,) for my next meeting. TheBean & I connected with Dudi on our first mission trip to TPLF in 2005; over the last few years as she’s been working her way through university, she’s had a couple of opportunities to come & stay with us in our home, most recently this last September. We made our way from the KonstablerWache to a quirky little restaurant called, “Maingold” – reminded me a lot of Reno’s own Java Jungle crossed with Deux Gros Nez…

One of the themes that came up (again!) was fatherhood – the need for positive, encouraging, supportive-without-being-controlling male input in the lives of 20-somethings. Its something that I’m meaning to write about in more detail soon – but hearing Dudi talk about the great need for this encouragement, positive pouring in to help young men & women step into their own calling & stage of life, made me a bit weepy. Its something that I’ve felt the Holy Spirit’s ‘nudge’ about for the last couple of years, & it’s very gratifying to hear the confirmations over & over & over again from such a variety of sources… reminds me that I might be on to something. ☺

Walked along the Main River for what seemed like an eternity – the sun has finally come out after 10 days of wind & rain. I’m just soaking it in, thinking back to the happy times along this river with myBean, pondering my initial ‘tug’ to Germany so long ago that happened in this very place.

It’s Saturday, which means the downtown area is hosting a festival – this time it’s a wein & sausage party with wall to wall people. I took a couple of snapshots & enjoyed the feeling of being surrounded while at the same time being anonymous. Enjoyed a glass of the Dornfelder with a few passersby, & listened to the live music coming from a stage setup nearby. We’re in Germany, so the band must be playing “Winds of Change,” by the Scorpions. I think this just might be the unofficial national anthem of Deutschland

Walked to the Hauptwache (main station) to catch the U-bahn to Alex & Linda’s. Caught up with Alex at the WeisserStein station… & drove to their new flat. Alex & Linda are very special to me, & I always love spending time at their home. This time was no exception. After giving me a tour of their new place, the 4 of us (Alex, Linda, & their dog Jonathan,) took a walk in the park next to their home – felt great to stretch our legs & catch up.

We were all hungry, so we headed home, where I hung out with Alex as he grilled… chicken wings(!) that he had started prepping the day before. Linda brought a great salad, some weissbier, & potato wedges to the table & we spent a couple of hours in conversation. Alex & Linda started a church since I was here last in November, & they are affiliated with the Vineyard movement. I loved hearing their stories of what God is doing in their church, & most exciting to me, with them in their lives as they step out into new areas.

We wrapped up our evening with the most recent episode of the Office, something we always do when I’m here. Shared routines are special too. ☺ It was getting late, so they graciously drove me back to the Dueck’s so I could finish packing my bags & prepping for my early afternoon flight tomorrow.

Deutschland Travels, Spring 2010, Day #10

Eddy asked me to talk to the TPLF ‘team’ on the topic of developing a culture of love, acceptance, & forgiveness. In preparing for the talk, I was studying my notes & reviewing all the life lived, highlights (& otherwise ☺) from the last 10 years at Hillside. Thinking back, I get weepy, pondering the cost of attempting to figure out just what that “love, acceptance, & forgiveness” looks like, lived out in the lives of fallible, imperfect people.

Trying to condense it into a 25 minutes window almost seemed impossible… but then it’s not. At this point, I think that while I (& we. Yes we,) are still a work in process, there is enough water under the bridge, the development of God’s purposes for me (& us. Yes us,) that talking to the TPLF’ers about this seems simple…

I found it spilling out of the overflow of what’s getting more & more bubbling up in my heart. I started by defining culture as a ‘set of shared attitudes, values, goals, beliefs, & practices…” & rolled on from there to HERE.

Living out love, acceptance, & forgiveness is costly… in that its risky & feels ‘dangerous’ because of the personal & corporate vulnerability that results. It’s also freeing, as it seems like living with no net, with a deeper & more reliant (desperate) need for cooperation to what God-the Holy Spirit is doing in & around us. Cause really, living love, acceptance, & forgiveness is simply putting a human suit on God’s heart & purposes for humanity.

On another note, evidently I had taken a picture at the Sunday coffee party at the Dueck’s house that had caught Aris’ beautiful girlfriend with her eyes closed. So, I’m posting another one that I snapped last night to make up for it. Very, very sweet.

After the meeting, Eddy & I were invited by a couple of people to head over to a place called “Loonas,” a kneipe (restaurant/pub) run by an Italian guy named Gianni (Johnny) right around the corner from the famous Bistro Sahin. Hung out there for a while, talking about times when we’ve been embarrassed by saying something in our mother tongue, not knowing that there was someone nearby that understood it… good times. Embarrassment & the gift of putting ones foot in ones mouth – truly a universal trait of the human race.

Gianni was quite taken with us, partially because it was the 2nd evening in a row that we’d been there… & business was pretty slow. I ordered a Maisel’s Weissbier from Austria. The hefe glass it came it was incredible, so much so that I asked Gianni if he had any for sale. He got a big grin on his face & went & grabbed one from behind his counter – & said, “For you, the American guy, it’s free. Just promise me one thing: don’t EVER put American beer in this glass. If you do, it will BREAK!” We all had a good laugh at that, & I’m coming home with a great souvenir reminder & sign of God’s blessing & favor. Booyah!

I’ve spent today meeting with a couple different people – for breakfast & then again for lunch. The last two days I haven’t been able to walk as much as I would like, so I took the U-bahn to the Hauptwache (main station,) where the outdoor mall (& the KatherinenKirche is, where we did the Leben ist Schoen outreach in 2007.) Walked up & down the mall, looking for a new shoulder bag. (NOTE: a shoulder bag is different than a man-purse. I can’t explain all the nuances of it, but you’ll have to take my word for it, especially if I ever actually pull the trigger on buying one.)

Been using a borrowed (& flimsy) backpack on the trip, & the more I wear & use it, the more my upper back & neck hurt. I’m at the point where I’m looking to spend money to deal with the pain, which should tell you that its become a nuisance… I’ve tried adjusting the straps etc. but to no avail – hence the search for a bag that would be easier to support, & more evenly balanced. Your prayers for healing (& relief!) are greatly appreciated.

Anyway, it’s been raining for most of the day, so I put my hood up, thanked the LORD that theBean had made me take my rain jacket, & walked. And shopped, which consisted of me looking into the stores as I briskly went by each of them. If anything caught my eye, I’d wander in for a few, & then get out as quick as possible. Truly, I am skilled at this. Oh yes.

Found about 4 different, very, very manly shoulder-bags, complete with the imprint of a manly sporting goods company on it. Thinking about colors at this point, & may take the plunge & actually get one tomorrow. Just sayin…

I’ll be snagging a spare umbrella for the walk to TPLF tonight for Flying Ducks (College Group). Aris, the leader of the Ducks, asked me to bring something challenging, so I’ll be speaking from John 8, talking about the difference between BELIEF in Christ & being a DISCIPLE of Christ. Hillside-ers would most likely recognize the text & the substance of the message as we spent a good weeks on the topic in our Living as a Christ-follower series… Good times.

Something I’d like to ponder & work through later deals with a topic that has come up repeatedly over the last 10 days: fatherhood. I’ll put a “,” there & we’ll get back to it soon. Gotta study a bit, rest for 20, & then head over to TPLF.

Deutschland Travels, Spring 2010, Day #8-9

Monday is Eddy’s day off, & I heard that the family would be headed to a couple of hardware stores to check out & price supplies for the garden project. I asked if I could tag along, as one of the things I’ve never seen in Germany is a hardware store. Now I have. We went to two stores, both of them very reminiscent of the Home Depot & Lowe’s superstores; one, the Hornbach, even had the same color scheme & ‘feel’ of Home Depot.

In the afternoon, the Dueck’s went to a family birthday party, & I made my way over to TPLF to meet with a local pastor of an English speaking church named Richard Morschel. Richard is South African with German roots, & he & his family have been in Frankfurt since 1987, & he’s been pastoring Kingdom Life Church here since 2006. We made our way to the bakery/coffee shop near the Bistro Sahin, & had some cappuccino & spent a couple of hours getting to know each other.

I’d met Richard before a couple of times, but determined on this trip to actually try to connect for more than a brief conversation. In addition to pastoring, he’s employed by the Frankfurt Opera, & plays bassoon. We had great talks about philosophy of church, the significance of relationships, the process of building trust, & how our paths keep crossing in interesting ways. (For example, the man who leads the youth group came back to Jesus during the “Leben ist Schoen” outreach in August 2007… You can read about it HERE) I found that though we come from very different backgrounds, Richard & I have a lot in common when it comes to our ideas about what really matters… This Friday morning, I’ll be participating in Kingdom Life’s men’s breakfast, & giving the devotional. I look forward to seeing how our new relationship will develop.

There was a short interlude before my next appointment, so I took advantage of the down time to read. I’m currently in a book about Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Some of it is great, some absolutely cracks me up.

My ride arrived in the form of Levent’s VW; we chatted as he skillfully wound his way through Frankfurt’s crazy rush-hour traffic, making his way to their home. Levent is Turkish, & was one of the 1st people that I met at TPLF in 2005, & it is always good to be able to visit with him & Ines, his Bolivian/German wife. They prepared an excellent dinner with burgers, brats, bbq’d corn-on-the-cob, salad, & a South African Pinotage. We caught up on their lives, & also the new happenings in one of the areas that they help out at church in, the Twens Gruppe (College Group,) which is affectionately known as “Flying Ducks.” We made some tentative plans for Ines & I to go to Levent’s workplace on Friday for a tour & for lunch. (He’s in TV. Meaning, he is working to bring streaming television live to the internet.)

Day 9 began at 5:50 a.m. as I staggered my way out the door & down the street to TPLF for prayer for TPLF, led by my friend Sam Clayton. Several of us gathered for about an hour to pray for the church, Eddy & Laura, & whatever else we were led to. And coffee was served, which filled my prayers with a bit more energy than they otherwise might have.

Sam (from Manchester, England,) took me to his house right after prayer to spend time with his family: Wife Mirjam (Swiss), & their 3 kids; Danny 4, Becky (my god-daughter,) 2, & Benjamin 1. Danny had to go to kindergarten, leaving Sam, Mirjam & I to eat some great food, play with the kids & catch up on life. Sam & Mirjam had been a part of the Roundabout team with me, & have also been at TPLF since 2006. Sam feels a call to inter-national reconciliation & peace, & is currently studying to be able to put himself in a spot to help facilitate this. Their story always reminds me of the often winding road that our lives take: Sam left England & went to France, where he met Mirjam, a Swiss national on a mission trip. He tried everything he knew to learn her language (French) & her heart… which he was eventually able to do, marrying about 6 years ago. Then, this international couple felt led to relocated to Frankfurt – & so Sam learned German to go along with his English & French… They have story after story to tell about God’s faithfulness, provision, & care in their lives. I’m honored to be able to be in their lives.

I’ve been trying to catch up on blogging this afternoon, to take a nap, & then do some studying for the meetings I’ll be having over the next few days. My contacts with home have left me feeling a bit home-sick I must say. More than once, I’ve loaded a picture album of my family on my Mac & watched the slideshow play over & over, often pausing on pictures of each of my dear ones to pray for them… & extra long on theBean & her clear blue eyes, gleaming like sapphires, calling to me, making it hard for me to think anything at all except of her… sigh. Soon, my dear.

Tonight, in just a few hours, Eddy & I are going to a Man Meeting to talk about Manhood & what it means to be a Man. Great topic, & I’m really looking forward to the discussion on this, especially considering that there will be people from all sorts of backgrounds & cultures participating. Good times!

Deutschland Travels, Spring 2010, Day #7

Woke up around 8:30 to the heavenly smell of coffee & homemade cinnamon rolls; Laura is an amazing cook. Just sayin. Evidently, I’ve taken to saying, “Tasty!” so often in response to our meals that Taylor (6) & Elliot (3) the Dueck’s 2 oldest boys, have started using the word as well. Now just to get Max (2) saying it too…

Sitting around the counter eating, the personalities of the 3 boys come out. Makes me think about how very unique the experience is to be growing up as a pastor’s kid… having people in your home all the time… with church days not just ‘going’ to church but ‘running’ it… I’m reflecting back on my own childhood, growing up ‘in the church,’ & also the experiences of my kids; wondering how & in what ways that has shaped their personalities & life outlook. Note to self.

Different service schedule today at TPLF: 1 song, then some announcements & ‘missions discussion’, followed by the speech – with the last 30 minutes or so being set aside for worship/response. The worship team was led by Kyong-he & Steve G… Kyong-he has got a voice that reminds me a lot of Kate Miner, & she is a very skillful & sensitive worship leader, in that you don’t ever really NOTICE her so much as simply FOLLOW her in worship through songs, spontaneous spoken praise, silence, & celebration. Steve is an Englishman living in Frankfurt, & is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, with a quick wit & ready story. He’s also incredibly willing to help in whatever way he can, & is a great example of how someone with the gift of evangelism has integrated into the ebb & flow of life in & around TPLF.

Today is the last of a 4 week series on the mission of the church – it’s interesting to me to see that though many things have changed, including the pastor of TPLF, the mission statement hasn’t.

    -Living for Jesus
    -Living for each other
    -Living for Frankfurt
    -Living for Germany & the World

The text I spoke from was Acts 8:26-40, about Philip meeting the Ethiopian eunuch/treasurer on the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza. If you’re interested in hearing it, you can try to find it here. What really stood out to me about that portion of scripture is that “living for the world…” doesn’t always mean having to go to the far corners of the earth (ironic, I know, as I am writing this from Frankfurt, about 5500 miles from home.) The story of Philip is an example where the world has come to him – & he (Philip) responds to the leading of the Holy Spirit in starting a conversation with a man seeking to know God, & in turn, touches & helps change an entire nation.

To me, it’s not about aiming for greatness, or trying to be significant, let alone famous… its being available to serve, to obey, to be lead in a simple way to do whatever God puts in front of me to do… whether I can see the “WHY” behind it or not. Obedience is better than sacrifice, & the real joy comes from gladly doing the will & purposes of God.

I really enjoyed having the worship/song/reflection portion at the end of the service – it gave a lot of time & possibility for listening & responding to the LORD… & also felt like a ‘good’ fit for the message & the day.

Its always great to be at TPLF & have the opportunity to renew the acquaintance of old friends, & to meet new people. Today was even better – my dear friend Anja came over from Mainz (about 25 miles away,) & Julia, the young woman from Aachen, Germany that lived with us for 6 months,) made the 2-hour trek by with her sister & a friend to be in the service. It’s hard to put into words the response that that kind of love evokes. What special & dear friends.

After church, several of us made our way to a restaurant just around the corner from TPLF – Koriander (formerly Zimt und Koriander – now under new ownership.) I think that they have great pizzas, so that’s what I got – a personal pepperoni & pineapple, complete with a dark Hefeweizen. Mmmm. That should get your mouth watering.

We walked from the restaurant, talking & catching up on the last few months – & navigated the short distance to Eddy & Laura’s house. They were having an ‘open house’ for any who wanted to come by & sample some of Laura’s baked goods & drink some tea or coffee. The house was filled with great smells, peals of laughter, & good talks. Aris & Steve had us all rolling with their witty repartee.

Too soon, it seemed, the afternoon flowed into the evening, & our friends had to make their way home, especially those that had traveled so far. It brought tears to my eyes to say goodbye to my friends, for whom I’m so thankful.

The family & I spent a quiet evening with a light supper (tasty!) & now the boys are in bed & I’m trying to catch up on the happenings of the day with news from home & Hillside. When I’m here in Frankfurt, I try to be “HERE”; while at the same time, I dearly miss my wife, my family, friends, & church family.

Deutschland Travels, Spring 2010, Day #6

I’m sitting at the desk in the office/guest room of Eddy & Laura, my home for the next 8 or so days that I’m in Frankfurt. The sounds of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” (check out it HERE) are ringing in my ears, accompanying the pealing of the bells of the beautiful Catholic church across the street. Just finished my studies for the speech I’ll be giving tomorrow as a part of the TPLF Sunday morning gathering. What an incredible day I’ve had.

I was so tired last night that I staggered into bed after homemade pizza & a couple episodes of Veggie Tales with the family. TheBean & I texted back & forth a bit, then I fell into unconscious slumber around 9:30 my time (if my last text was any indicator of an accurate time.) Woke up this morning at 8:30, feeling very refreshed. Thanks to Eddy, I had some great coffee & set about to try & blog, only to find that my site was temporarily down. No matter. Emails & my 4 fantasy baseball teams beckoned for attention.

I was excited – my dear friends Martin & Sandra were coming to pick me up & take me to breakfast… last November, I was hoping to see them, but due to some illnesses, it didn’t work out. With eager anticipation I waited… & when they arrived, I could barely contain myself for all the joy I felt at this reunion!

We walked the short walk to the cafe, dodging rain drops & catching up on the events & happenings of the recent past. It seemed like only a few moments before we were darting into the cafe next to the White Tower (no, LOTR nerd – not Saruman’s tower, the Bockenheim Tower.) Turns out it was a 10Euro, all you can eat breakfast from 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. And can I get a “BOOYAH!” Goodness.

All of my favorite things were there – quark, blueberry & peach yogurt, fresh fruit, croissants, bacon & eggs, you name it. Sigh. We ate. And talked. And ate some more.

What fun to catch up talking – German & American politics; music (Sandra is a Dr. of Musicology with her very own Ph.D to boot,) food, families, church, forgiveness, marriage, parenting, & the list goes on.

Finally, we wrapped up our feasting, & decided to take a walk to try to cope with the copious amounts of food consumed. Went through various parks & small gardens, seamlessly navigating from topic to topic, one moment laughing hysterically, the next on the brink of tears. It was Awesome with a capital A.

Too soon, the morning came to a close as they dropped me back at La Casa de Dueck. Eddy & I spent some significant time discussing our ideas for the Sunday speech; I really wanted to hear what his heart is for me to communicate in TPLF. We had “coffee & snack time,” which only augmented the back & forth.

Eddy left me to finish my studies, & the family headed out into the garden (backyard) to play – the sounds of their laughing & fun brought a great deal of joy to me. I especially love hearing 2 year old Max call his brother Elliott by name. He says it with a lilting, “EllioTTT!” that always reminds me of the movie E.T. Truly good times.

Dinner is happening any minute. I’m savoring today, both the memories made, & those to come.

Deutschland Travels, Spring 2010, Day #5

Jan picked me up as before & we made our way to his home in Gau Algesheim, a very rural town about 20 minutes or so out of Mainz. I’m a bit familiar with the place, as I spent some time there a couple of years back when I stayed there with my friends, Alex & Linda on the Laurenziberg, an expansive, rolling hill overlooking the town.

We immediately sat down to a quick lunch; barbecued chicken & rice. I couldn’t help but wonder if we were eating one of the neighborhood chickens… Our discussions over lunch & beyond centered on what is happening with Foursquare Germany. Jan told me of the “1/3” reality that exists, meaning that 1/3 of the churches are struggling, 1/3 are doing ok, 1/3 are thriving. He laid out some of the strategies he & his regional leaders are pursuing for the coming years, & went back & forth on some ideas about how the US church (our division/district specifically,) might be able to partner with them in their plans… to help & be a part by giving key resources (money, time, & people.)

Some things that stood out to me from our discussions:

    -There is a great desire & need in Germany for regional church planting centers, as that would also help with pastoral health & leadership development. Currently, there are no Foursquare churches in East Germany, & only 1 church of less than 20 people in the German capital, Berlin, a key & strategic city for Germany & for Europe.

    -The intention & focus of the leadership team is to plant a thriving, life-giving church in Berlin late Summer/Fall of 2011 by sending a pastoral team from one of the ‘thriving’ churches to Berlin to head it up. Jan is hopeful that outreach teams from other churches in Germany (& the US,) could come alongside for the ‘launch” of the church. One of the concerns they have is what will happen when the pastor of a ‘strong’ church leaves their current church & moves to Berlin – will there be a strong pastor & leader to replace the church planter so that the church left behind will continue to develop & thrive.

    -Our talks reminded me of the necessity to pray for workers – for people to declare the Good News, & also to be a part of the “making disciples.” The scripture that comes to mind is Matthew 9:38, when Jesus tells His disciples:

    The harvest is great, but the workers are few. Pray to the LORD Who is in charge of the harvest; ask Him to send out more workers for the harvest.

My heart was torn as I listened, & I’m determined to amp up praying for this.

In the late afternoon, the two of us took a walk through the vineyards, to & past the nearby Benedictine monastery, to a scenic overlook of the valley Gau Algesheim sits in. We spent some time there, under the waving flags of Germany & the European Union, talking & getting to know each other better. We discussed American & German politics; our wives & kids; the things we are most prone to struggle with, areas of weakness & temptation; what feeds our soul.

Back to the house for a quick bite (good bread & split pea soup, with a dash of vinegar to give it some extra bite,) & we made our way to Bingen, a town along the Rhein about 30 minutes away. We left a little early to be able to take a few minutes to walk through the tiny village.

Bingen is feeling the bite of the downturn of the economy – stores are empty, others are suffering as those that want to shop usually trek the extra few kilometers into Mainz or Frankfurt to buy what they want & need. It seems to me to be a town without identity – unremarkable. What I mean is that where many (most?) German cities have a distinctive downtown, with an open, spacious square & buildings restored to their 18th century look, Bingen is narrow, closed, & feels like being in an elevator; with the buildings reminiscent of 70s era Eastern bloc chic.

As usually happens, we found our way to an espresso bar & took turns pretending to be coffee aficionados. Pretending. ☺

Jumped into the car & found our way to the church. It’s an independent, non-affiliated fellowship that is looking to become adopted into Foursquare Germany. I asked Jan how this sort of thing happens here, as I know that Germans have a process for everything. I wasn’t disappointed.

The ‘adoption’ process is 3 years long; the 1st year is spent getting to know each other through hanging out together & attending Foursquare meetings & conferences. The 2nd year is more involved with specific, structured interactions, in-depth interviews, & examination on both sides. In the 3rd year, there are formal reviews, interviews, & a couple of month long evaluation by the regional leader, who at the end of the process, will make a recommendation, “yay” or “nay.” Then, the final decision on what happens is made by the Foursquare Germany board, consisting of the 4 regional leaders & the 1 national leader.

This church, the Brunnen Gemeinde (fellowship) is fairly established, & is unique in Germany in that they built & own their own church building. Nina, the pastor, is an olderish, motherly type woman who reminded me a lot of my mother-in-law, with her distinct & sweet singing voice, & quick, contagious laugh. The building itself was what theBean would say is “crisp & clean,” with an open layout, though in the sanctuary, the stage area took up almost 1/3 (!) of the entire sanctuary. There were about 10 of us total in attendance (the pastor, her husband, & some of the key leaders, Jan & I.) We gathered for worship, then made our way into a kitchen meeting room.

This time, I’d had a little more time to prep & more background info on the church for the talk I’d be giving. I was led to talk from Psalm 71 about passing on the great things God has done in, through, & around us. How it’s our responsibility to always be looking for those that Don’t Know yet – don’t know about the fingerprints God’s left on us personally & as a family. Don’t know what are we, who are we, & why are we. How this isn’t just the domain & responsibility of the individual & the family, but it’s also something that every church has to intentionally build into itself. It seems that the longer we’re in our church, & the more we ‘know” the history, the more likely we are to make the assumption & jump that others understand it in the same way that we do. We talked about different ways to bring these things up, talk about, rehearse & revisit them until they become a common thread woven into the fabric of our lives together.

I talked for about an hour, often referencing my own learning processes, shortcomings, struggles, & places where I had to grow, stretch, & be developed. Most poignant (to me) was the discussion on the pastoral role of ‘equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry;” growing in unity, & coming to maturity in the faith, as measured by us becoming like Christ. I reflected quite a bit on my & Hillside’s own journey through this process.

Then, there was another hour of questions – most in the vein of, “what & how” questions. A couple examples:

    -How do I find people to share my faith with? (Friends. Family. Co-workers. The people you see & interact with on a regular basis; those already in your life.)

    -What do you do if someone in the church doesn’t seem to want to grow or change in Christ? (Feed the hungry bird – meaning, spend as much time as you can with those that DO want to grow, that ARE there, that ARE looking to do whatever they can

    -Would you let someone who is knowingly in “bad sin” (their word) be on an after service prayer team? (No.) To which the response was a collective gasp. And Louie said, “Oops.” That wasn’t theoretical, was it?

After praying together, Jan & I made our way back to Gau Algesheim – the last couple of days have been a bit taxing, & both of us were pretty tired, but not ready for bed yet. So we sat in the darkness of his back patio, sipping a treasured 16 year old single malt, relaxing & talking about our favorite & most personally influential books, movies, & music. My kind of getting to know each other.

Finally, I made my way towards bed to try & catch a couple hours of sleep before starting my Friday. It was a great day, & I’m thankful for the growing relationship with Jan.

a night in the forest… or Deutschland Travels, Spring 2010, Day #4

Jan picked me up in the early afternoon, & we made our way into the city center of Mainz. After parking & walking for a bit, we decided that it would be a good time for lunch: pizza. There was a place that Jan especially likes, run by an Italian family, that we made our way to – after reading through the menu, I decided I’d get the pizza called, “Der Teufel” (the devil,) which came with pepperoni, red (hot chili) peppers, & pepperoncini. Amazing.

We spent the better part of the afternoon catching up on the happenings in the churches that Jan oversees – especially those that we’d be spending time with over the next days. It was an absolutely beautiful day, with a temperature of about 75, with the slightest of breezes. I enjoyed it even more when I heard that it was snowing & hailing at home. Goodness. It’s April… practically May. This picture is a banner I saw while walking through the narrow streets of Old Mainz. Green Day is coming to Mainz. It is a small world.

No visit to an authentic Italian restaurant is complete without gelato . I chose chocolate & vanilla, covered with chocolate sauce & Schlagsahne (whipped cream,) for brother Ben.

The time came to make our way to Taunusstein, a small town about 30 minutes by car from Mainz. Whenever I ask people to tell me about Taunusstein, they always say, “It’s in the forest.” I can see why. Getting there is like driving Highway 28 from Spooner Summit to North Shore Lake Tahoe; beautiful scenery, fresh mountain air, & trees as far as the eye can see, with the occasional break in the woods that allows glimpses into the valley below. Very nice.

Taunusstein is a town of about 25,000 people – & while it has Catholic & State (Lutheran) churches, there has been no Freikirche (free-church, non-state church of independent or denominational status) there. Ever. (In comparison, Mainz has 7, & Reno alone has at least 250 free-churches.)

About 3 years ago, Jan & the enChristo church decided to partner with some of the people that had been traveling the 30 minutes to their church to see a bible study started, & hopefully, eventually, a church planted.

There’s been a good response in Taunusstein; a good group of people with a wide variety of church backgrounds have begun attending, many of whom have been praying for a free-church to come to their town for years. There’s also been some stops & restarts in the process, & a lot of things to work through, most notably the difficulties that inevitably arise with a group that each comes with their own idea of what this particular free-church could look like. Hearing some of their stories on how they’re attempting to keep Jesus Christ & the cross front & center give me a new appreciation for the need for the Church to focus on the essentials… referencing the Augustine attributed statement:

“In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.”

We met first with the appointed leader of the church plant, Curt Staab. He graciously welcomed us into his home & ushered us onto the back patio that his family shares with the other tenants of the ranch style/condo-type housing block. He’d prepared dinner himself, an authentic Bavarian feast: white sausage, kraut-salad, & fresh baked pretzel bread.

Curt & his wife Claudia have been a part of the church plant team since the beginning, & have served as assistants, then leaders of the plant which is still sponsored by & overseen by enChristo & the Foursquare Germany leadership. Curt is a practicing medical doctor in his “day job” & is a humble, dedicated, & faithful man giving his all to see people come to know Jesus & grow in him.

Over dinner, I received my assignment for the night: I’d be addressing a home cell group of about 12-20 people, using the book of Acts as my template, talking through the beginnings of the church, tying it in to what the people in Taunnustein are doing, & also referencing some of my own experiences from church life. Sweet.

I scratched a few notes on a pad, & we drove to the home where the group would be meeting; imagine my surprise, a couple from the Frankfurt area that I’ve known for several years, Speedy & Fema Rakus, happened to be there with their 2 sons. Speedy is in his residency, & recently relocated to Taunusstein… & in turn, joined the church plant. I thanked God for the friendly (& familiar) faces.

We began with a DVD message from my supervisor, Ron (the DVD I showed in church last week.) I was so thankful to have an ice-breaker – an introduction & personal blessing specifically recorded for these meetings we are in, as well as an explanation of what it means to be Foursquare, addressing at the very heart level fleshing out love, acceptance, & forgiveness. It was very well received, & the room noticeably brightened.

Jan was serving as my translator, & I tried to get my brain working on multiple levels – what I was talking about, & also how I was communicating it – aiming to keep it in complete sentences & thoughts for ease of “idea to idea” translation. The main scripture used was Acts 2:42-48 – where in the aftermath of the first church growth ‘explosion’ of 120 – 3000+ people, the apostles, in response to the leading of the Holy Spirit, found a way, a flexible though functional structure to make sure each believer was in a place to receive discipleship. As I talked, I was reminded of the great need we have to be in relationship; for the opportunity to be face to face with others on a regular basis in a group small enough to allow intimate & intentional discipleship to take place. I shot up a quick prayer for Hillside & mentally noted to keep praying for the continued development of ‘life giving small missional communities’ (small groups if you want to use a cliche) in our church family.

The time flew by, & illustrations & promptings readily came to mind – we laughed a lot. I’m thankful that some of the things I’ve learned the hard way were able to be used as an example that others might not have to go down the same route I did.

At the end of the talk, there was time for questions… the questions came, haltingly at first. On topics like elders. Leadership. Church structure & church government. Distinctions between elders & leaders (Germans are very, very precise & exact in their definitions.) Differences between the US & German Foursquare structure, bylaws, & government. Prayer.

We prayed together, said our heartfelt goodbyes, & Jan & I slipped out to make the drive back to my host home. Both of us were tired from the long day (& night) & also from sitting & walking in the warm sun for most of the afternoon. Briefly, we talked about our next days agenda, a visit to a town called Bingen, where we’d be spending time with an independent church that is in year 2 of a 3 year process to be adopted as a member church of Foursquare Germany.

Had the good fortune to make it home around midnight, just in time for my schedule & theBean’s to overlap long enough to Skype. Goodness, she has blue eyes. Sigh.

Woke to the sound of my alarm, the 1st time I’d not woken up before it. (In honor of Brintus, I used the Darth Vader music from Star Wars. Starts my day with a smile. Yo B! Thinking of ya!) Staggered to the bathroom to shower & then to the kitchen (with all the appropriate steps in between,) to find that my hosts had laid the table with everything necessary to start the day great. Again! A carafe full of steaming coffee. Mueslix (2 kinds.) Yoghurt. 3 kinds of juice. Dark German bread. Brötchen (little bread rolls.) Ahh. I feel so blessed. Wolfram & Heidi – thank you so much for your hospitality.

On her way out to travel, Heidi came to say goodbye – I’m going to be in another home about 30 minutes away this evening to facilitate my early Friday morning meeting in Gau Algesheim. She said, “Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of what you’re doing. You staying with us allowed me & my husband to be a part of what our church (enChristo) is doing. We’re often so busy with travel & work that we can’t be involved as much as we’d like. Hosting you gave us a chance to be a part of the blessing that you are giving to Germany.”

What an incredible perspective – to be thankful for hosting me? Recognizing that they were getting to partner in the declaration of the gospel Good News. It was a very cool moment that makes me all weepy.

I love my life, & am grateful for the chance meetings that are sign posts declaring God’s goodness, blessing, & care to me & mine.

Deutschland Travels, Spring 2010 Day #3

I arrived in Mainz about 7 p.m. as the preparations for the BBQ were beginning in earnest. It’s a bit surreal to be witness to the hustle & bustle of activity precipitating a church event, but not being a part of the actual “hustling…” Loved the energy.

Jan arrived & he, Eddy, & I spent some time talking, catching up, & making sure our calendars were synced – Eddy was on staff with Jan for several years as his associate, his right hand man. It’s an interesting dynamic between them, in that there is a lot of history & ‘being known’ that is obvious, as well as a deep love & mutual respect.

After Eddy left to head back to Frankfurt, (Tuesdays are “Date Night” for the Dueck’s, no easy feat considering they have 3 boys under the age of 6,) I talked with several of the people that had arrived, a couple of whom I have known (or at least met,) through the November Pastors’ conference I have attended for the last several years. The question of the evening, esp. with those that I hadn’t met before, was:

Why do you come to Germany?

Jan had told me that he wanted me to address the group on this topic later, so each time I answered the query with, “I will tell you later. ” And a smile.

My attendance at the BBQ was a bit of a surprise for some – they didn’t know I’d be there. This dinner gathering was a regularly scheduled get-together for the pastoral staff & ministry leads (childrens’ ministry, administration, hospitality, small groups, etc.) An intimate group of about 15 of us gathered outside on a patio with a U-shaped table configuration to maximize interaction. It was a pot-luck in the best sense of the word, as several great salads, meat selections, & desserts were provided by the people in attendance. The majority of our time involved interacting under the stars in the cool evening, talking, laughing, & enjoying each others company & a good Portuguese rotwein. It reminded me a lot of hanging out with my church family. :)

After about 90 minutes or so, Jan asked if I would tell the gathered group a little bit about me, & also tell WHY I was there… around the tables there was a general anticipation, as those who’d wanted that question answered earlier were FINALLY getting their wish.

I talked about my first trip to Germany, an accidental one. The friendship that developed with my friend Johannes. The discussions about the practicality & process of missions. My trip down the river Main, & how God used the simple invitation, “Come to Germany,” to sear a deep, lasting, committed love for the country, people, & pastors in Germany. Our attempts to move to Germany in 2/99. Beginning pastoring Hillside. The reestablishment of relationship with Johannes & Germany. Mission trips to Frankfurt that resulted in the budding “sister-church” relationship Hillside has with TPLF. The commitment to go to the German pastors’ conference each November, to get to know pastors for the purpose of supporting, praying for, & encouraging them in their endeavors. You can read more about that HERE & HERE & HERE & also HERE if you’re interested

After I finished talking, Jan had me field some questions… a few I remember:

    -what is your long-term vision for Germany?
    -What do you think the German church needs?
    -Does your church support you (believe in you) coming to Germany?
    -Do you really pray for us?

As in any group of close friends, the talks gradually broke into small pockets of conversation, & Jan & I had the opportunity to just sit & soak in the brisk night, observing the people, & conversing ourselves about hobbies, exercise, kettlebells, (Jan was very interested in this, & even asked me to demonstrate several kettlebell exercises & techniques… which I so gladly busted out, much to the amusement of those who observed my demonstration but hadn’t been privy to the discussion leading up to it. Imagine me doing the swing, the figure eight with hold, & the famed “2 hand anyhow…” Good times.

It was close to 11 by the time Jan took me to the home where I’d be staying – words can’t begin to describe the thankfulness I felt at not only being prepared for, (which Wolfram & Heidi had done, setting up a great room & space for me, including wifi password & wasser mit koehlensaure,) but also that they were up & answered the door for their late arriving guest.

A quick tour of the home followed, (so I wouldn’t stumble around in the dark,) & then a quick phone call to theBean, then to bed for me. The picture at left is the garden (backyard) of the home where I’m staying.

I woke to the sound of giggling kids – evidently, having an American staying in Spare Oom is a pretty funny concept for little ones. I quickly shaved & showered, then stumbled out to a German breakfast, complete with strong German coffee. Heidi pulled out all the stops, & I was again so thankful for the love & care shown to me in something as simple as mueslix, yoghurt, the dark German bread, & plenty of coffee. Did I mention the coffee? Mmm.

One of my favorite things about staying in homes is the opportunity to get to hear the ‘story’ of the hosts; these serendipitous meetings have often resulted in the development of deep & lasting friendships, (ala Martin und Sandra, Alex und Linda, etc…)

Today, I’ll be having lunch with Jan & discussing the happenings within Foursquare Germany, specifically relating to the churches that I’ll be visiting over the next couple of evenings, & also hearing about the recent developments in Foursquare Europe (fresh from the conference that just took place just outside of Valencia, Spain.) Then, this evening, I’m headed to a place in the hills about 30 minutes from Mainz called Taunusstein. I’m looking forward to another great evening.

a book response, & the start of a great week… or Deutschland Travels, Spring 2010 Day 2, part 2

On the plane over, I started reading Donald Miller’s latest, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.” It’s written in classic “Miller-style” as a series of seemingly unrelated essays, thoughts, & musings, that are all somehow, someway connected to each other in such a way as to cause a deep & probing introspection & evaluation of self, life, & priorities.

What’s it about, you ask? It’s about Story.

Using the context of a movie being made based upon his life, Miller explores the elements of a good story… which ultimately is really about the elements of living a good story, one worth reading. A story of life means deep & meaningful relationships, hope & loss, joy & pain, risk & stretching for the difficult, unique, & hard to obtain.

Makes me examine the story I’m writing with my own life; where I’ve settled for the comfortable instead of pushing through difficulties, hardship, pain, & inadequacy.

Reminds me that most of my life’s most rewarding & blessed moments are directly tied in to relationships – people who know me & are known in return; who’ve seen me up close & personal, in my strengths, weaknesses & frailties… & who love me anyway.

I ponder life looking through the wrong end of the binoculars… a glimpse, a backwards view, from the end towards the beginning, through the years, wanting, hoping, praying that the Most Important things in life would actually have been the main elements of my story. That I didn’t get lost on a rabbit trail, a selfish pursuit that had no lasting value or contribution to the Story.

Faces swim in front of my eyes. People, each valuable & precious, representing the interconnected & intertwined lives that touch my Story. Now it’s my eyes that are swimming.

I’d recommend the book. And even more, to re-evaluate the Story we’re living with the only life we have.

Headed to Mainz in about 2 hours to spend time with Jan & the enChristo Foursquare church. We’re having a BBQ & then talking about what it means to be Foursquare…

The Foursquare churches here in Germany have been going by the name FreiEvangelischeGemeindeWerk (FEGW, which, loosely translated means Free Evangelical Fellowship) – just last week, they have officially decided to change their name to Foursquare Deutschland… & part of what I’m here to do over the next week in a few churches is help bring a deeper connection to the Foursquare US church, but also to the heart & values of Foursquare.