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 :)

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.