Deutschland Travels, Spring 2010, #1-2

Sunday is a blur. TheBean whisked me away right after church to the airport, & we had the familiar experience of saying our goodbyes. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to them.

Once I was alone in the airport, surrounded by strangers, the familiar travel-brain kicked in. Pay attention to the announcements. Check all the Departure screens. Check them again. Hurry up & wait.

The layover in San Francisco was a robust 4 hours 20 minutes – an unavoidable inconvenience due to United cutting back on a few of their Reno/SF legs. Fortunately, playoff hoops was on, & the Gordon Biersch restaurant was serving…

Finally boarded the plane, & made my way back to my assigned seat, praying all the way. Praying for what, you might ask? For a small human to occupy the seat next to me. With emphasis on the word small. Makes the long eastward bound ‘sleep’ flight that much easier to bear.

Turns out, the flight was 11 hours long, as it was re-routed due to the so-famous-its-INfamous Ash Cloud. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. I did manage to fit in about 7 total hours of sleep, mostly broken into 1 & 2 hour chunks. Better than the alternative, & I shall get good sleep tonight! So say we all!

Tonight, (as well as the week of Saturday, 1 May – 8 May,) I am staying with Eddy & Laura Dueck; he’s the pastor of our sister church in Frankfurt – they just moved into their new home in February after a pretty extensive remodel & reshaping to make the flat ‘reflect’ them. Took a bit to just relax & get settled in… & to get reacquainted with the Dueck’s 3 boys – Taylor 6; Elliot 3; & Max 2. To say that they have an active house would be an understatement. :)

Read a little, & then took a walk through the streets of Bockenheim (think Bistro Sahin, Subway, the White Tower, & the Rewe,) they live only a few blocks away from TPLF. So with our sister church as my North Start point of orientation, I know exactly where I am now. Which means I just may Run Real Fast in the morning. On purpose.

Eddy & Laura put the boys down, & went to a birthday party – meaning I’m the ‘on-call’ sitter. No sooner had they headed out, than #1 son Taylor made his way into the office where I’m writing & hung out with me for a while, sharing the kinds of stories that firstborns everywhere can relate to. Of little brothers. Getting to do things First. Feeling like a grown up at 6.

I DO plan on awakening refreshed in the morning – & will meet with Eddy to discuss my itinerary for the next couple of weeks. Then in the evening at 6 p.m. (meaning Tuesday at 9 a.m. PST,) I’ll be headed to Mainz to visit with Jan & Susanna von WIlle, & the church Jan pastors, enChristo. There shall be barbecue. And interaction & talks. I’m looking forward to it – it’s a great privilege to be able to spend time with people in their town, living life with them, hearing their stories. I love this place & these people.

Reflecting on the value of encouragement, not living self-focused, practicing thankfulness & thanksgiving, & being relentlessly committed to following Christ with everything, in every way. Praying for my family. Blessing the new life in Hillside (New Life = growth & CHANGE if you didn’t know.) Wondering what Jesus will bring my way.

Monday musings on a Thursday in Reno…

Got home last night about 9… the last leg of the trip, even though it was only a 2 hour flight from Denver, was the most challenging. I think its because I just wanted it to be OVER already.

Some things that I’m pondering this morning in my partially convoluted (but never deluded) state are:

    -Coffee at home in my own kitchen sure tastes good.
    -Sitting on the couch last night with theBean with a good Cabernet made it seem like I’d never left at all. Funny.
    -My bum is killing me from all the sitting of the last 2 weeks. Wonder how bad it would have been if we hadn’t walked 10k/day? Feels like a big old bruise. Probably TMI…
    -Words are eluding me this morning as I try to express my self. Or to ask someone to pass the … what is that word again? I’m not thinking in German, I’m replacing the ‘right’ word with a completely wrong one – like “sofa” for “cup.” Ahh.
    -The sky is blue. I missed that about Reno. Frankfurt was grey & rainy for 99% of the time. Not that I minded.
    -Thursday night NFL games are here. I’m smiling on the inside. Back just in time.
    -I wonder if I’m more nervous for Pasty’s Zone championship game tomorrow night than he is?
    -I’m craving a big juicy steak, covered in butter.
    -Today I get to see theWeez hoop it up at SHHHHWWOPE. Can’t wait.

Going to try to sneak a work out in, then it’s time to start my Monday. On Thursday. Here I come. Watch out!

playing catch up, #2

November p.m..
Monday night brought a couple of surprises – käse nacht (cheese night) at the Kern’s & a special tour of the Olde Gott Winery – with the local “Wine Queen” Corinna, who just happened to be a friend of Julia’s that had visited us in Reno for a few days. It was a very high tech winery, & is known as 1 of if not THE best production wine maker in Salsbachwald. Corinna gave us background on the local grapes (mostly whites with a couple of reds,) & then took us through the process the grapes go through to make the wine. (Took us through virtually, that is. Virtually. Not actually. That would only produce Whine.)

Special surprise at the end was that we got to meet the president & CEO of the winery, who gave us a greeting & a free tasting of the top 4 wines on Olde Gott’s shelves – 2 reds & 2 whites. Very cool.

Käse Nacht involved melty cheese, garlic & French bread, good wine, & lots of laughter, discussion & tears. We sat around the Kern table with the whole family plus Heiko, the boyfriend of Linda. Good times. It got late way too quickly, so before we went our separate ways, Julia’s dad, Klaus, gave a heartfelt speech of thanks & gratitude to Jesus – for us, for Julia coming to the US & fulfilling her dream, for God’s provision, & for family. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room when he finished.

It was a real blessing to us to spend this time with the family, & I’m richer for having experienced it. Matty kept saying that this was the favorite part of the trip for him – I’m guessing it had to do with the family interactions, the intimacy of the talks, & the incredible food.

17 November
Went to the train station WAAAYYY too early for our 8:30 train – made it on without any trouble (yay me!) & managed to make it all the way to Frankfurt Main station without having to surrender our seats. Found a Starbucks & downed an Americano before we braved the drizzling rain.

Took the U-Bahn to TPLF where we met Elena & Eddy – he was hungry (almost as hungry as us,) so he accompanied us to Zimt und Koriander for pizza. Again. Go figure. Good talks & good pizza.

Afterwards, I tried to make my way to Alex’s house on the U-bahn. I must have fallen asleep, because I found myself waking up, disoriented on a train. Fortunately, it wasn’t far from the stop that I needed. 1 of the weirdest experiences of my life so far – didn’t know who or where I was, & my brain wouldn’t kick in & give me a context, language, or idea of what was going on around me.

Got to Alex’s & decided to take a nap. And that’s where I am right now.

I’m back… or, how I finally found the internet in Prum, Germany

I’ve not been able to connect to the net for a while, so if you’ve been sending me emails or notes that haven’t been returned, I’m sorry. Please bear with me – today, 10 November, Shawn & I found the “Lothar Raum” which is where we are connecting to the net via an ethernet cable. Also, this is a long post – you’ve been warned.

Sunday, 8 November
Woke up early to have breakfast with Alex & Linda – a good German breakfast of bread, nutella, yogurt & mueslix… & coffee of course. I appreciate these people who have opened up their home & life to me, inviting me in to be a part of what they do.

Alex dropped me at TPLF at 10, & I spent time reconnecting with friends & mentally preparing for the Sunday speech. Worshipping with our sister church is a lot like being at home, with a pleasant comfort that comes from revisiting something familiar, something that you’ve been missing. It was especially fun to see Dudi on the keyboards ☺.

I spoke on John 15:1-11 – on Staying Connected, with 3 specific points about connection:

  • connecting to God,
  • connecting to our church & church leaders
  • connecting to the people in our church family.

    Speaking through an interpreter is mentally draining – esp. because it requires thinking in complete thoughts vs. in ‘sentences’ if that makes sense. I hit a tangible ‘wall’ in point #2 about connecting to church & church leaders – because of the German reticence to ‘trust’ those in leadership due to both the history of domineering leadership in Germany (WW2) & also the loss/removal of TPLF’s senior pastor 18 months ago. It was tough, but I know I did what I was supposed to & said what I needed to. And left the rest up to the Holy Spirit & the grace of God. Sigh.

    After church, I ate a döner with Shawn & Matty, then waited for Eddy to come pick us up to take us to the Pastors conference that I’ve been a part of for the last 4 years – really enjoyed the talking & laughing with the boys on the long (3 hour) drive to Prüm, on the western border of Germany near France & Luxemborg.

    Our evening at the conference was one of getting oriented to the youth hostel where we’re staying, & a service consisting of praise & worship. Afterwards, we spent time with the German pastors & talked at length about the life & times of the last year. I met a pastor from Kazachstan who was visiting Germany & the German conference to see how the FEGW (Foursquare Germany) functioned as a church movement. As I stood their & listened to amazing story after amazing story, it reminded me both of how incredible our God is, & how small I am.

    FEGW Conference, Day 2
    Peter Wenz, a pastor from Stuttgart is the presenter. The thing that jumped out at me is that he is very animated & full of life & a tangible joy. The topic for the week is “FAITH” – & learning to live ‘correctly’ – which he defined as being filled with the Word of God, filled with hope, & lead by the Spirit into a life that is greater than me, for a purpose that God intends. Our main texts for the session were Habakkuk 2:14 & Hebrews 11:6

    I love how he defined & discussed faith –
    • not as something nebulous or intangible, but as something that is a secret, Godly substance placed in the hearts of His people; this secret substance gives us Godly confidence & boldness, special hope, discernment, & supernatural abilities to accomplish God’s purposes.
    • Faith is a gift from God to stir us, to awaken us to be looking for opportunities to live for God & to intersect the lives of others for God.
    • Faith opens us to God’s realm, the really real realm, to live life in a way that is ‘overcoming’ (Romans 8:39)
    • Faith is real & integrated into our everyday life, & as we act on it causes truth to become ‘real & evident’ in our hearts & lives
    • Faith is real & tangible, & causes ordinary people to really live extraordinary lives.

    Session 2 addressed Mark 1:14,15 & the ministry of Jesus – he talked about Jesus’ 4 declarations:
    • The time is come
    • The Kingdom of God is at hand
    • It is time to Repent – to renew our minds & way of thinking to God’s
    • Believe – in Christ, & follow Him

    Things that stood out:
    • The main obstacle to faith is unbelief – a humanist intellectualism that opposes the purposes & plans of God
    • This unbelief is often centered in the religious upper-class of society
    • We ask God to increase our faith, & then we ‘stand’ in & exercise the faith that we have – not the letter of it, but the Spirit of it.

    Good stuff – lots of great testimonies & encouragements.

    Shawn, Matt & I ate lunch together, then walked to a store down the street for supplies (snacks & water.) The highlight of our walk was when Matt tried to engage the cashier in small talk with a little, “How you doin?” She just looked at him blankly – didn’t speak any English. Shawn translated for Matt, & the clerk, once she understood, just looked at Matt & said, “Bad. Bad.” We all got some good smiles from that. Went to an Austrian restaurant for a schnitzel, a hefe, & lots of good discussion then went back to the hostel for the evening.

    We’re learning all kinds of stuff about each other. Good times.

    FEGW Conference, Day 3
    I woke up at 1 a.m. to a dull ache in my right shoulder, waaaay down deep in the joint. It kept me up until about 4. Bummer way to start the day.

    Our final sessions with Peter Wenz centered on Ephesians 4:7-13 – which is a portion of scripture that is especially significant for me (on account of the fact that we spent more than 3 months in those verses last year at this time – he focused on the words “measure of grace,” something given by God for people to live & function in – & that the “some people” who’ve been given the role of being a pastor, teacher, evangelist, prophet, or apostle are to be about the work of making disciples, spurring others on towards maturity in Christ.

    I especially enjoyed his discussion on how the body of Christ is to be “complementing” each other instead of “competing” with each other – with complementing being “to harmonize, go together better;” truly functioning like a body functions towards the same goal, not 100 unique ones.

    The boys & I are debating what we’ll do this afternoon during the ‘small group’ time – everyone else will be getting with the other pastors & leaders from their region & working on a project. We may be making another run to the store for snacks & supplies; Shawn found a “Sculpture Park” that we might be walking to, though the chill of our day, coupled with the ache in my shoulder makes a longer jaunt seem much less attractive… We will see.

  • preparing for lunch, & other adventures…

    Eventually, one gets hungry on a Friday. And when one gets hungry, what does one do? One makes their way to the local REWE to do some grocery shopping.

    Since we were having hamburgers, the 1st thing we need to pick out was what we’d eat them on – Alex said that the bread needs to be good German bread so that it doesn’t get soggy – & who am I to argue with him. So we started by checking out the bread roll section…

    After we got our rolls & other supplies, we made our way back to the house for creation & assembly. The picture at left is the assembly line; notice how its put together in such as way as to allow for maximum efficiency.

    The burgers were marinated with a home-made marinade with lots of garlic & honey (delicious, with a spicy-bite-kick to it.) & then cooked in the oven.

    Linda isn’t a meat-eater, so she created tofu versions of what we had.

    And yes, thanks for asking, those are the hamburger creations we dined upon. They were so huge that large skewers were needed to just hold them together. I even ate my burger with the skewer still in it, which required a coordination & dexterity that I was not aware I possessed. Only had one DOH! moment where I Homer’d myself in the right eye. No pictures were taken of that portion of the meal.

    And here’s Linda downing her tofu-burger, topped with Alex’s specially created sauce, fresh tomatoes, lettuce, & chopped up little gerkins (which, by the way, is german for little pickles. Who’da
    thunk it?

    Near the end of the meal, I got a call from Anja – we’ll be getting together tomorrow for coffee, then dinner with Alex & Linda. Good times.

    Tonight, we’ll be hooking up with Earl & Matty, Levent & Ines to go to a place called Celsius, which I’ve been told is as close as one can get to Berlin, while staying in Frankfurt. I’ll have to report on that.

    Finished the final touches for my speech for Sunday at TPLF – I’m talking from John 15:1-11 about staying connected:

  • Connected to God
  • Connected to our leaders
  • Connected to our church family

    Sound familiar?

  • The Fantastic Journey!… or how I managed to travel for 24 hours straight…

    I’ve known that my November 2009 trip to Germany was coming – months ago, when I booked my flights, I intentionally did 3 things to avoid known trouble spots:

  • Avoided any flight with the words “San” or “Francisco” included in it.
  • Put “I Heart Denver” in all my itinerary searches
  • Determined not to start my outbound voyage before 10 a.m.

    Lucky me, the first 2 things I did worked great – the 3rd? Not so much. Due to an Unforeseen Need To Cutback on the Number of Flights, my Reno-Denver leg was moved 3 times. So, I got to start my day at 5 a.m. so that I could make sure to get to the airport to make my 7:20 with time to spare. Sigh.

    Denver is a great airport; lots of great places to eat, spacious & clean concourses to walk (w/hand sanitizer every 10 steps,) & this time, friends to hang out with. Matty C & Earl W were both on board for the 1st leg of the trip – we hung out at the New Belgium Hub, ate omelettes & egg burritos, sampled the 1554 Black, & talked.

    A good time was had by all… a good time that was split up only by the next flight for me – Matty & Earl had somehow finagled a direct flight to Frankfurt out of Denver, albeit with a 7 hour layover in the aforementioned Denver Airport. At least it was a good one.

    Said my goodbyes & headed for Chicago – even landed there early due to a great tailwind. Only 90 minutes & I was to be off to Deutschland. Or so I thought.

    Literally as we were lining up for boarding, word came down from On High that there was an Un-named mechanical issue that needed to be resolved – the screen began flashing a modified departure time… 45 minutes further out. Ok.

    As our scheduled boarding time arrived, the voice from On High declared that our aircraft had been sent to the proverbial bullpen – & needed more repairs than could be gotten on the tarmac. The good news (& I use that phrase with my tongue firmly placed in my cheek, which caused me to bite it,) was that a replacement plane had been found to take us to the Fatherland… though it was only a mere 3 hours away. Which meant that our departure time would be just a little bit later than we’d initially thought…

    So, what to do? Get a bad attitude? Complain? Go flex my proverbial muscles for all the desk-counter personnel & ask them if they happened to know who I am? No. All of those jobs were already taken, with understudies even.

    The job that wasn’t taken was the one of the happy, content guy reading his book, who was also pleasant to be around, & occasionally even engaged in conversation with the people around him. So I took it.

    Not because I felt like that guy – precisely because I DIDN’T feel it. I was uncomfortable, grouchy, tired, hungry, frustrated, missing out on Game 6 of the Series, missing theBean & theFam something terrible already… I’ve been trying to grow in not just living by my feelings or by the attitude/outlook that tries to muscle its way to the surface… instead I tried to put on Christ. Keep a good attitude. Not focus on me & my disappointments.

    And I made it.

    Slept for 7 out of 8 1/2 hours of my flight. Woke up rested. Flight landed. Eventually made my way through passport control, baggage claim, & customs… found Alex G. Matty C & Earl W were located. Navigated the city (with a temperamental GPS to boot) & eventually got everyone where they needed to be for round 2…

    Ate the Hot & Spicy Pasta that Chef Alex made, with the 337 that theBean sent for Linda… enjoyed a Via together. Went for a walk through the park & the streets around Alex & Linda’s new neighborhood. Relaxing.

    Had a brief chat with theBean before she went to work. Ahhh.

    I’m looking forward to the rest of my time – starting with a good nights sleep. Good night now.

  • Tuesday morning thoughts…

    Yesterday was a travel day – making my way to CSR, Virginia, & the East… the flight I had to get on to start the day was at 6 in the morning… which of course means that one needs to arrive at the airport & through security by 4:50 a.m… this is really hard to do if one awakes at 5:00 a.m. Oops. It was funny to run around crazy, (a very calm, controlled crazy, don’t you know?) & be out of the house by 5:07. Silly me. TheBean was great & even got extra snacks together for me on the way out of the house.

    Got to the airport at 5:25 (I’m actually married to the Transporter, so as long as I pay attention to her rules, she will get me where I need to be, no questions… :)

    Inside, the United desk had closed the registration for my opening flight, & were explaining to a couple of people (increasingly loud & frustrated people) that if they had just been there ON TIME to register & check their bags, this wouldn’t be happening. (Which, I must point out, is pretty obvious – but also not on the approved list of saying for “Grumpy People Handling 101..” I made my way up to the counter, shot up a quick prayer for favor – & the attendant checked my info & my bag. I told her I was late, & that I thought I’d still be able to make it to the flight. She smiled. I also told her “These are not the droids you’re looking for,” & “My bag will be hand placed onto the plane by the Miles Davis of bag handlers…” I got to my gate & my boarding group hadn’t been called…

    Went through Denver, on to Chicago, & then to Roanoke, VA on a leeetttle jet that you’d fly on the SF to Reno flight…

    Waited at the baggage claim for my bag… & there it was. Thank you Jesus – here’s to prayer & Jedi mind tricks, my very own woman driver, self-control, & keeping a good attitude in the middle of chaos.

    Now it’s Tuesday & I’m slowly navigating onto E.S.T.

    Brought coffee from home – & watched it brew at 0 Dark:30… the coffee maker has a “Stronger Brew” button. I don’t know if it does anything, but I pressed it 11 times. It’s like having an amp that goes to “11,” because making “10” louder just isn’t enough. “11” provides the extra “umph.”

    Comfy bed, nice office space, & quiet. It is green outside, which is nice to look at from INSIDE. Weather forecast says thunder showers. Hoping it can hold off a bit, as I’ve got tickets to the Salem Red Sox game this evening…

    Meeting with Chuck today for lunch & talks, then nothing on the agenda save a trip to Walmart & maybe to the Starbucks on the edge of the VaTech for reading, good java, & people watching. The students are coming back for the fall in droves, which means this place is hopping with Hokies.


    Missions Development…#10, or "Why ‘It’s all good’ Is Not Acceptable as a Missions Philosophy…"

    The Romania team got together 1x with everyone who had signed up to go – about 6 weeks out. Turns out that our application & screening process, (supposed to come with an interview, age minimum, checking for a semblance of maturity in Christ,) had turned out to be a ‘suggestion’ for some groups.

    There were approximately 12 churches represented, with 125 people on the team; most churches had at least 1 adult leader with them. At this point, the unanswered questions from the scouting trip came back to haunt us – magnified- became clear through our ‘interactions’ that there was a serious issue: we lacked a cohesive idea of what the mission was about – so, everyone made it about what they thought it should be.

    I dreaded the real-deal.

    In August – we flew out of SF to Helsinki, Finland, the a plane to Budapest, then took buses to Romania. Rather than go through every day & every issue – the snapshots of the trip:

  • Groups of loud, obnoxious Christian teens making the “sleeping” portion of the trip east unbearable for just about everybody. And not sleeping. One memory is a guy playing his guitar at about 3 in the morning. On the plane. And when he was told to put it away by the flight attendant, he couldn’t believe he wasn’t allowed to ‘worship.’
  • One 16 year old guy got so scared on takeoff out of SF that he literally pooped his pants. Then sat in it for the 10 hour flight. It was only upon arrival in Helsinki that the accident was discovered & his adult leader had to make him (MAKE HIM) change his pants. The weirdest part was that he had a spare pair of skivvies & shorts in his carryon. The one he’d had on the plane. Turns out he was a bit emotionally disturbed, & probably shouldn’t have come on the trip in the 1st place.
  • Arriving in Budapest, & having the suitcase with all of our materials for the outreach not show up – (it arrived back in Reno 3 months later. Intact. Weird.)
  • Getting loaded onto buses in groups of about 20… & realizing that there was no one (or several someones) making sure that everyone was accounted for – & that the only one that supposedly knew where we were going was the bus-driver. Who didn’t speak any English.
  • Having our bus break down on the voyage from Budapest to Oradea, & waiting for hours for someone to come & fix the bus. Being left alone on the bus while the bus driver left & went… somewhere. He eventually came back, but not before many of us were THIS close to formulating a plan of action & an attempt to find help on our own.
  • Finally arriving at our “hotel” in Felix, very near Oradea, & finding that there was still at least 1 bus that hadn’t arrived yet. It stumbled in in the wee hours of the next day, with all the people who had been stuck on it looking like death warmed over.
  • Finding out that I would be staying on the 11th floor, (albeit with Chum!) & that the elevator didn’t work. And on Day 3 finding out by default that the water in the building didn’t quite make it up to our floor anymore. Meaning we had to use the facilities (showers, toilets, sinks) of our friends on the 3rd floor on down.
  • Cockroaches – initially it was repulsive, & Chum & I would count the ones we could see, & then try to squish them. It was tough because there were so many, it was impossible to keep them out of the bed – which made it tough to sleep for the first couple of days. However, the combination of familiarity & exhaustion soon made it so that we just either ignored the creepy-crawlers on the floor, walls, & bed, or we named them. Weird to think about the fact that we got “used” to having cockroaches in our beds.
  • Discovering that for all 125 of us, there was no firm plan for what we would do each day – & that any plans would be made on the fly by Stefan & our hosts from the Romanian Pentecostal Church. Which meant that things (plans, organization, scheduling, in every area) were worse than anticipated.
  • On that note – the food situation was rough – the area of Romania where we were & the state of the economy being what it was – our hotel had very little in the way of food. So, the breakfasts that we were to eat at the hotel usually consisted of a rotting tomato, a slice of moldy cheese, & stale bread, accompanied by boxed water.
  • The water was mineral (bubbly) water, which I like. However, there was a group-wide insurrection at having to drink “that”. So I & Fearless Leader spent 1 full day trying to find a place that had still water. Finally did, but it blew me away that our group (& the leaders were the BEST at this) would complain about the situation the way we did.
  • One day we found a McDonalds on our route to the hotel – & ended up finding a way to take our bus by it every day – we bribed the driver & would buy as much food as we could carry to stash for later, & to feed the driver & his family too. McDonalds never tasted so good.
  • Fearless Leader & Stefan kept disappearing for hours at a time, every day. Turns out, while we were waiting for our hosts to come up with a plan on the spot, something for 125 people to ‘do” on this mission trip, they were at a tennis club playing tennis together. That one still rankles me.
  • My group ended up getting set to the same place to do work for several days – even when there was no more work to be done. And, the 1 thing that we’d really wanted to do, & had been promised that we’d be able to, to go to one of the Romanian orphanages, didn’t happen. Dealing with that disappointment was crushing. As was the problem of an ever-decreasing group-wide morale.
  • There was 1 phone in the hotel that could be used to call the States – & only during a 2 hour period of the day, & only if the operator & owner of the phone was bribed $10 US by every person, every time, that wanted to use it. After the fiasco of the scouting trip, I decided that if I couldn’t call theBean, at least I would use a tape recorder to communicate with her during the trip – & then give her the cassette tape when I got back.
  • There was an undercurrent of personality conflicts, leaders having issues with each other, & out & out insurrection against Fearless Leader. Which of course modeled our Christianity up close & personal for all who were exposed to it.
  • From my perspective, our hosts made sure that the outreaches were tailored just for us – so we could have our missions experience, give an altar call, & pray for the people that came forward… And the focus was definitely on the “numbers of people saved” (e.g those that came forward) without any thought given to what happened to them after we went home…
  • One night, we found our way to a pseudo-restaurant near our hotel – turns out it was a restaurant (good!) & a dance club (bad!) It didn’t take long for the majority of our group to get onto the dance floor to bust a move. After a couple days of this, we found out that dance clubs were one of the things that Romanian Christians looked at as ‘the devil’s playground,’ & a place that was as distasteful & ‘sinful’ as a house of prostitution… meaning that in their view, the only people who went there were the unredeemed pagans, & loose living hedonists. And of course, the American missions team. Had a hard time talking through that with the whole team, as several of the American team leaders from different places wanted our Romanian hosts to just “lighten up,” & didn’t seem to care much that it bothered them so bad. So much for cultural sensitivity.
  • The crowning moment of the trip was the return of the mob – just down the hallway from my & Chum’s room, there was a collection of rough-looking characters (reminiscent of the Hotel Dacia, but without guns.) They were fairly rowdy, & had women in & out of the room – but mostly they kept to themselves. Except for this time.

    We had just gone to sleep, when there was a commotion. By commotion, I mean screaming, crying, & loud voices yelling. And a siren. Then there were what sounded like fireworks popping, but what must have been a gun being fired. I was mortified. Chum & I were praying under our blankets with the roaches. I grabbed my tape recorder, & dictated my last words to theBean, & a modified last will & testament. No exaggeration, it sounded like WW3 outside our door, & I was sure that we were going to die. Then, someone started banging on OUR door. To the room we were staying in. And yelling in Romanian for us to open it. We didn’t. We prayed more, & finally they went away. We looked out the window to the ground below & saw a ‘paddy wagon’ that was being loaded with a few people.

    Turns out, the Romanian cops had showed up & busted our mob friends from down the hall. Hmm.

    Its not that everything that happened was bad – its just that SO MUCH of it was. A few people came to know Jesus, & the group from our city had grown closer in the midst of adversity. At the same time, it felt like we’d wasted our money in going on the mission. Worse, we hadn’t been prepared for, & many of us felt like we’d wasted our time, been ineffectual, & had nothing really to show for our time there. Worse still, the majority of the bad could have been avoided by simply making sure that the questions that we’d had on the scouting trip got answered before we would go on the trip.

    What I took from this experience was the fact that I needed a missions philosophy – some clear, concrete guidelines based on values & relationship… something that would provide a screening process for what we would/wouldn’t do in the future for missions.

    In the weeks after the trip, I put my thoughts on paper… & wondered if going to Germany was still as good an idea as I’d thought the previous May…

    Missions Development…#9, or "Just a few minor details is all…"

    We left Budapest (& Romania) in our rear-view mirror – I was thankful to have survived our trip & all the drama, sex, & danger of the Hotel Dacia… we were picked up at the Frankfurt Airport (Fraport) & taken to lunch with Johannes for bratwurst, handkäse mit music (a vinegar hardened stinky cheese covered with onions,) & apfelwein (a wine made out of apples, which is a Frankfurt specialty.)

    Keep in mind that this is happening in May ’97 – & that the purpose of this scouting trip was to prepare for a missions trip to Romania in August ’97. I was introduced to the “German way” – when Johannes told us what he’d been doing in the few days we’d been in Hungary/Romania – evidently, Germans like to plan, & to have little things like “a few minor details” together well in advance… Johannes had a ‘mock up’ itinerary of what we could be doing if we were to return to Germany for a mission in August ’98… as the German Foursquare National Youth Movement was already preparing for an outreach in several cities at that time. Johannes, Fearless Leader, Nate, & myself talked for a couple of hours about the possibility of about coming to Germany in 1998 to provide support for their outreach & to build relationship with the youth & leaders that would be participating.

    Here’s what was proposed, discussed, & pseudo-planned:

  • There will be a team of Germans, made up of students & leaders from the Foursquare churches within Germany, making it a ‘national event’ for the Movement.
  • We would bring a team of Americans, made up from our church in Carson City, & some others from our District.
  • For Phase 1, the first 3 days, all the Germans & Americans would gather at a campground just outside of Frankfurt – to spend time together, get to know each other – eat – worship – & prepare. This meant that the German/American teams would be split up into 3 mini-teams for specific teaching & preparation for where each of the mini-teams would be going in the next phase of the mission.
  • Phase 2, the next 7 days, the 3 mini-teams would head to the places that they would be going – 1 group going to Berlin, 1 to Mainz, & 1 to Kiensburg (a small ‘city/village’ of about 1500 in the south-eastern part of the country.) Then, each of the teams in the 3 cities would work together under the coordination of the local German church… believing that the local congregation would know best what they would like to do for outreach. The German/American teams would function in support for the local church outreach, providing man & woman power.
  • Phase 3, then, for the next 7 days: all 3 teams would come back together in Frankfurt – to do outreach with the local Frankfurt congregation (where Johannes was the youth pastor) in Frankfurt’s downtown – using what the local church usually used to connect with their city – random acts of kindness; drama; music; sharing of personal testimonies, & a open-air presentation of the gospel.
  • And, of course, all of these things would be confirmed by a ‘scouting’ trip – one where we’d come to Germany & visit each of the potential venues, meet with the local pastors, & plot out the specifics for each day (hour even?) of our time in-country.
  • Just a few minor details? I don’t think so – I had the sense that I was already more prepared for Germany ’98 than I was for Romania ’97… & by the end of our discussion, I was FEELING it. This resonated with me, in my guts. This was the kind of thing that I’d hope to be able to be a part of – something that would seemingly be beneficial to the local church(es), the kind of initial connection that would facilitate (or at least make available) a longer term connection for the building of relationships – I couldn’t wait…

    Johannes took us back to the airport so that we could catch our flight back to the UK … when he dropped us off, he prayed for each of us (a story in itself.) When he prayed over me, I remember him saying, “God has given you a pastor’s heart. You can embrace it. It’s good, & it fits you.” (Reference this POST for more on this.)

    This made 3x in the space of 2 weeks that 3 strangers had said basically the same thing to me – & I believe that it was 3x in order to remind me that this wasn’t something of my own creation – it had nothing to do with my dad being a pastor – it was a gentle hint, a nudge really, towards something that God would open up for me in the appropriate time, in the right place, as I would keep saying, “Yes” to Him & to what He’d put in front of me.

    And we flew home – London to San Francisco. The 3 of us talked briefly about what had stood out to us about our trip, & made some tentative plans for what would be happening over the next 3 months as we got ready for Romania… but mostly we slept, or tried to sleep…I discovered that the end of a trip is not the best time to strategize, as by that time, you just want it to be over, to be home, to shower, & to sleep in your own bed…

    Coming up:
    Final preparations for Romania ’97.
    A few signs that there was trouble ahead.
    And the trip to end all trips.

    Missions Development…#8, or "Welcome to the Hotel Dacia…"

    We left the church, drove the YUGO, & attempted to follow Moises, who didn’t seem to know where he was going – we hadn’t gotten around to eating dinner, & I was as hungry & tired as I’d been so far on the trip.

    Finally got to our hotel around 11:30 p.m. – the Hotel Dacia… I wasn’t sure if it was because of my cloudy eyes, the moonless night, or what… it was dark… even inside the Hotel… as though the lightbulbs were all 30watters that emitted only a yellowish light, making it hard to see any depth or details…

    As we headed into the poorly lit lobby towards the check-in desk…something grabbed my eye… at the side of the lobby, seated in a faux-living room set up, were about 5 guys, surrounded by several scandalously dressed women… obviously prostitutes or ‘call girls,’ higher end than what I’d seen on the road to Oradea… BTW: it wasn’t the women that caught my eyes… it was the guys standing next to the couch holding Tommy Guns. Yes. Real, ‘20’s style Tommy-Guns, like you’d have expected to see Al Capone’s guys using in The Untouchables

    What the heck? Who’d these guys think they were, mobsters?

    Then it hit me – from the time that the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the communist & communist supported governments had been toppling… Romania’s own dictator, Ceaucescu had been executed in 1989, & with him, the Communist government & economy tumbled into chaos… over the succeeding years, one of the organizations most successful at filling the economic void & paving a road out of communism was the Russian mafia… & here they were, with business flourishing, in the lobby of the hotel I was staying in.

    My brain clicked into high gear as I realized what was happening in front of my eyes. A local arm of the Russian mafia was running a pseudo-brothel at the largest hotel, (esp. for tourists) in all of Oradea… & though I was tired, it didn’t take a genius to figure that there MAY have been other illegal activities going on… the kind that would need a couple of conspicuously placed Tommy Guns for protection & muscle. I prayed, silently & fervently. The fear I felt was tangible & ominous.

    Upon arriving in the room, I told everyone what I’d seen, & asked Moises WHAT we were doing in the same hotel as the MOB… … he explained:

  • Yes, it is the mob. Romanian local bad guys supplied by a larger, Russian based family.
  • And, they’re all over the city, in just about every hotel, business, etc…
  • If you avoid them, don’t be disrespectful, & don’t flash cash, they usually leave you alone.
  • It was such a common thing to him – how he described it was like I would describe the existence of blackjack tables in a casino back home…

    At midnight, Moises helped us call for pizza – Fearless Leader ordered the biggest one they had, with “everything.” (NOTE: we were in Romania. What does EVERYTHING mean in Romania? I didn’t even know what EVERYTHING meant at home…) Within about ½ hour (Domino’s Pizza would have been proud,) our delivery guy showed up with the pizza. He spoke some English, & asked where we wanted him to put the pizza. Fearless Leader pointed to the dresser… so Pizza guy opens up the box, & dumps the pizza onto its crust on the dresser… & takes the box with him, presumably so that it could live to fight another day… & be re-used. We sat with no napkins, plates, utensils of any kind, looking at the pizza sitting on the dresser.

    I took a look to see what EVERYTHING meant in Romania – turns out I couldn’t identify many of the objects on the pizza… but there were a couple of creatures with eyes – I think they were fish of some sort… smelled fishy. A couple of fried eggs. Onions. Peppers. Olives. Various meat-type products. Hmm. I could pick off what I didn’t want.

    Went into the bathroom to find something we could use in place of napkins… & found that the toilet paper was… less processed than I was used to… it had what looked like toothpick-sized pieces of wood in the paper… NOTE: be very, very careful when using…

    There wasn’t anything to drink to wash down our EVERYTHING pizza… & we needed something to drink. Moises had told us that we should avoid tap water, as it would wreak havoc on our intestinal systems… So, Nate (the guy traveling with me & Fearless Leader,) decided that he was going to go down to the lobby & see if there was a Coke machine or something.. I voiced my objections, after all, the Mob was downstairs, but the guys were thirsty, & Nate was going. I couldn’t stand the thought of letting him go downstairs alone, so over my better judgment I went with him.

    We took the elevator down to the lobby & headed to the front desk. No luck – there were no soda machines anywhere nearby, & all the stores in the neighborhood were closed, (like you could have gotten me to head outside anyway,) He pointed us towards the bar – & thought that we might be able to find something there. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Mob, the women & the guys with guns were nowhere to be found…

    We walked into the room where the bar was… It turns out that it wasn’t a bar, per se. It was a strip club. And the reason we hadn’t seen the mob in the lobby was that they had relocated to this room. Great.

    I asked the bartender if he had any sodas… Fanta Orange was all they had. Whatever. I paid for it, & we headed for the elevator. About halfway across the lobby, I heard somebody yelling, “Hey! Hey!.”

    We were being followed by two of the mob guys, & they each had a girl with them. I rushed to the elevator (didn’t run) & pressed the button, waiting for the elevator doors to open. By that time the guys had caught up with us. I pretended that I didn’t see them, & faced the elevator doors – one of the guys said, “You will take women.”

    Nate had positioned himself safely on the other side of me, so I was between the guys, the women, & Nate. I said something smart like, “Oh, no thank you. We don’t need women.”

    That evidently wasn’t the right response… the first guy stepped closer to me & repeated, louder & with more intensity, “You WILL take women!” Again, I answered him, saying something like, “Thanks anyway, guys. But we’re both married, so we don’t need women.”

    Open door. Open door. Open door. And nothing.

    By this time, I was facing the two guys, the women were hanging out all over & one of the guys with a gun was looking at us from across the lobby.

    Once again, he repeated, “You WILL TAKE WOMEN.” I sighed. And prayed. And looked at the guy, trying not to look threatening, thinking that he was going to take me out, & whack me (or do some other Mob stuff,). I said, ‘Guys, I’m tired. No offense, but I don’t want to take any of your women; I just want to go upstairs & go to sleep.” The guy looked at us long & hard, & said… “Ok,” & turned away, & with the other guy & the ladies, headed back into the ‘bar.’

    The doors picked that time to open up, so Nate & I jumped in & pressed the button to head to our room, Fanta in tow. Whew! I can remember going in the bathroom, shaking & crying. I prayed & thanked God for protecting me. I collapsed on the bed & slept like a log.

    Moises arrived in the a.m. to take us around to the nearby sites where we’d be working with the local church that summer. He took us to Felix, where we met with Stefan, the guy from the American parachurch organization, the same guy that Fearless Leader had worked with at some point in the past. Stefan spent about an hour with us – took us to the hotel we’d be staying at, showed us a field where we’d be able to do our ministry stuff… as far as the other things we’d be doing, like visiting orphanages &/or doing work projects… we were told that those things weren’t ready yet, but that everything would be ready upon our arrival in August. Really? I asked a couple of questions, & was told, “It will all come together BUH-dee. This is what I do for a living…”

    And then we were done. We’d spent less than 18 hours in country & now were headed back across the border. – & were on day 8 of our trip. I couldn’t believe it. (Well, by this time, I could. But I was incredulous.) Most of the questions that we’d had about that summer’s trip remained unanswered. Stefan was more interested in setting up tennis matches with Fearless Leader than with talking through details, & no one seemed to have a problem with any of the nebulous details except for me. At some point, it made me wonder if I was the one with the issue, the only guy that didn’t GET it. Why wasn’t anyone else bothered by the lack of details? And why would we go forward with the trip with so many unknowns? Esp. to a place that was so potentially wrought with danger?

    Nate & Fearless Leader chatted away the trip back to Hungary in the YUGO while I sat in the back & stewed. Tried to figure out what I could do, should do about the trip I said I would help out with – & struggled through my own insecurities & lack of surety about my own identity… & wrestled with how I could not NOT go on the trip – & explained away the alarms going off in my head, things that I would now recognize as ‘red flags…’

    I missed theBean. I missed my kids. I was tired, emotionally drained, & confused. I took solace that our trip back to Budapest would be a quick one, & that we’d be flying back to Frankfurt to meet with Johannes for a day.