Woke up at the crack of doom to put the final touches on our bags & gather & place all our belongings in the appropriate suitcase. Took our bags downstairs & across the courtyard (sorry for the noise. It’s hard to be quiet when you’re rolling a suitcase across cobblestones) & parked them inside the entryway of Alex & Linda’s building. Linda was ready for us with plenty of coffee & snacks to take with.
You know those last few moments you have with dear (& faraway) friends, those moments before the Uber arrives? Those are precious & those are hard. Together we rehearsed our thankfulness for the time together we had; for the great talks; for the food adventures; for the time shared. Too soon we had to navigate downstairs, grab our bags & then make our way to the sidewalk in front of #13, hoping that the Uber I’d scheduled (& had confirmed the night before) would come on time. Evidently there were threats of major snafus on the roads today as the Deutsche Bahn/transit system went on strike this morning. Woohoo.
Fortunately, our driver was just a minute over his scheduled time, &, after hugs & a tearful goodbye (yes, me) we piled into the back of the car & prepared for the loooong day of travels. Berlin’s new airport isn’t huge, but it is big. Even more fun is trying to figure out WHERE you’re supposed to drop off your luggage, because the system used in most other parts of the world isn’t organized even remotely close to what we know at home. I remembered seeing some numbers when I checked in the night before, & sure enough, those corresponded to the place we were to drop off our checked luggage. BTW – I happened upon a German couple saying their passionate goodbyes outside the entrance to security/what we’d call TSA. It stood out to me because I don’t think I’ve seen a make out session like that one since… maybe ever. The dude (he was staying behind, she was leaving) was left a disheveled mess, in need of a hairbrush & a towel. 2 points for Germany.
With that first exchange in the books, theBean & I made our way towards the gate for the flight that would take us to Munich, where we’d catch a flight to San Francisco, where we’d catch a flight home. Wandered the terminal looking at the snack options & finally decided to go with a version of a salami & cheese on brown bread. When it came time for us to board, we lined up with our carryon & backpacks, only to discover that the Lufthansa lady at the gate had decided we weren’t making it by her with our backpack… that we’d have to check it all the way through. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but the justice part of me was more than a little frustrated by being singled out (Merica!) amongst a virtual plethora of other passengers’ bags bigger & more numerous than our own Lil Samsonite. There was no stopping her, so, we scrambled to put as much of the ‘stuff’ we’d packed in there into my backpack, & sent the bag on its way.
The flight to Munich was uneventful, though I was more than a bit concerned that our international flight to SF had started boarding 10 minutes before we landed in Munich. These concerns were compounded when we discovered our gate was an estimated (thank you AI estimating tool used in the German airports) 20 minutes walk away. To further complicate the issue, I needed to find a WC before we did any fast moving.
We speed walked/jogged through the crowds, & slowly made our way toward the gate. Airline officials lined the spacious hallways, asking questions, then funneling us toward the appropriate lines leading to our eventual gate entrance. Caught our breath & headed down the tunnel toward the plane… where we stood for another 10 minutes waiting to board. Elation.
We made it – shortly we’d be on a plane headed to the US… but alas, our bags did not. At the switchover/customs check in in SF, we discovered that our bags hadn’t made the super-quick connection to Munich. After checking in with our carrier & reporting the issue, we were left with the understanding that NO, the bags didn’t make this trip, but YES, they knew where they were & had a decent guess when they’d show up. First world problems. Sigh.
By this time (14 hours into our day) I was feeling bleary, made worse by the fact that I didn’t sleep on the flight over. TheBean did, so she was in a little better shape, but still… Time passed slowly as we waited for the invite to board the last leg to Reno, but it did eventually pass. After landing at home, we met with the carrier again in the Reno-Tahoe Airport to officially file a missing bags report, & were assured they’d be delivered sometime the next day.
Our Gracer & the girls (Jane Alish & EloWEEZ) picked us up & transported us home. What a joy to hold family after a few weeks – the girls seem to have grown at LEAST 4 inches & 40 pounds apiece (I exaggerate, but you get it.) They came inside & Jane ran around Poppy’s house for a bit as EloWEEZ got herself together in preparation for her final 10 minute trip home. So good.
Home. No place like it.
The aftermath – the next day, 2 of the 3 bags showed up at our front door. The only missing bag? TheBean’s main suitcase. I talked to customer service again & it turns out her bag had always wanted to go to Anchorage, Alaska, so it would, hopefully, come the next day (Saturday) after a late fall excursion to the biggest state in all the land. It did arrive Saturday.
- There is nothing like being physically present, in the room, with friends. I’m thankful for technologies that allow regular & close communications, but it isn’t close to the same.
- One thing we heard in every place we went (Frankfurt, Achern/Ottersweier, Oberwesel, Bielefeld, & Berlin) was “Thank you for your encouragement!” I believe it is a superpower given to us to be able to share, authentically & regularly, with the people we interact with. This tangible thankfulness that emerges in the aftermath of a person who’s been encouraged by another, SEEN by another, has given me a new appreciation of Barnabas, the OG “Son of Encouragement.” Makes me want to grow in this area & be more intentional with encouraging others.
- The enemy of our souls, the devil, seems to hammer humanity equally, with a barrage of negative thoughts & perspectives about ourselves, how God (& others see us) & to rub in our face our unworthiness, insecurities, inadequacies, & real/perceived failures. THAT is why encouragement, friendship, & real fellowship are so vital for us inside/outside the Church. Doing that, being that, sharing that… helps combat those destructive, hyper-critical voices.
- I love to partner in life, love, & work/play with theBean. I KNEW this already, but man, nothing like a 17 day voyage to the other side of the world to remind me of the Good Thing God gave to me almost 35 (!) years ago.
- We’re looking forward to future trips to Germany (& beyond), but for now, we’ll be enjoying home, family, familiar food, friends, & our very own bed.
Thank you all for your prayers, your support, & your ENCOURAGEMENT to us. It helped sustain us in perfect health & good spirits, with everything we could ever need or ask for. You are loved & appreciated.
Be an encourager today.
Day 15 – the afternoon & evening
We met Alex & Linda in the courtyard of the building where our flats are located, & made our way through the maze to one of the adjoining streets to meet our Uber. They typically employ 1 of 4 modes of transportation: walking, riding a bike, hiring an Uber/taxia, or (rarely) taking the public transportation system (combo of buses/S & U-bahn trains.) The driver dropped us off & it was just a short walk to Parma Pizza. To say it was a hole in the wall makes it seem bigger than it was… there were 3 or 4 tables crammed into 2 rooms, & the ‘kitchen’ was literally 2 steps from our table. Alex stepped into the kitchen twice & was reprimanded each time for violating the ‘chef’s’ space, but it’s not like he could access his seat without stepping into the kitchen. Inside of the rooms looked like a half-finished construction site where the workers had gone home for the weekend, leaving a bunch of stuff half-done, with tools & supplies strewn around the room. There were two guys in the kitchen area; one, the owner/chef, the other, a guy who kept sampling the box of wine on the edge of the super tiny refrigerator. He reminded me of someone who was probably a buddy of the owner who comes to hang out at his buddy’s place in the hopes he’ll be able to sponge some free food & drink if he hangs out long enough. The chef guy looked as though he was an Italian photographer just returned from a taxing & oh-so-draining photoshoot somewhere & by the way he acted, it sure didn’t seem like he was happy to have customers. I dubbed him “Artist Guy” & the other guy was “the Leech.”
He finally got around to bringing us our menus & made a big show about the artistry of his pizzas… he took the time to explain several of the pizza options to us, in German & English, even though we already knew what we wanted to order. Once we ordered, he engaged in conversation with the Leech for about 15 minutes, seemingly forgetting we were there. Eventually our drink orders came, with our bottled water & the finest boxed red wine the kitchen had to offer placed hurriedly on the table so Artist guy could get back to his conversation.
He remembered we were there to EAT, so he frantically began to assemble the ingredients for the pizzas we’d ordered on his prep counter & then painstakingly made the pizzas, popping them 1 by 1 into the pizza oven on the far side of the kitchen. Good thing they only had to bake for about 90 seconds. Artist guy deposited the pizzas in front of us & stepped back into the kitchen.
About this time, a younger guy arrived, complete with a dark mullet of curls on his head (theBean said they were the size of the classic pink 1 1/2″ sponge hair roller that hadn’t been brushed out after removing the curlers); he spoke only broken English & his native Italian, & he seemed to be there to do all the jobs Artist guy didn’t want to do.
Pizza was ok – I got a Salamewurst & Tomato & Mozzarella & theBean had a ham pizza (ham put on after the pizza cooked, much to her chagrin & displeasure.) We ate our fill & laughed a lot around the tiny table in the bizarre pizza place/construction zone while the Leech drank more wine & the Mullet guy went through the motions of cleaning & puttering around looking for something.
We had a blast… time with Alex & Linda is always the BEST time. Good conversations on a variety of topics: Jesus, church life, health, exercise, conspiracy theories, Joe Rogan, specialty meal replacement shakes, work (Alex works in a start-up that does high end health supplements & Linda is a supervisor in the educational system, focusing much of her life on helping foreigners & others trying to make the best of school in Germany.)
Alex had us rolling with his active & quick sense of humor & Linda’s joy & love of life are evident in every conversation we had with her. Truly dear & much loved friends.
After our meal, since it wasn’t raining (YES) we decided to stretch our legs & walk home through the dark back streets of Berlin’s Kreuzberg & Neukölln neighborhoods; it only took about 30 minutes & it was really refreshing, esp. considering how much we had sat around with little activity the first week of our trip. Went up to their flat for more talks & a late night glass of wine… eventually made our way across the courtyard to our flat & were in our room a minute later. It was a good day.
DAY 16 – Templehof, Street Food, & Crazy Kim’s
Woke up late & headed to the Cafe Bread for coffee & a breakfast pastry… guy from yesterday wasn’t working (bummer) & but the new girl hooked us up & quickly as we settled into our spot to read, enjoy our coffee & people watch. Alex worked until 1 p.m. & Linda until 5, so theBean & I went for a walk through the neighborhood & picked up some supplies from the local grocery store. When Alex called us, we met him outside at an Uber & made our way downtown for some “on the go” site-seeing & a quick stop for a ‘snack’ at Goldie’s Smashburger &.I’ve had smashburgers in the US & they were ok… nothing compared to a good 3×3 animal style, protein style, w/extra grilled onions & cheese, no tomato, no spread, ketchup & mustard please @ In-N-Out burger, but ok.
This was > ok. This was incredible. Keep in mind, we stopped here for a snack… & also because we hadn’t had a burger our whole time in Germany. So of course, we ended up getting doubles, which were the size of my two fists together. We came at the perfect time, so no line. By the time we were done eating, the line had wandered down the block. We crushed our burgers (so good) & took turns sampling the fries until we couldn’t eat any more. This was, by far, the food highlight of our trip.
After eating waaaay too much for a snack, we wanted to do some walking, so we made our way through the streets til we finally got to the old Templehof Airport (check out the link for Templehof above), the site of the Berlin airdrops that saved Berlin in 1948 & 1949 (go USA). This massive former airport is now a recreation area, where miles of former taxi & runways have been turned into places for exercise, (bikes, roller blades, scooters, & foot power), with large grassy areas here & there for picnics, kid-friendly recreation, & a couple designated dog parks. Very cool, & lots of places to stop & read about the history of the place. Spent about 90 minutes walking & ended up on the far side of the airport, where we (thank the Lord) found bathrooms that were open & available for usage, without any fee. (NOTE: most of the time to use a toilet in a store/restaurant in Germany/Europe, it will cost you at least 1 Euro. Put that on your list of Even More Things to be thankful for at home.)
Caught an Uber home, with just enough time to rest, change clothes, & meet Linda to catch another Uber to our dinner place, Crazy Kim’s Korean. We got seated by Kim herself at a table in the entry way, & placed our orders. This restaurant was one they hadn’t been to before, but our coming to visit gave them an opportunity. Food was decent & there were 15 appetizer bites brought to our table (no choice in the matter) & it was fun to try different things. For our main dishes, I got bulgogi & theBean got Korean short-ribs.
But the highlight of the night, for me, was the 2 women who came in shortly after us. One of them HAD to be the owner’s daughter & the other seemed to be a beloved best friend, because Kim doted on the super fancy & chic ladies, dressed in what were probably pretty fashionable (definition: super weird clothes that real people don’t wear) all the while snapping photos of themselves, each other, & the little pocket sized dog the daughter brought in in her purse. If you’ve ever seen wanna-be IG ‘influencers’ in action, you have an idea of our entertainment for the duration of dinner. They helped themselves to all sorts of things behind the bar, often leaving their table to walk around the building, often retreating into the “private” & “Staff only”, only to emerge later & hit the bar again. So. Funny.
Finished dinner & made our way to our Uber outside. The drive home only took 5 minutes, so we had to be close, but it was raining & we’d already walked about 8 miles earlier in the day. As it was our last night, we made our way up to Alex & Linda’s flat again, & sat around their table trying to pack as many conversations as possible into the time we had left. So precious.
We sadly made our way back to our flat to sleep the short night’s sleep that comes before the departure flight home. We’d made plans to come to their flat in the morning for a cup of coffee & hugs goodbye, so we knew we’d get to see them at least one more time before we left.
Slept well, with dreams of home in our minds.
This is (if I remember correctly) the first night I slept the WHOLE night without waking up at all; morning came gradually, a dim light through the drawn yet translucent curtains. Temperature was perfect & I probably could have slept longer except for the call of nature & the siren’s call of morning kaffee. Which we didn’t know how we would get, as we hadn’t really seen the coffee set up.
The set up was professional; a pro grade Italian machine, the kind that takes an apprenticeship & lots of practice to master. Fortunately, Nu, our host, offered to make us each a coffee (#FTW) & we savored each & every sip as we stood around the island in her kitchen, getting a chance to get to know a bit about her. She & her husband are professionals who are doing a few ‘start-up’ businesses including solar, Air Bnb, & a couple more I didn’t catch; one of her aspirations is to open her own coffee shop featuring the coffee of her homeland, VietNam. She wants to use the proceeds to support the women of a couple remote Vietnamese villages, much the same way we (& Hillside) support the women of Compassion First. She described the different hand-made goods they create for sale, from handkerchiefs to shawls to scarfs to… who knows what else. She described herself as ‘Christian” & when she found out we are pastors, she said, “My mom would be so happy that you are in my home. She is VERY Christian.”
We connected via text with Alex; he’s working during the days this week, so he gave us some options for local cafes & grocery stores to explore. Decided to take a walk along the Spree River which rolls through & around entire sections of Berlin, especially the Neukölln section where our flat is located. Chose La Maison & walked the mile or so to get there; navigated the drink & brunch menu pretty easily & found a spot facing the river where theBean could bask in the morning sun. We split the lunch special (onion quiche with salad & a ham & cheese baguette) & savored the coffee while enjoying the very full cafe atmosphere. Alex later told us this is one of the most popular cafes in Berlin, especially for the increasingly elusive creature known as the “hipster.” There’s another favorite cafe of his that attracts one variety of hipster, known as the “very motivated entrepreneur hipsters” who are often involved in several start-up businesses. The other kind of hipster hangs out here, at La Maison: they are the “hipsters who live in their mom’s basement hipsters.” Yep. True story. That’s all you need to know to have a good insight to Alex’s sense of humor.
Found the Ekeda grocery story to pick up some necessities that will make the next few days easier to navigate & made our way back to Alex & Linda’s flat to meet them for a walk on their work-breaks. So good to see them! We walked in the opposite direction for about 20 minutes to another favorite spot of theirs, Nah am Wasser. THIS was even better than La Maison. If we lived here, we’d LIVE here. The 4 of us sat outside at a table near the entrance, in the sun(!) & enjoyed our talks about the day, Berlin, hipsters, Christianity, & myriad other topics.
Alex had to head back towards his flat for another work meeting, so we crossed over the river with them & began the walk ‘home.’ They parted ways & we went back to our flat to read, rest, & recharge. I’m so glad we built these days into our schedule; days of rest & recharging after a pretty full time of travel, people, & ministry stuff. Even though we built in Sabbath rest days to the trip in each spot, I can feel that the time has been draining at times, probably because we’ve had to be “ON” (alert, being fully attentive at all times) pretty much the whole time. This has become more evident today as, when offered the opportunity, both theBean & I chose rest, naps, & quiet.
Alex & Linda made reservations for us at a Turkish restaurant called Adana Grillhaus at 6:30 p.m., a place about 1 1/2 miles by foot or 5 minutes by Uber. We’d planned to walk there & Uber back, but the rain was coming down hard, so Uber both ways. They couldn’t join us, so we navigated the interesting Uber ‘pickup spot’ procedures mostly seamlessly. For some reason, the app keeps telling us to go somewhere else to get picked up/to meet the car… usually its not far away, but it is very confusing trying to find the elusive pickup spot using the readout on the phone. But we managed.
Didn’t get any pictures of dinner, but I can tell you, we ate like kings. We got 2 entrees, which was probably 1 too many; the 18 inch long meat skewer (combos of pork, chicken, & beef) partnered with Turkish tortillas & toasted bread, with hummus & a good Turkish wine were so good. Didn’t eat too much, but not because I didn’t WANT to.
I’ve been a little adventurous with food on the trip & I’ve tried to eat (or at least taste) whatever comes out on the plate. The Kebabs came with a long, slender grilled & mostly anonymous red pepper. I looked it up & deduced it was 1 of 2 kinds of Turkish pepper. Either it would be mild & sweet or it would be hot, to the level above a habañero. 50/50 odds, right? So, against theBean’s admonishments, I cut a piece of the pepper, smelled it, & popped it into my mouth. Evidently, about 1/4 tsp of the innards (seeds etc) came with it.
Not sweet. Hot. Hot. Hot. First thing, my lips went numb. Second, my tongue turned to lava. I cried out to the Lord & the heavens seemed to be made of brass. I drank the water, the wine, shook copious amounts of salt onto the crispy Turkish bread & took big bites of it, all with the hopes that somehow, someway, the feeling would return to my mouth, that I would have at least the stub of a tongue… the salty bread helped. About 15 minutes later (might have been 30 seconds,) my numb lips began to regain feeling & my mouth felt functional enough to take another bite of the kebab. And wow. The already incredible taste of the meat was elevated to levels of “we might eat this in heaven” food. So much so that I was tempted (but didn’t give in) by the thought of taking ANOTHER bite of the pepper to enhance the taste of dinner.
As the rain poured, we caught an Uber back to our flat & I texted Alex our thanks for the reservations at the restaurant. Told him about the experience I had with the pepper. He texted me: “SPOILER ALERT. The chili might burn twice.”
We headed to bed after an NCIS: LA & I once again cried to the Lord with my voice, asking that He have mercy on me & my guts, especially for the morning. Ended up sleeping about 10 hours, & woke up close to 11 a.m. Feeling great.
Thank you Jesus.
We threw on some sweats & baseball hats & went to the “Cafe Bread” located directly across the street from the flat for coffee & pastry or 2. It’s operated by a Turkish guy who is super personable & makes killer pour-over coffees. We each had 2, along with sharing a savory croissant filled with cheese & a sweet one with chocolate & vanilla.
Plotting out the afternoon of Day #15 now… it’ll be a pizza dinner at Alex & Linda’s favorite place tonight.
DAY 12 – Saturday – Arminius & dinner with Ewald & Kerstin
The forecast for most of our time in Germany has been rainy with a chance of rain, with occasional rainstorms, interrupted by rain. (You get the picture.) With that in mind, we were both pretty well prepared for the weather in advance of actually experiencing it. So, it’s been a pleasant surprise that it really hasn’t rained nearly as much as was promised (in true, pessimistic/realistic German fashion – “be prepared for the worst, & if it doesn’t happen… it still might, so don’t get too excited… I say this with tongue firmly in cheek).
In reality, there’s been many days where it didn’t rain at all & we even saw the sun & (gasp!) some blue sky, which, we’ve been told, is very uncharacteristic for Germany in the late fall. Today, however, it rained, off & on. But mostly on.
After a slow morning of coffee, breakfast, & rehearsing the message for Sunday, (yes, Louie, you are speaking this coming Sunday,) Pastors Ewald & Kerstin picked us up in the early afternoon for some sightseeing & exposure to German history, before we’d head back to their place for dinner. We drove with them about 30 miles out of the city to a little town called Detmold, the location of an ancient (approx. 9 A.D.) battle that turned the tide of an ongoing war among the tribes of Germany & the Roman Empire.
it was at Detmold that Arminius the Chernuskan, a tribal chieftain of one of the many warring tribes inhabiting Germany, convinced the other chieftains to quit fighting with each other & to unite their forces against Rome. This unity resulted in a resounding defeat of Rome which eventually led to the Roman withdrawal from what would become the nation of Germany, (which didn’t finally happen until about 1871, or 1989, for those that want to look at the German reunification as the real beginning of the nation now known as Deutschland.)
A thick mist descended upon the hills of Detmold as we navigated the paths within national park toward the moment of Arminius, sometimes erroneously referred to as “Hermann the German” (possibly after the engineer/designer of the monument.) It was positively freezing by the time we arrived at the top of the hill where the monument stands, &, after snapping a couple quick pictures, we navigated our way back down the paths to their car, & made our way back into Bielefeld for dinner.
The Zelmers have pastored Christus für Alles (Christ for All) church in Bielefeld since 2000 (same time frame we’ve been at Hillside) & there are many, many similarities in Ewald & Kerstin’s story with mine & theBeans. We warmed up over an appetizer of pumpkin soup & good talks, renewing our acquaintance, rehearsing our own stories, marveling at the different ways & means God has worked in our lives. These points of commonality serve as encouraging & heartwarming reminders of God’s goodness as well as illustrations of how much we can learn from each other & be encouraged by each other as we talk through & remember the goodness of God in our lives in each & every season of life. It is an incredibly faith building thing to hear how God has working in another couple who does what you do in a completely different context, with details that are almost identical to what He’s done in/through/around our lives, our family, our Hillside family.
Dinner was baked chicken wings (! – as if we needed more proof of Jesus’ love & favor) & potato croquets, accompanied by a couple hours of talks about the changes in their assignment, & what that means for their church & Foursquare Deutschland. Starting in May 2024, Ewald will become the full-time Missions director for the movement, & will be helping to orchestrate ongoing missions, pastoral training & encouragement into the ‘stans, Mongolia, & other “1st generation Christian” peoples. What are those, you may ask? 1st generation Christian peoples are those in nations with no history of Christianity… meaning, these believers are thought to be the first Christians in the history of their people group. THINK about that for a second: it’s like the Book of Acts in real life, with Ewald & his teams coming alongside new believers, or even the ‘old heads of Christianity” in the nations, people with 20-30 years of Christian history under their belts. THEY are the apostle Paul, the foundation for what God is doing in Central Asia, as He advances His kingdom into places that had been, up to this point, untouched by the Gospel Good News.
Ewald more than once mentioned that he sees a ‘parenting’ spirit on theBean & I, something of a divinely given gift that he sees would be an incredible blessing to these 1st generation believers in the ‘stans & beyond; he also sees a huge need for this ‘Christ-like fathering & mothering’ of believers in Germany, of 21st century Barnabas, sons/daughters of encouragement to come alongside them on a regular basis. Both of us can see how God is opening doors for us to regularly return to Germany on “encouragement excursions” as well as the initiation of teaching, mentoring, coaching, & encouragement forays into the ‘stans & Mongolia potentially in well, all while pastoring Hillside. It’s definitely something that theBean & I are going to be praying about in this next season of life. We KNOW we are to remain at Hillside, & we are also feeling increasingly drawn toward the doors that are open to us in Germany & beyond.
We had a couple hours to ourselves at Anna Marie’s, so we re-packed & revamped our suitcases, prepping for our travel the next day. Headed to bed early-ish, so we’d be bright-eyed & bushy tailed for church & travels the next day.
Day 13 – Sunday – Church in Bielefeld & travel to Berlin
After a quick breakfast, we walked the 200 meters to the church & participated in the pre-service prayer; it took place in English, German, Russian, & another language I couldn’t identify. We got our marching orders for the day, & I met with the technical team to get my headset mic ready, as well as our translator microbes so we could understand the German parts of the service.
Most of the worship time I spent praying & mentally rehearsing the message, all while thinking through the process of giving a message that is being translated into another language (in this case another 2 or 3 languages. When I spoke, Anna Marie translated it to German, which then was translated into Russian & Arabic by the translating team in the back of the church using some high-tech equipment right out of Star Trek TOS. Super cool.
To me, the key to giving a message that will be translated is to speak in complete thoughts (not necessarily sentences) & to avoid flashy vocabulary that English seems to employ for fun & German seems to eschew. I don’t know how many flowery adjectives I’ve used (like ‘Awesome, cool, incredible, etc) that turned into “gut” (good) with the German translation.
I spoke from Acts 2:42-47 on being TOGETHER… & how God calls us to grow to full maturity as measured in Christ, so that He can & will work in/through us by the power of the Holy Spirit. You can listen to the message HERE if you’re so inclined. Thought it was well received, & I had many encouraging translated conversations afterwards over coffee.
After church, we had time for lunch at an American/Mexican chain called “Peppers – Home of the Best Ribs In Town.” And of course, I ordered the Ribs & Wings plate… while they weren’t as good as Pete’s Meat BBQ I am sure they are the best ribs in Bielefeld. Too quickly we had to head to the train station to make our way towards Berlin.
And the chaos commenced.
First, we had plenty of time to make our 1st train… except it was no longer going to Minden (which evidently isn’t just a town in Northern Nevada, but also here in Germany) so Anna Marie pulled us off the train we were sitting in & helped us to navigate to a bus that would backtrack to a train stop which would allow us to use our already purchased tickets & take the 3 hours train ride to Berlin. It could be a perfect plan… if we made it to the station.
We were hauling our suitcases & a carryon, plus a back-pack each. Though not big by American standard, they are WHALE sized according to German standards. Wish you could see the faces & the disdain we experienced over & over as we lugged those bad-boys over the river & through the woods to try to find & board Bus route 61.
We made it. But…
…We were seated backwards facing on the bus, at the flexible junction point in the bus which allows it to swivel & flex (if you know, you know) while trying to hold onto our luggage for dear life. We had an idea where we were to get off the bus… & there was a lot of praying involved, both for our navigation & for us to hold down our lunches as our driver wheeled the bus Formula One-style through the countryside, headed for a place called “Bünde.”
Made it to Bünde, & frantically looked for the train station. Small town, so the station (2 tracks only, vs. the at least 14 in Bielefeld) kinda blended in with the other buildings. So we followed the only other people with luggage. And found the station. Almost ran to the appropriate track, hoping we’d be there in time to beat the train headed to Berlin, the train we KNEW would be operating with clock-like precision on a super tight, typical German schedule. Except… it was almost an hour late, so we had plenty of time to hurry up & wait. Until…
…the train arrived & we had 2 minutes to board in the appropriate car (#8)… unfortunately, the train pulled up so far we could only make it to car #6 before we sensed it was about to take off. So we threw our bags (50 pounders BTW) into the train car & determined to navigate the remaining 2 cars to car #8 through the aisles of a moving & sold-out couple of train cars. For all the introverts out there: this is THE WORST. Not speaking the language well, we pulled & pushed 2 monster, behemoth-according-to-German standards suitcases, plus everything else we had, through the too-narrow aisles, while attempting to avoid passengers walking the aisles heading to their cars… whapping people in the head with my backpack EVERY time I turned, saying “Es tut mir lied” (I’m sorry) every 2 seconds & “Entschuldigung” (Excuse me) every other second.
Absolutely mortifying. Physically grueling. Relationally scarring. I feel we may have set back American/German relations decades with our journey of about 200 feet (100 feet per car). By the time we made it to car #8, I wasn’t even looking at people anymore. I was on a mission, just getting the bags to the baggage area (at the back of each car, by the exit) & hoping to NEVER EVER see any of these people ever again.
Collapsed in our seats, #32 & #38 (which, in true German fashion are of course right next to each other) for some reason. Endured the next couple of hours until the Berlin Hbf (main train station) & navigated outside to (eventually) catch an Uber to the flat where we’re staying, very near our dear Alex & Linda’s flat (next building over, about 1 minute walk away.)
By this time it was about 10 pm. & we had just a moment to greet our friends (thank you for the care package – it became our dinner) & get settled in the private room within the flat (with a private bathroom to boot) that we’re renting for the next couple of days from a Vietnamese woman & her German husband, a couple young professionals with a couple of businesses & startups they’re working on.
There is a monster TV in the room that I was able to connect to & stream some Prime Video from my collection at home… so we watched an episode of NCIS: LA (yay a touch of home) & crashed into dreamland.
Thank you Jesus for Your hand of protection, for favor, provision, & providence, as well as the proverbial Traveling Mercies. And to Anna Marie for both being an incredible hostess for our time in Bielefeld, but also rescuing us from the right (now wrong) train & getting us headed to this, our last leg of our German journey: Berlin.
It was a slooow paced Friday morning, which was especially nice after the cold, windy, & intense visit with Street Church last night. TheBean was still trying to shake the cold from her toes over our late breakfast/coffee routine this morning… which probably led to drinking waaay too much coffee… which led to the jitters later for her.
There is a pastoral transition happening at CFA; the founding pastor, Ewald Zelmer, is transitioning to lead missions to the ‘stans on behalf of Germany, for pastoral training, opening new territories to the Gospel, & maintaining new/long established relationships. He truly is an apostolic leader – a ‘sent one’ that establishes, builds, maintains, & ‘exports’ the Gospel in new locations within nations, people groups, cultures, & language-groups. He is so filled with joy & is also such a fierce person in prayer (in the best sense of the word.) He & his wife Kerstin have pastored CFA as long as we’ve been at Hillside, beginning in the same year (2000).
The new pastor couple at CFA is Toby & Ginny Huyssen – he’s from the US by way of the Philippines by way of Germany (his mom, Gisele, pastors in Frickenhausen – yes, that’s a real place.) Ginny is a Filipina as well & they are in their late 30’s, very charismatic & full of joy, & they love to worship & to lead people into worship. Anna Marie took us to their place & we spent a little time connecting at the lunch table while the food finished, while listening to their kids Zach 11 & Erica 9, entertain us with the happenings of their lives & Zach’s regular interjection of his best imitation of “Murica.”
Lunch was lumpia, vegetables, fried tofu, & some incredible, ginger-based sauces to season the food with & dip the lumpia into. So good. The table was full of talk about life, family, origin stories, pastoral life & transitions, & navigating God’s call on our lives in changing & varied contexts. Toby is a very different pastor/leader than Ewald, but I have a sense he is going to do very well at leading the church in their next phase of life together. CFA is a church of & to the nations, with approximately 15+ nations making up the people of the congregation. They are truly learning to BE the united church around Jesus, not national identity, culture of origin, personal preferences, &/or language.
Tonight is a Worship Night Toby & Ginny are leading at CFA, so we departed & made our way back to Anna Marie’s flat to get some rest. We were out shortly after our heads hit the pillow & both took a good 45-60 minute nap in advance of the evening happenings.
We made our way to CFA (about 200 meters away down the street) & theBean found the cafeteria, where the worship team was eating a preservice meal of lasagna, which she was overjoyed to jump in on; it’s a favorite. Talked with some friends (new & old) at the table, then went upstairs to the sanctuary as the worship night began.
The focus for the night was worship with times of prayer for the youth of the church, city, & Germany (from what I could tell.) Toby & Ginny led a team of 8 or so excellent musicians & it was obvious from the beginning that this is an area of great skill, gifting, & calling for them. About half the songs were in English & 90% were recognizable, even the German translation songs, so it was simple to jump in & worship along with those in attendance. It was a glimpse of heaven, with a selection of people from many tribes, tongues, & nations gathered together singing, literally, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lamb” or some variation of that in their mother tongues.
Worship, prayer, & celebration lasted from about 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm & people hung out & talked until 10. We did our best to connect over conversations & I got to talk in English with two young guys, about 25, from Pakistan & Syria. They learned their English from Looney Tunes Cartoons, & had all sorts of questions about cartoons & other American language sources, like rap, music videos, IG, TikTok, & YouTube.
They both shared, in their own way, their testimonies of Jesus’ ‘rescue’ of them, how He brought them from being “lost & broken” & how He was making them whole. Precious young men who were excited to flex their English vocabulary & at the same time talk about their Jesus.
By the time we made it to Anna Marie’s we were tired, but we took an hour or so to talk & debrief about the night, sharing our perspectives, & also hearing hers as someone who is firmly inside the church. Headed to bed at 11:15 & read a bit before crashing hard.
What a great day with great food & an incredible night of worship. Thank you Jesus.
Woke up this morning to the threat (promise?) of cold, wind, & rain… pretty much what the weather forecast (promise?) has offered every day since we’ve been here & looks to offer until we board the plane home from Berlin next Thursday. Instead of worrying about what might be, we’ve made a practice of just “rolling with it,” & trusting God in for our day-to-day.
As has been our pattern so far this week, we took the morning sloooow & had a couple rounds of french press coffee along with our Bible reading & sporadic talks/laughs. TheBean tackled the creation of a breakfast scramble, of sorts, with eggs, a couple types of wurst (sausage) & onions. So familiar & also so different at the same time.
Anna Marie (American missionary of 11+ years & our hostess) has been leading the CFA outreach called “Street Church” since her arrival in Bielefeld 10 years ago. How can I describe it? There’s a place near the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) where those bound by addiction to drugs, alcohol, & other vices common to humanity, gather to indulge, to forget, to have a point of ‘community’, albeit without the love, compassion, & care associated most often with what you think of when you hear that word. People experiencing addiction & (pseudo/practical) homelessness are often subsidized & ‘cared for’ by the state, leading to a vicious & repeating downward spiral from which there is (often, for many,) no escape.
It’s into this world that Street Church reaches & extends the love of Jesus in practical, tangible ways. There is a powerful declaration of the Gospel Good News every week, but not in a typical evangelistic message; instead, the Street Church team prepares salami & cheese (salami & käse) brötchen (bread rolls)… Not on the same rolls, but separately, as, evidently, Germans don’t mix their cheese & meat on sandwiches. They bring canisters of hot coffee, tea, & bouillon, & of course some sweets, & set up a table in the midst of the gathering of humanity, all experiencing varying degrees of the lowest & degrading situations you can imagine… many fallen to the level of selling themselves without regard to the consequences, only thinking of how to stop the craving & suffering brought on by addiction. Rinse, lather, repeat. You can almost touch the hopelessness.
And Street Church sets up a table, open for business, in the middle of this. The volunteer staff man the table & cheerfully offer food & drink with a smile, an encouraging word, & more than a touch of human dignity, worth, & blessings. It’s easy to see that the majority of these people fly under the radar of normal human interactions, tolerated at best, despised at worst by those busily passing by/through/around the swelling mass of humanity. The Street Church staff take the time for conversations, for truly human & divine interactions, treating each person they interact with with an incredible amount of dignity & worth, quietly offering love, acceptance, & forgiveness with a love reminiscent of a mother caring for the wayward & motherless friends of her own children. Truly a joy to behold.
Other members of the team spread out into the crowd & pick up conversations where they are wanted or available. Some days they break up (redirect) conflicts & outright fights; they don’t focus on trying to get people to pray the “sinner’s prayer” but are quick to offer a listening ear, a heartfelt petition to Jesus, & an encouragement to those who want to hear to begin (continue?) to increasingly put their trust & (feeble) hopes in Jesus, looking to obey Him in the middle of the perpetual storms of life they’re living through.
Sometimes they lead a few songs of worship, incorporating guitar, saxophone, & a haunting, soothing, hug-of-the-Savior sounding violin… all without amplification or microphones, a joyful noise amidst the cacophony of human suffering, conflict, & pain. We didn’t play tonight until the very end, not wanting to compete with the boom box held by a couple of the guys as they listened to a selection of German punk, 80’s German rock, & some Bryan Adams (Summer of 69!) You might wonder WHY one wouldn’t do worship if/when there is a boombox playing… I’d say it has to do with respect. We are in their ‘house’ & their place, & it felt wrong to step into this Holy Ground, this place where Heaven meets some of the worst of earth, where the Jesus-question, “What can I do for you?” rings loudly in the actions of the Street Church team, & to insist that WE get to do OUR thing. There are no strings attached to what Street Church does – all of it is an offering to Jesus, to be experienced & hopefully embrace by the ‘least of these,’ who, hopefully, if only for a moment, are reminded that they are worthy of love, care, & compassion, & that the God of the Universe has more for them than cycles of suffering & destruction.
So we served. I felt mostly worthless, as my German consists of ordering food, & (mostly) understanding & singing worship songs. TheBean & I prayed, in English & the Spirit, & helped serve the coffee, tea, & bouillon, hoping we got the number of sugar cubes right for the coffee & tea. The clients love their sugar… it takes the edge off the cravings for their drugs of choice… so 6-8 cubes for a 8 ounce coffee wasn’t unusual.
An anti-war protest of about 300 people gathered at the Hauptbahnhof just about the time we were packing up & heading out… the boom box gang left, & I’d already put the guitar away in the van as the cold wind & rain that had been held back all day began to threaten that it was coming, & soon. A young woman, H, (hard to tell ages. She could have been 25, she could have been 40) took the opportunity of the silence to ask Anna Marie if we would PLEASE play at least one song with her. H produced a small djembe-style drum & I grabbed the guitar from the back of the van & prayed silently that my fingers would be able to A) move coherently & B) remember the chords to some songs.
As I began to strum the opening chords to “Open the Eyes of My Heart”, Anna Marie pulled out her saxophone, & H put her hand on the guitar while I strummed in order to feel the rhythm & the beat of the song. I started to sing, the saxophone began to sing, & the drum slowly emerged, its rhythm skillfully moving in & out of the melody, playing a harmony to what I was playing. H had skills… a distinct & poignant reminder that, though caught in addiction & suffering, there is a gifted, valuable, & tender woman here, longing to play with others, to belong, to be a part of something. One song turned into two, as I willed my fingers to move, my strumming hand to somehow hold the pick. I strummed & sang, “Jesus I Worship You” by an old friend in the NW. We declared the Lordship of Christ over ourselves, over this people, over this place. Simply connecting with Jesus & with each other. My fingers fumbled to a close & we once again packed our instruments, leaving too soon for H, but leaving none the less. I gave her “knuckles” in a gesture of what I hoped was honor & thanks for her playing with me, with us. She gave me a smile in return, communicating that she understood, even as the sadness returned to her eyes & countenance. I could hear her continuing to play the drum as we loaded up the van & waited for the protest to pass us by.
We did a little post-Church debrief, cleaned up the supplies, & said goodbye to the rest of the staff, people we (most likely) won’t see again this side of Heaven. When we do see each other again, it will be a joyful reunion, not bound by language challenges.
Came back to the flat & ate some wurst & a peppers/onions mix theBean had made earlier in the day. After some talks, we said goodnight & headed towards bed. The wind & rain began to howl & to fall in earnest. We thanked God we’d avoided that on the street tonight, while also thinking of those who have no place to retreat to, no respite.
Jesus is close to the broken-hearted. And oh, how we need Him.
Had a slow-ish wakeup today, our first complete day in Bielefeld. Felt great to take the time to have a couple cups of french press coffee & to read my normal Bible reading plan with no rush to be anywhere or do anything.
We got ready around noon & headed into town. First stop was the Christus für Alles Foursquare church; we had never been in their ‘newish’ building so we got to see the office space, the sanctuary, & the myriad classrooms, workrooms, storage areas of a church that is literally used every day, most of each day. This church is instrumental in reaching “the ‘stans”, including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, & all the other ‘stans’ in the region. They’ve got 4 translation stations set up in the sanctuary for English, Russian, & any other languages for people groups that happen to be in demand at that time. Got to hear quite a few of the stories from the last few years; was especially interested in hearing how they navigated ‘Corona’ (as the majority of people here call “theCovids”) & how the church in general has bounced back & reinvented themselves as they work to reach the people in their communities. I’ve been at 3 different churches over the last week & have heard 3 radically different ways they ‘rolled with it.’ Truly inspiring to see how God works in each people/church in each community.
After walking through the city for about 90 minutes with our hostess, Anna Marie narrating the whole time (as good or better than any US Park Ranger Guide I’ve ever had) we voted to stop & eat at one of her favorite Turkish döner shops. Bean got lamb skewers & I got a lahmucun döner with extra meat. So good. I finished mine but theBean had a skewer left over; I called ‘dibs’ for it to eat for dinner.
From there we took the car up to a scenic overlook of THE place to see in Bielefeld: the Sparrenburg. Click on that link & take a look – VERY cool & a great way to overlook the city & also to hear the stories about the founding of Bielefeld as a trade route to distribute the linen for which it has been know for several hundred years. (The link above will take you to the “Linen wear factory museum”. )
It was windy & cold-ish, so we decided to move on to the next phase of the day – meeting up with Anna Marie’s friend, Petra, to go visit a housing project to walk through/around it & pray. It’s a place that they (& the church) have been targeting for prayer & worship with the hopes of being able to reach the myriad people from all over the world who happen to live there. We talked & prayed into the darkness… & then went to a spot in a courtyard where Petra played her violin & Anna Marie played her guitar. The sound of the violin bounced back & forth off the buildings like a comforting hug from Jesus, & the two instruments together melded & harmonized beautifully.
Tomorrow late afternoon/early evening is “Street Church” – a church/outreach Anna Marie has been leading for the last several years. So, we went with her to the grocery megastore (think Target meets Best Buy) & shopped for some breakfast items while Anna Marie & Petra stocked up on essentials for feeding the Street Church congregation.
There is nothing like feeling like a fish out of water like being in a grocery store in another country. Just familiar enough to lull you into feeling comfortable, but radically different enough to royally mess with your brain when you go looking for anything specific that you want on your list. My heart was happy though, because I found legit Skippy chunky peanut butter in the jar. #FTW
Came home & ate leftovers (lamb skewers & soup, & some chow mein that theBean scrounged up.) We’re now relaxing & having what Anna Marie calls “Baboon time,” aka “time set aside to stare at the wall & decompress, think, & relax.”
I like that. Baboon time. I do that already, both in the morning & the evening.
We walked more today (approx. 8 1/2 miles) than we have in the last 5 days combined, so I’m feeling it tonight. Heading to bed soon – thinking of loved ones, praying for Hillside & our Hillside family, asking for divine appointments over the next few days (esp. tomorrow on the Street.) Would appreciate your prayers.
Day 4 –
Saturday was a slow day with not much on the agenda until the afternoon, other than reading, having talks, & rehearsing the Sunday message with Julia who would be doing the translating for me. It was great to be able to see Julia in her natural habitat, & also to enjoy the time together. We took about an hour to compare Bible translations/languages, work through specific points & word choices, & then to answer any questions each of us had for the other… Arche Ottersweier (The Ark of Ottesweier) has been Julia’s home church ever since it was planted by pastors Roland & Manuela Lorenz; she’s involved there leading worship & in a variety of other areas, so she also provided a bit of a play by play to bring us up to speed since my/our last visit there in 2009 (Joni had never been there to the church/city/her parents house; I’d visited a few times & spoke at the church with her translating on one of the trips.)
That afternoon, we made our way to the house of die familie Kern (her parents home) for kaffee & apfel strudel with eis (ice cream.) Goodness. And this was to be our ‘appetizer’ for dinner. I’m glad we had a couple hours to let it settle because I was STUFFED after we ate & my stomach was already hurting because of all the food & laughter :).
Dinner was with Klaus & Pia (Julia’s parents) & Linda & Joah (Julia’s sister & nephew) at “Mucho Macho” an Armenian-owned tapas-style restaurant. We had Middle-Eastern, Armenian, German, & Spanish tapas in a family-style presentation (it makes sense if you see it) & ate until we couldn’t eat any more. SO. MUCH. FOOD. Klaus & Pia both have such a great sense of humor we find ourselves laughing almost constantly.
It was raining as we left the restaurant, so late that I thought I’d turn into a pumpkin before we got home. But I made it. And went quickly to sleep to get good rest for Sunday.
Woke up early-ish & had my normal Sunday am breakfast (Cafe Latte protein shake & a Quest bar) & a good cup of Julia’s french press coffee. We arrived at the church 1/2 hour early for prayer & spent the time in the upstairs praying in our native languages for the day, for the service, for the people in attendance, & for the churches in the town.
The sanctuary/building is set up in an inverted “V” pattern with chairs set up on both sides of the sanctuary so that the people in the middle rows on back in each section can’t see each other. I (& Julia) spoke on being TOGETHER from Acts 2:42; we touched on maturity, selflessness, the power of the Holy Spirit, unity, being on mission together, learning to prefer & defer in our people connections, & stuff like that.
After church, Linda’s husband, Heiko (sound guy today) came up to me excited & said, “You spoke to BOTH sides of the room today. The regular section AND the youth section. NO ONE has ever talked to the youth section.” I didn’t know it had been that divided up, but in retrospect I guess it was. That might explain the excited reaction from the youth a couple times during the message…
Right after church, a young lady named Jana (13 years old) came up to me with a cup of coffee, light cream & gave it to me. She told me, “I wanted to make sure you got a cup of coffee before the end of service. Sometimes people come & want to talk to the speaker so long that we run out of coffee before they can get a cup.” Yeah, that’s the kind of girl she is. She was absolutely glowing with the joy of the Lord, full of life & the Holy Spirit. She (& her mom) were just radiant; Jana speaks English better than me, German, French, & is tackling Spanish & Japanese now. She said, “God is going to work through me & my ability to speak languages well, so I want to work to give Him some good material to work with.” SMH, but in awe & thanks.
As we left the church, we said goodbye to Klaus & Pia – & Klaus followed us out of the building, waving us a majestic & heart felt “GOOD BYE.” My eyes may have misted over.
For lunch, we went to Roland & Manuela’s home – take out pizza & home grown field greens. We talked with them & their girls (Desiree & Deborah – 15 & 13) & our Julia. The time went so fast we had to pack up & head out to the conference – Goodbye with Julia was so difficult. We love this woman, & are so proud of who she is & who she is becoming. Leaving our German daughter behind was the hardest thing we’ve done so far on this trip… definitely planning on making it back next year…
After a 2 1/2 hour trip, we arrived in Oberwesel at the Youth Hostel where the conference “Foursquare LIVE” was being held. As we were checking in, we ran into Alex & Linda Krieger, dear friends we’ve known & stayed in regular touch with for 16 years. We’re going to end our trip with them in Berlin, so it was extra special to be able to have these couple of days with them here at the conference.
The theme of the conference is Discipleship – led by an American, John Lewis of Kingdom Story Ministries. He’s a great dude partnering with the Foursquare Church to prepare our churches worldwide with strategy/intentional plans for creating discipleship pathways (in the US its called D.L.T. Discipleship/Leadership Training. And it is good stuff.)
Foursquare Deutschland joined with the US Foursquare church to celebrate 100 years of Foursquare with their own celebration this year at this conference. After the meeting, we had late night talks with Alex & Linda, then headed to bed.
We ate breakfast with Brandon & Marcie Brazee, Foursquare missionaries & pastors to Köln (Cologne) Germany, along with their kids, Kaitlyn (14?) & Hudson (almost 8). Great time getting to hear their story & sharing a bit of ours; we share a lot of dear friends in common, so we really enjoyed the beginning of what felt like a good friendship.
Full day of meetings & interactions… so during our afternoon break, we (theBean, me, Alex & Linda) went to the castle next door for some desserts… Yes. The CASTLE next door. For reals. It was a 5 minute walk from the Hostel & we had our drink & watched theBean & Alex kill their cheesecakes while viewing the Rhein river below us.
Right before dinner, our dear friend Eddy (who we stayed with Day 1/2) hand-delivered a bag to us. 90 minutes each way. It contained 50 pounds (23 kg) of goodies we’d brought for the Brazee family, but that we couldn’t take with us to see Julia in southwestern Germany… it was a brief reunion for us, & also for Alex & LInda with their beloved former pastor. To me, Eddy’s selfless 180 minute journey to drop off a glorified (& Oh So Awesome) goody bag illustrates the kind of friend, man, & pastor he is. Truly one of the best men I know.
The food at the conference, served by the hostel, is super low in protein. Like nonexistent. And after a day and a half of greens & pasta offerings, we (theBean, me, Alex & Linda) decided to go to the Castle again for dinner. Alex & I had “beef cheeks, mashed potatoes, greens, & a nice Cuvee. TheBean had salmon, & Linda had a veal cutlet. Our protein cravings were satisfied, if only for a day.
That night was a night of extended worship, with prayer & prophetic ministry available as well. Specifically, prayer ministry was set out for the ‘stans (the countries that are Germany’s missions focus including but not limited to: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, & a few others). Several pastoral reps from each country were there, & there was a very powerful time of prayer. We allso heard from one of the pastors from Turkmenistan, a man who’d spent much time in prison being tortured & threatened with his life… for the crime of becoming a Christian. Inconceivable.
Last day of Foursquare LIVE. We were dragging a bit this morning, but were buoyed by the worship time. This was followed by a Q & A with John Lewis, as German (& other) pastors in the room asked him clarifying questions about discipleship. One of the things that is an obstacle to discipleship in many/most Western countries is what John Lewis referred to as ‘consumer Christianity” which he defined as living Christian for the benefits & easy parts, while not necessarily taking the steps to obey & put into practice all the teachings of Christ, ala Matt 28:18-20 (see ‘teach them to OBEY’ in verse 20.)
Anyway, the Turkmeni pastor asked a question, which, by the way, was translated from Russian to German to English (!) to be heard / understood by the speaker. He asked, “What IS this consumer Christianity? In my country, you are Christian or you are not. You are disciple & as a result you may die. There is NO question about it. It is truly a life & death choice.”
He didn’t say it in a condemning fashion, but rather in an incredulous, you’ve-got-to-be-joking-me kind of fashion. Like somehow, someway this was just a joke his other ‘stan” buddies were pulling on him.
But it wasn’t. And it isn’t. It is a thing.
How would you answer his question?
The conference ended, we said our goodbyes (& see you soon to Alex & Linda) & got in the van to Bielefeld, where we were transported with 9 other people in their church van about 4 1/2 hours to Bielefeld. We talked some with new friends in the car & by the end of the trip, the woman sitting next to theBean told her, “You would be a great mentor. After sitting next to you for a couple of hours, I hear God speaking to me & directing me & answering my questions through the wisdom you share.” So yeah, it was a good trip. That’s my theBean.
Our hostess, Anna Marie, a Foursquare Missionary to Germany (from Washington) met us at the church & we walked to her place about 100 meters from the church. She got us situated & fed us a great dinner of soup & rolls, & we’ve been sitting quietly, decompressing for the last last hour while I type this blog & try to recover from the wall-to-wall people of the last several days.
I’ll dial in with updates tomorrow on what we’re doing here in Bielefeld for the rest of the week (leaving Sunday after church) but for now I am TOAST & am ready to head to Dreamland with theBean.
Thank you for your continued prayers. Thank you Jesus for the kind of friends who would drive 180 minutes to bring a goody bag. For dear friends to share life & talks & cheesecake with. For men & women who love You more than their own lives & embrace obedience as their life’s call & Godly mandate with a tangible grace & love for You & for people that is contagious.
It was a super late night, & we were very tired but still didn’t get to bed until about 1 am (!) We slept in til about 9:30, & theBean & I woke up to the smell of good German kaffee delivered through a french press. TheBean & Julia worked together in the kitchen to craft a mashup of German/American breakfasts: scrambie eggs, bacon, good German bread; cucumbers; salami & cheese. And we laughed. So much.
With the crush & press of activity that is coming, & out of a desire to relish our time with our Julia, Friday was very much a Sabbath rest day for us. We hung out at her house & talked, sat on the couches & read our books or magazines, then broke into spontaneous conversations, then read some more. Finally we decided there were a couple (few?) things we wanted to do (like plan dinner) so we got ready & headed out to a specialty store for some desserts & then to the grocery store to buy supplies for dinner.
We bought 3 desserts to share – a black forest cake, chocolate cream cake, & sour cherry pie. These were glorious, esp. because German (most European desserts actually) aren’t overly loaded down with sugar & aren’t sweet-sweet. They’re tasty & subtle & you can taste the chocolate, the chocolate cream, the body of the cakes, the cherries, the subtleties of the flavors in a special way that doesn’t flood your body with sugar & cloying sweetness. I don’t eat dessert at home for that reason, but I readily jumped in to the ‘sampling party.’
The girls decided that they wanted to try to make a version of theBean’s white chicken chili soup, which is WAY more daunting than it sounds. One doesn’t just purchase American style food supplies at a German grocery store, often because the foods/staples we have/use are not available (or in some cases, not legal because of additives, chemicals, etc) here. So, in true theBean style, she improvised. Her white chicken chili soup turned into white bean & beef/pork/Italian sausage & greenish chiles soup. (BTW, theBean doesn’t agree with my naming of the soup, but this is my account of reality, so there’s that.) It was significantly different from her normal creation, but it was good. We turned on the music (theBean’s “Joanne” playlist from Spotify) & ate & laughed.
We turned our attention back to the desserts, (yes, btw, desserts were harmed & significantly diminished during the making of our dinner. But we’re adults, so forks out!) After dinner was clean up time & then we resumed our spots on the couch for more talks until it was time for bed. As Saturday afternoon & evening are spoken for (coffee & dinner with Julia’s parents & family), we wanted to get another good night’s sleep, then have a good breakfast in the morning & hopefully do a load of wash before we head to the Foursquare LIVE pastors’ conference.
I think (know?) the most difficult parts of this trip are ‘the limits.’ We are limited in our time/availability & there are many, many dear friends here in different parts of Germany that we won’t be able to connect with, not out of a lack of desire to do so, but because we are ‘limited.’ (I much prefer the idea/reality of ‘limits’ vs. ‘busyness.’ ) Everything we have said “YES” to for this trip, requires a very difficult “NO” somewhere. That goes for ALL of us, in ALL of our lives; some of our greatest struggles in life/in our schedules come from us ignoring the reality that we have limits on our time, energy, resources, etc, & we run ourselves ragged attempting to have it all, do it all, see it all, accomplish it all, often with destructive or even tragic consequences for our physical, emotional, spiritual, & relational health & well-being.
I’m thankful for the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality lessons we’ve learned over the years, esp. when it comes to “Embracing God’s Gift of Limits.” It allows us to be fully present where we are & to acknowledge we CANNOT do everything we’d like to do… & embracing our limits, to me, equals embracing the fact that we’re human BEINGS not humans DOING. In a perfect world, we’d be able to be here for 6 weeks (or more?!) & be with each & every one of our dear friends in Frankfurt & beyond… into Poland… & Austria… &… you get the picture.
To all of our dear friends in Germany & beyond – you are deeply loved, & we hope to be able to see & hug you again very soon.
The pictures below are our desserts & a random shot out the window as we drove next to some beautiful vineyards (trust me! They are really there.)
It was a beautiful day. We call it “Friday.” And now sleep.