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.