Monday, November 26, 2018

Fighting Against Human Trafficking

We had new teammates join us in Vienna this summer. Brian and Melissa Leak will be serving at WorldVenture's Europe Liaison for anti-human trafficking ministry. What exactly does this mean? They are still flushing this out, but the vision is to join the fight against human trafficking by equipping churches to get involved, networking with organizations working in this area, doing some direct work with women working in prostitution, and supporting efforts to get law changed. And it could be more! Visions and plans are still being formed.

This issue has been on my heart ever since we moved to Vienna, and I learned more about the situation with women in prostitution here. Sex work is legal in Austria, and over 90% of the women working in this area are not Austrian. This points to a huge percentage of the women being trafficked here, mostly from eastern Europe, China and Nigeria. There is an organization here called Herzwerk (Heart Factory) that reaches out directly to the women, helping to care for them, provide them with training and resources and hopefully assist them in breaking free from this industry.

Although this is not our area of ministry focus, I've been looking for ways to support this ministry over the years. One way has been to have our summer interns serve at Herzwerk in behind-the-scenes ministry. They have babysat for training programs, sorted clothing donations, and helped with logistics and food for an Art Therapy training conference. This past Saturday, I had another chance to support this type of ministry by hosting a home party for Hope for the Future, a small but growing organization that trains women in business skills and teaches them German, as well as teaches them how to sew beautifully-made hand bags. At the home party, friends came and learned about the organization and then purchased bags (either for themselves or as Christmas presents!).

Yesterday, our small group gathered and each family brought 75 cookies with them. We then stuffed small plastic bags and created 75 cookie packages with ribbons and Christmas ornaments on them. These bags, along with hundreds made by other small groups and churches in Vienna, will be given out by Herzwerk volunteers in one week to 800 women working in prostitution. These packages are one way that Herzwerk shows the women that they are loved and care for, and provides another way to connect with the women. Many of these women have no family in Vienna and won't receive gifts for Christmas. This is a tangible way to demonstrate love and care and is sometimes the first connection with a women who eventually comes out of prostitution and hears the gospel message from the Herzwerk workers.

For a brief look into one way that women are trafficked here to Vienna, I encourage you to watch this Hope for the Future video clip (with English subtitles) (log into Facebook first to watch).

We hope to have more opportunities to support this type of work in Vienna. Would you please pray this Christmas season for the women working in prostitution in Vienna, that God would reach them with a message of hope?

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Family Visit

We were so thankful to have Nate's parents (Oma & Opa) here with us for nearly two weeks in early October. We had a really special time together playing at home, doing some fun outings and taking a 5-day trip to the Alps. We also got to celebrate Maya's birthday with them before they left. Here are a few highlights from our time together:

Visit and hike up to Dürnstein Castle

At the top of Dürnstein
Walking around on top of Dachstein

Snow in October!

The view from the top of Dachstein

Riding up the cable car to the overlook in Hallstatt



Sisters holding hands!

The house we rented in St. Martin am Tennengebirge

Going for a hike

Enjoying the fall colors!

Exploring Hallstatt

Walking around Salzburg

Overlooking Salzburg from the fortress

Running Around and Chasing a Ball

I (Nate) tend to enjoy solo sports. It is fun to compete against myself and see how I grow as I train and work hard. But when a guy at our church wanted to start a soccer group, I jumped at the chance to build relationships with some of the younger guys in our church. I also love the chance to stay fit and run around. I have accepted the fact that many of these guys have been playing soccer a lot longer than I have and are way more skilled, but I can run hard and have a good time. This last weekend, we had a practice tournament against a few other teams on Saturday morning. It can be hard for me to make time for an event like this. Saturdays are important family times, as well as the chance to spend time with people we are connected to inside and outside of the church. But I think this time with these guys is also important. So as we stepped out onto the field, I was genuinely curious how the day would go.

Well first things first, we lost... Every. Game. It was hard to be at the bottom of the pile. I played defense most of the game, and man, some of the other offensive players were small and fast and just way beyond my abilities. In no way did my few seasons of grade school and middle school soccer prepare me to face these guys. I honestly didn't expect anything different for myself. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I am not sure I expected it to go this badly. I had heard we hadn't done well in previous games, but I didn't know that we would lose all of our games. And that we would lose them so decisively. Most of the other teams were just better. But here is something I realized: this is practice. Not just actual match practice. Not that we are practicing soccer. We are practicing life. This brings up a basic question: How do I handle failure? What do I do when I screw up? What do I do when it feels like the failure of your team is someone else's fault? How easy is it to undervalue my own failures and overvalue others? Once you start thinking of things this way, it can be hard to stop asking these sorts of questions. Each question has a subtly different answer. Each question peels back the layers, showing us the selfishness and sinfulness in each of our hearts.

The challenge is we often face true failure so seldom in regular life, that it can be hard to apply the personal gains to the next instance. But in this environment, where we get to accelerate the exposure, we can also learn more about it in our own lives. I said this is retrospect to a few people after the games, and the more I process it, the deeper in strikes home for me. The way we win or lose is far more important than the outcome. Displaying godly character is far more important than a number on a page. Scoring goals is fun. Winning is fun as well, but my identity is not defined by the number on the page.

I think the ultimate question I'm sorting through here is: Is there a Christian way to win and lose? Can we glorify God and be a witness in how we treat people when emotions are high on the field? I've seen it before, and I strive to model it as well. I want to be someone that works hard, that pushes and gives it my all, but also someone who doesn't lose a kindness that stems from remembering the image of God in each of my fellow teammates and the people I'm playing against. It is possible to show people Christ as we play together because I've seen it. I've seen players that work hard, but are selfless and charitable. I've seen and made my best effort to grab onto the chances to encourage others and to tell them when they did well. This is a habit that should extend into our daily life. We should be generous with our encouragement.

I found this to a be a pretty valuable experience, even though my 35 year old body is hurting, and we lost every game. Where do you see unexpected discipleship opportunities around you?