Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Visas and Health Insurance

The last few months have been a journey, and we thought we give you guys an update. (We apologize for the long blogging hiatus...) I'll do my best to keep the story compact, because I feel like it could get away from me.

Recently, I had heard from some other field leaders and workers here that visas were becoming more complicated. There were questions about health insurance and coverage and needing to provide additional documentation. We knew of people still waiting on their visa renewal applications to be processed, and it seemed like we could also face these challenges. We took a "we'll see" sort of attitude because living in the "land of worry and what-ifs" is not a great place to be.

Last fall, we had our first new worker come to Austria since we have arrived. We were so excited to have her here and get her settled in. She started German classes, found an apartment (something needed for her visa) and started to figure out cross-cultural life. We started to get an idea that things could get complicated when she received a letter asking for more documents. One of the issues mentioned in this letter was about health insurance. Bureaucracy is a regular part of life here, and so gathering documents and submitting them has become a normal part of our life. First, we made sure we were reading the documents correctly, because legal German is a whole other language. After that, we gathered the necessary documents and brought them back to the office.

In the meantime, we also were facing a visa renewal. We now live half a mile from the Vienna city limits, which places us in a different province. We went to drop off our documents at a local office and received similar questions about our health insurance coverage and the need for more documents. We submitted everything and waited for a response from the office. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas in Austria!

Merry Christmas from the Johnsons! Watch below to learn more about how Austrians celebrate Christmas!

Monday, December 18, 2017

In Defense of Christmas Music

Music is controversial. Partially because it is a question of taste. What you love, what speaks to your soul and makes you want to dance, can mean nothing to me. Or worse, some music we actively dislike. The best way to annoy a roommate is to play their least favorite but all too catchy song and see what happens. All of this applies to Christmas music, as well. 

Some people can't stand it, even after the acceptable "post Thanksgiving" start to the Christmas season. They feel like the songs are just ear worms that stick with us. Or they are old and tired and they struggle to see the value in them. I will say this: many of the modern "Christmas-lite" or "Christmas-ish" songs can be difficult to hear over and over. Songs that ask obvious questions (yes, Mary did know, she knew, she totally knew because an angel came and told her) or don't even really have anything to say can be annoying. But amidst all of the songs talking about lights and good feelings stands a core of Christmas songs that have stood the test of time. They proclaim the core of Christian faith and remind us what we believe.

They Put Truth Center Stage

So many artists do Christmas songs, albums or videos. It seems to be the thing to do. Make a few good records and then do a "holiday" album. It is fun to see the different styles that a traditional Christmas song can take on. But something I've noticed recently is that secular artists often cover Christian Christmas songs. It is great to see solid biblical truth in the greater culture. We see popular musicians singing "Oh Come Oh Come, Emanuel!" or proclaiming "Joy to the world! The Lord is come!" It is easy to forget how little these truths are proclaimed in popular culture, and I find it exciting to see them spoken, even by those that don't believe them to be true. This is a chance for us to think deeply and praise the Lord in unexpected places.

They Connect Us to Historic Christianity

Many of the songs we sing in American churches today are not that old, relatively speaking. I know some bemoan the 80's and 90's praise choruses sung in their church, but many of our Christmas songs are from the 18th and 19th centuries. They were written by some truly great hymn writers, men and women whose songs we should sing a lot more in our congregations. "Joy to the World" was written by Isaac Watts and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" (though it misses the fact the angels didn't sing) was written by Charles Wesley. One of my favorite Christmas songs "Of the Father's Love Begotten" was written in the 300s. For those that struggle to find a place in many modern church music settings, the depth and beauty of these old Christmas songs can be a breath of fresh, gospel-infused air. 

They Connect Deeply to the Gospel

Often we think of the gospel as something someone needs at the beginning of their journey with Christ. It is the thing we deeply understand and accept which brings us into a relationship with Him. This is true, but the Christian that has been following Christ for 30 years needs the gospel no less than the man or woman that is just beginning. We need that reminder and the songs of Christmas are that reminder. I love to sing "O Come, All Ye Faithful" - especially the third verse. "Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning; / Jesus, to Thee be all glory giv'n! / Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!" or these words "A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morning. / Fall on your knees, oh hear the angel voices"

If we take a moment to listen to all of our most well-known Christmas songs, we will hear deep truths about Christ waiting for us to reconnect with them. And that is the challenge of Christmas. We must walk down a well-worn path. One that some have been on since they were children. A path that ultimately leads to a manger and the most unique thing about Christianity. The arrival of God himself, in fulfillment of prophecy in the meekest and humblest way possible. A baby like no other who became a king like no other.