Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Year in Review

Last Sunday at church, we were invited to think back on everything that has happened in the last year. We were reminded to think about not only the good things, but also the challenges. We were encouraged to think about the things that have been difficult. As I sat there in the still moments, I realized how much has happened in the last 12 months. So today on New Years Eve, I wanted to offer a quick year in review, mostly in chronological order.

On the first day of last year we waiting in line outside for our visas for over 24 hours! We stayed warm and got to know the people around us. We made some good friendships that night! It is not something we want to do every year, but it was great to see the body of Christ come and visit us (and even bring us McDonald's cheeseburgers out in the cold)!

Bethany and Nate with their visa paperwork
After we applied for our visas, we left for England where we spent a few months with some WorldVenture colleagues. We learned about tea, sheep and seeing God move in the face of difficult times. It was challenging, stretching and rewarding to be a part of what God was doing there!

In February, we picked up our visas and in March, we returned to Austria. We set up our apartment and started up again at language school.

We spent most of the spring and summer studying German in a language school.

We had two new additions to our family. In August, we picked up our new puppy Mozzy.

We also found out that we were expecting our first child. Much of our time in the fall and winter has been preparing for our new little bundle of joy to arrive early in 2014.

Thinking back on all of this, the word that came to mind for me was "faithful." The Lord has continually been faithful to us to provide for our needs in so many ways. He has led some very wonderful people into our lives and given us far more than we could have asked for or imagined! It is easy to have a forward focus on life and always be looking to the next thing, but it is equally important to meditate on the ways that God has provided for his people.

Question: How will you seek to remember what God has done this last year?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Baby Update and Prayer Request

We've been on an interesting journey over the last 6 weeks and I thought it would be helpful to share the full story here on the blog. At least with this platform, I may not have to explain and repeat myself quite as much!

At about 29 weeks into the pregnancy, we found out that my amniotic fluid level was very low. Sometimes this happens randomly and sometimes there are more serious reasons for this problem. When we saw this on the ultrasound, my doctor had me go right away to the hospital for a high resolution ultrasound and a test to check the baby's heartrate, in an effort to make sure the baby was still doing well and growing appropriately. Thankfully, everything looked great. Since that time, I've gone regularly for more screenings to make sure she's still doing well.

The only downside to the low fluid level is that it's very hard for her to move around in there! Ever since my appointment at 29 weeks, she's been head up and hasn't turned around. We've tried several homeopathic/natural ways to encourage her to turn, but it looks like she's just not able to turn to face the right direction for a natural birth (especially now that she's bigger).

So, we've scheduled a c-section date for January 6th, which is earlier than we thought she would be coming! But our doctor has advised us that a little earlier is better in this case, because the risk of the umbilical cord being compressed in those final weeks goes up as the fluid levels go down. And she doesn't want me to go into labor and have to have an emergency c-section. Planned is much better. She'll be nearly 38 weeks at that point, so she'll be fully developed and able to live outside of the womb.

I'm writing all this to say that it's been an interesting journey and a learning process for us over these last few weeks. The pregnancy was very uneventful for a long time and perhaps we took that for granted. Now I have a much greater appreciation for the fact that our little girl is healthy and for the miracle that she is. Every baby is a true wonder and now I think I understand that more. It's also been a blessing for me to have time to let the idea of a c-section sink in. I am thankful for that gift, because an emergency c-section would have been much more difficult for me to handle. With weeks to think and pray about it, I've been able to come to peace and to prepare and inform myself about what is to come.

Please pray for us on January 6th and in the weeks leading up to her birth date. Please pray for peace for me, since this is my first time having surgery of any kind and I'm a bit nervous. Please pray for the baby's health, my health and for our recovery. And of course, for God's blessing over us as we adjust to being a family of three!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Nuance of Language

Now that we have moved on into the upper levels of German, we are venturing into the territory of language nuance. In this world, learning becomes less about straight forward words and definitions and more about how, when and why particular words are used to communicate feelings, thoughts and subtleties. 

For example, there might be a verb you can use to communicate the idea "I did my homework". But there might also be several other verbs to replace the verb "did" that sound better and add variety to your vocabulary. Some of those verbs might imply that you completed all of your homework, while others might imply that you simply worked on it. Some may imply how quickly or with what attitude you did your homework.

Another example is two words that overlap in meaning by 80 or 90 percent. We may be tempted to call these two words "synonyms" but in reality, that 10 or 20% of difference puts these words in different categories. That percentage of difference is more important that the similarity between the words. Sometimes, the words may be used interchangeably, but at other times, one word would be inappropriate in place of the other. 

The difficulty comes when the difference in meaning between two words is difficult, or even impossible, to explain. Here come the nuances. Some words you just need to experience over and over again in context to learn how to use them and when they are appropriate or not. You can't simply write the difference in definition down on a flash card and memorize it - you need to experiment with the word and then ask if you used it correctly. You need to listen for the word and mentally note the situation in which it was used by a native speaker. This requires patience, endurance and attention in social/language situations. This is especially true when we have just one word for something in English, but there are multiple words used in the foreign language you are learning.

It's encouraging to be at the stage where we have moved beyond basic grammar and vocab. However, this nuanced stage of language learning brings it's own challenges. It can be more difficult to notice and celebrate progress when the steps we take and advances we make are are now smaller and subtler. It requires a different level of focus and a less concrete learning strategy. It's another step in the long journey towards fluency. 

Photo credit: jdurham from morguefile.com

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Gospel in the Classroom

At the beginning of the language learning process, the topics of conversation were pretty basic. We learned to build sentences that you would find in most children's books. We talked about farm animals, daily objects and seasons. At that time, it was very challenging to be in a room with educated and fascinating people and discuss such basic topics.

Once we reached a level that was a bit deeper in the language, we could talk about more complicated topics in class. It was fascinating to ask deeper questions and hear the range of backgrounds and stories that many people carry with them.

The last few weeks of school, we discussed a pretty heavy topic in class, namely juvenile crime. The conversations tended to wander, and we were soon talking about what causes someone to commit a crime or kill someone. A few people in class put out the idea that only "abnormal" people commit serious crimes, especially crimes like murder. 

Through this conversation I had the chance to explain the Christian view of the source of evil and the possibility for evil that lays in every human heart. I find it a truly humbling part of Christian theology to recognize how much potential for wrong-doing lives in me. I ended my statement by pointing to the good news, and that it can't really be good news unless the reality is really bad. Basically, we don't need a savior unless there is something to be saved from. And this something is not just in the life to come, but also in our daily lives here. It was interesting to share this in class and to hear other reactions.

This conversation was difficult, but it was also very interesting and rewarding. I think it is all too rare for Christians to have honest conversations about faith with people who don't agree with them.  And it was a stretching experience to discuss these topics in German. I hope and pray I have more opportunities like this!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Preparing for J-baby

We haven't posted about the baby in awhile, so I thought I'd give an update on how preparations are coming for her arrival! We have less than two months (probably) until she joins our family and with the holidays here, the time is whizzing by.

As far as she's concerned, J-baby is doing her part by developing and growing! She's 32 weeks along and is just the size she's supposed to be. Her legs are especially long, according to the doctor (probably inherited from me!). We went in for a high-resolution ultrasound last week and all of her organs look great. She's moving and kicking and seems excited to enter the world :)

J-baby's closet, full of pink!
On our end, we're just about ready for her to get here. We painted the baby room last week and will be getting a crib from some friends next Sunday. Then we'll be able to hang up a wall cling above the crib with a bible verse from Isaiah:

Isaiah 40:11 (NIV):

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

Me at 31 weeks. And of course, Mozzy snuck into this photo, too...
 The theme of the baby room is sheep, so this verse fits perfectly! It also has cute little sheep around it. J-baby's closet is stocked with clothes, because we've been blessed with friends here who have loaned or donated many items to us. We are just lacking a few basics, which we registered for on amazon.co.uk here. 

We are so excited to meet her, and we marvel at God's workmanship as He crafts her in my womb. We truly are beautifully and wonderfully made!

I See the Lord

These past two weekends, I had the privilege of singing in two gospel choir concerts, planned through a partnership between Christian musicians in Vienna, Christian organizations and the Music University of Vienna. The music was beautiful, the spirit of the Lord was clearly moving and the gospel message was clear through the words sung and the messages spoken.

Click the video above to watch a full recording of the second concert performance

Something like this could not have happened in years past - namely, a partnership between the secular music university and Christian musicians in the city. God is clearly opening new doors in our city, and I was really excited to be a part of what He was doing. The concerts were planned in conjunction with a "spiritual emphasis week" at the Vienna University, organized by the on-campus student ministry. The last week of this sort happened 30 years ago! Clearly, God is working here and breaking down barriers.

In Vienna, quality music is highly valued and celebrated. Music can be a valuable gospel-communicating tool here, because many Viennese are open to attending a music concert but will not step foot in a church. Having this experience these past weekends has led me to think differently about music as such a tool, and I look forward to more opportunities to use music to share my faith.

Here are a few photos from the first concert at the University:

A view of the crowd as they entered

The choir and orchester

Our conductor

The group of soloists that provided lead vocals. They were all so talented!

Proof that I sang! I was tucked in the back row (typical fate for us tall folks).

Monday, November 25, 2013

Last Day of Class (for a while)

Last Friday was our final day of formal language classes for a while. It was bittersweet as we said thank you and good bye to the teachers we have worked with for so long. It is amazing to think of how fast the last 12 months has gone and how much we have learned.

So the question out there is, "what do you do now?" The answer is complicated. We are working on self-study tools like flash cards (my favorite app is Anki), duolingo.com, livemocha.com, and homework sheets we get from our private tutor. We will also meet with our tutor and language helpers during the week to increase our conversation and communications skills. We'll transition towards learning more about cultural values and practices. This dives into my (Nate's) background and degree at Moody, and I am very excited to continue to explore these concepts. And it is possible that I will take another course in the spring after our little one arrives just to keep sharp on my grammar.

We are nervous and excited to start this new chapter in our learning. Would you pray for us?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Light at the End of the Tunnel

A wintery fall has come to Vienna, like many parts of the US, as well. Leaves are changing and falling from trees and the air is crisp. I personally love this season. As a warm-blooded person, it is nice to move out of the dog days of summer and be able to put on sweaters and long pants. I also love making tea and feeling cozy warm instead of sweltering hot. I am getting carried away here, but you understand where I am coming from.

Another part about fall here in Vienna is that it  brings back all kinds of memories for us. We arrived last October and began getting used to life here. Since then, a lot has changed. We have learned and experience so much. It is amazing how God has provided for us. We are so thankful for all the people who have welcomed us with open arms and helped us to understand this new and different world and for those that continue to lift us up back home in so many ways.

Thinking back to those first weeks and months here in Austria, I don't think I could have possibly imagined what it would be like to be where we are today. To be honest, I had a lot of doubts and fears that went along with this. Most of these spanned the unknown between imagination and reality. By that, I mean that we had spent a great deal of time preparing for this transition. We had attended hours and hours of training, read books, and talked to so many different people that had been through the language learning and cultural adjustment process. It is one thing to talk to others or imagine what it will be like, but it is an entirely different thing to strap on your big-boy-boots and get to work. As I think back on that person and that time, I really believe we had no idea what this was going to be like. This is the reality in most areas of life, but after a year in the middle of this transition, I have seen this sharply. My perspective has changed, and yet I am still me. My marriage doesn't feel completely different, but the miles behind us have driven us closer together as we have shared defeats and victories together.

The key phrase here is, "I couldn't have imagined." I couldn't have imagined what the last 12 months would hold for us. And now we stand on the edge of another big step: finishing up "formal" language Formal here is in quotes, because with a second language you never really stop learning.  But we will move out of the phase of ministry where our primary goal is learning language and culture and move into the next phase. We'll be talking more about this in the coming months, and we covet your prayers about this, but I (Nate) will hopefully be starting an internship in an existing church here in Austria.

This will be a chance for us to work within the existing church and get some valuable ministry experience before we join up with a church planting team in the future. We'll also have the chance to learn from those that have been in fruitful ministry for a long time here. Needless to say, I am really looking forward to this next stage! But I also know that there is no way I can truly know or imagine what lies ahead.

In the face of all of this, we can finally "see the light at the end of the tunnel." It is both very exciting and a bit odd. It feels like so long ago that we left the States, and even longer still that we began this process. God has been so good and faithful to us. Join us in celebrating what he has done in the past and the wonderful future he has for us! To HIM be the glory!

Photo credit: nazka2002 from morguefile.com

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Viennese and Death

Zentral Friedhof - Central Cemetery of Vienna
Yes, the title of this post is morbid. But in honor of Halloween, I thought it appropriate to write this post after attending a language school lecture with the same title. Halloween is hardly celebrated here, but there is still a focus on death this time of year due to this coming Friday's holiday "All Saints Day".

Here are a few interesting tidbits about the relationship between the people of Vienna and death:

  • On "All Saints Day" (this Friday), all businesses will be closed so that Catholic families can visit the graves of dead loved ones, leaving flowers and lighting candles to remember them.
  • Many Viennese these days are leaving the Catholic church (giving up their official membership) to avoid paying the mandatory church tax. However, many of them rejoin the church late in life so that when they die, they can have a "proper" Catholic funeral and appease their families
  • Everyone here is automatically an organ donor when they die, unless they specifically ask not to be (the opposite of the American system)
  • There were a few famous cases in Vienna's history (1800s and earlier) of someone being buried alive. Out of these came a fear of being buried alive. Still today, some Viennese have it written in their will to have a knife stabbed through their heart  before being buried, to ensure they are truly dead.
  • For most Catholics, the funeral ceremony with the body takes place at the cemetery and then the church service (Requiem) takes place a few days later, after the body has already been buried. Therefore, the body is never actually in the church for the funeral (with the exception of very prominent or wealthy figures).
  • It is illegal to bury a pet (or a person, for that matter) in your yard or garden when they die, because of sanitary reasons. Pets must be cremated or buried in a pet cemetery.
  • Several centuries ago, all cemeteries in Vienna were next to the Catholic churches in the city. However, the bodies were contaminating the soil and water, so it was decided to move all graves to a central cemetery "far out of the city". Unfortunately, the city kept growing and soon this new cemetery location was right in the middle of bustling Vienna! So the bodies were moved again, further outside of Vienna, to the location known today as the "Central Cemetery".

Sunday, October 20, 2013

What's the difference?

When we meet someone new, one of the first questions we are asked is why we are in Austria. And naturally, after we explain our role with the "free church" and our hopes of starting new churches in Vienna, the question follows: What are some of the differences between what you believe and the Catholic church beliefs?

Austria is a predominantly Catholic country, so when many Austrians hear the word "church", they think of a well-established institution with large cathedrals and a long-standing history. When we say Nate went to school to be a pastor, they often think of the priestly role of the Catholic church. So it has been important for us to learn to articulate what makes us different. 

In explaining these differences, though, there is a fine line we walk. On the one hand, we have met Catholic Christians here who have a deep, abiding faith in Christ, and we believe God is working in the Catholic church. However, we also hear over and over again about the barriers that exist today to hearing and understanding the gospel in the Catholic church in Austria. We constantly struggle with wanting to separate ourselves from the Catholic church and some of the negative associations we have heard, while also affirming the positives.

Two stories highlight this well. First story: There is a new believer attending our church who also just joined our bible study. She has a wonderful heart, and we are enjoying getting to know her. I had the chance to talk with her after church last Sunday and hear a bit more of her story. She shared about how she grew up in the Catholic church and used to participate in prayer groups as a teenager. However, it wasn't until recently that she heard the gospel message from a co-worker and heard the concept of a "personal relationship" with God - one that goes deeper than church tradition and prayer. She also shared that she was never encouraged to read or study the Bible on her own and this is the first time in her life that she has begun to do that. Despite many years in the church, she is on a brand new journey.

Second story: During our mid-morning break at language school last week, a Polish classmate asked us about the difference between our beliefs and those of the Catholic church. Coming from another predominantly-Catholic country, this was an important distinction for her to understand. Although she does not share a belief in God (as far as we know), two things we shared resonated with her: the idea of going directly to God in prayer and in relationship, as opposed to through a priest, and making a faith decision for yourself, apart from tradition. She listened as we also talked about the importance of scripture and understanding the meaning behind God's words in the Bible.

So what's the difference? There are distinctions between the evangelical church here and the Catholic church. Important ones. But we want to speak to those carefully as we encounter Austrians from a variety of church backgrounds and experiences, while also affirming where and how God is working in the church in Austria today. Please pray for us - for wisdom as we navigate these waters, especially in a new language, and for sensitivity as we invite people into a deeper relationship with God.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Our First Bible Study

Bible study in our living room last Thursday
Last Thursday evening was our first official bible study meeting in our home. Up until the moment the evening began, we didn't know who would join us, what kind of a group would come together and what the dynamic would be. All we know is we had drinks, snacks and a clean living room ready for whatever would take place that night. But God answered all of those questions and blessed us with a great discussion, a good-sized group of people and an encouraging beginning to our study through the book of John.

We had four young adults join us, and we are already hearing of more who want to come when they are available. In fact, one of the participants has already invited an unbelieving friend to come this Thursday who is open to reading the bible and has questions about faith! This is exactly our goal - to create an environment open to dialogue about God, Jesus, scripture and faith. God is already working to answer our prayers and bring just the right people to join us.

Outside of Sunday morning church services, this is our first experience studying scripture in German. Please pray for us! It is definitely a stretch for us to discuss deeper topics in our new language, as well as find the time to prepare well for each week's discussion. It can be frustrating to want to share something with the group, but not be able to find the right words (or think of them too late, after the conversation has already moved on to a new topic). Please pray for clarity of thought when we participate and that God would give us humility as we make mistakes and step out of our comfort zones.

Please also pray for the new people that will be joining us in the coming weeks. Pray for them to gain a deeper understanding of who Jesus is through the gospel of John and through our discussions. Pray that they would see the sincere faith of the other people in the room and desire to experience that personal relationship with Jesus for themselves.

Monday, October 7, 2013

One Year Reflections

Arriving at the Vienna airport on October 6, 2012.
Yesterday, we went out to dinner to celebrate one year since landing in Austria. ONE YEAR! We can't believe a year has already passed since we got on a plane, left the States and began this new adventure and new life.

Like many things in life, we experience a paradox when we think of the last year - so much has happened since we left and being in the U.S. feels like a long time ago, so it seems this year has been full and gone by slowly. But at the same time, it feels like it has flown by!

Tiredly posing with teammates at the airport last fall.
Here are some of the amazing things that God has done in the last year:
  • He got us here, with 100% support, all of our luggage and a readiness to jump in!
  • He enabled us to get acclimated to life here quickly and pass our A1 language exam last fall, required for our visas.
  • He answered many prayers and got us us visas to stay in Austria- in record time!
  • He healed our German teacher Renate, after she was in a coma and nearly died. She has since revealed that she is going to catholic mass more regularly, and we believe she has encountered God in a new way.
  • He opened the door to partner with the Fry family in England AND found us a German tutor while we were there, so that our time across the water was productive and used well while we waited for our visas to return.
  • He helped us find the perfect apartment in only TWO DAYS of looking, and we were able to move in just TWO DAYS after we arrived back in Vienna.
  • He provided us with many friends and teammates here who helped us paint and put together Ikea furniture, helping our move-in process go more quickly.
  • He's given us favor with learning German, and we're amazed at how far we've progressed, when we look back at the last year. We've also had great classroom and tutor experiences across the board, which is truly a gift. Not everyone has had such a great experience as we've had.
  • He led us to a great church community in Vienna, where we've been able to plug in, be welcomed and grow in our German. We've met many patient people willing to help us learn.
  • He blessed us with our little girl who will be arriving in January, ss well as excellent medical care from our doctor and midwife, helping us feel great about having our first child here in Vienna.
  • He also blessed us with our sweet dog, who has already given us MANY opportunities to meet our neighbors and practice German in the park and at puppy class.
  • He led us to start a bible study with a few folks from church, which will be a wonderful outreach opportunity and a chance to grow in our ability to discuss deeper topics in German.
  • He has blessed us with a community here - a supportive team and friends who have helped us feel at home. This is a huge blessing and one we do not take for granted (or try not to!).
We could go on and on. Suffice it to say, God has opened doors, given us favor, and confirmed his presence with us every step of the way. We are blown away by his blessings, even in the times that have been challenging, tiring and downright difficult. We are still confident that He is working and that He will use us to impact people here, despite our frailty, sin and failures. For this, we are the most grateful.

"It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed."

- Deuteronomy 31:8

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Shadow of What's To Come

I knew that getting a puppy would be hard work. But what has been a bit of a surprise to me is how similar caring for a puppy is to having a baby. Here are a few similarities we've noticed...
  • We get up at all hours of the night to clean up after the puppy when he goes to the bathroom (on his puppy potty) or take him outside
  • We are attempting to train the puppy to go to the bathroom outside. This involves taking him out constantly and wondering whether or not he understands what is happening. Potty training is a big part of our life
  • When Mozzy takes a nap, I wonder to myself, "hey, what can get done while he's sleeping?"
  • We bought him a bunch of cute toys, but all he really wants to play with are paper towel rolls and milk cartons
  • We plan our outings around the dog, since we can only be out for a certain amount of hours
  • He goes through regular waking, eating and sleeping cycles throughout the day. When he's awake, he often needs attention and to be entertained
  • When we take him for walks, we get stopped by many people oo-ing and ahhing about how cute he is
  • We speak to him in the same voice we use for most small children
  • He's absolutely adorable. But I suppose everyone thinks that of their own "children"
More than one person has commented on how having a puppy is good practice for us as we prepare for our baby girl to arrive in January. And yes, it's a bit like a warm up. But honestly, we know this stage is only a shadow of what's to come. We may be practicing now, but anyone with kids knows that you can't really know what it's like to have a baby until it happens to you. It is much more intense than anything we've experienced before. Mozzy is a wonderful part of our family, but we will love our child more deeply than we can now imagine. And we know that having a baby will be much more work and much less sleep.

This is perhaps a stretch, but thinking about this comparison led me to think about the difference between talking about eternity with God and actually experiencing it. During our physical life on earth, we catch glimpses of eternity - we experience God's grace and mercy, we reflect God's love in our actions towards others, and we read about eternity in scriptures. But we know that our experience here and the words we read are only a glimpse of the magnificence of what's to come. Our imagination cannot even fathom what God has planned for us. As it says in I Corinthians 13:12:

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Our perspective of parenthood now is dim. But soon we will know fully. Our experience of eternity with God is dim, but soon we will know the blessing fully!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Why are You Still in Language School?

Why are you still in language school?

 While most people don't ask us this question directly, I am sure it is floating around out there in the ether. Or maybe the question is something like: "if you can speak German right now, why do you need to go any further in the language learning process?"

The short answer is: we aren't there yet. The goal of our language journey is not just survival, but the ability to share on deeper heart levels. We canspeak German, but we have a lot still to learn.

Recently, we had an experience that illustrated this point. On Sunday, we were invited to have lunch with some friends from church. It was a really great time to speak German and connect with some people our age outside of the Sunday morning setting. We had a great meal and spoke only German the whole time. We laughed, told stories and had a great community experience. 

Towards the end of the meal something fascinating happened. Some long time friends of the people we were eating with stopped by. They heard us speaking German and the conversation continued as one big group. But the whole pace shifted gears. The conversation picked up the pace a little bit more and vocabulary got a bit more complex. No one slowed down for us - as they spoke, they sped up! For the most part, we were able to keep up, but I could feel a shift. I needed to concentrate more to keep pace, and I missed words or phrases along the way.

Neither the pace of the conversation at the beginning, nor the change that happened were intentional. And it wasn't wrong or bad. In fact, it was a really great conversation to be a part of. We love to be challenged in our skills and the relationships we are forming here. But it is interesting to experience the shift from a conversation that isn't requiring as much mental energy, to one that requires more focus to follow along. 

For me, this was a reminder of two big things

First of all, we have come a long way. It is amazing to me that we are able to have these conversations so soon after arriving here. The language learning journey is different for everyone and there can and will be road blocks for us in the future. I am a very verbal person and as I am able to express myself more and more in this new language, there is a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment that comes along with it. 

Secondly, I know that we still have so much to learn. We long for the day when we are "there", and we can begin the ministry we came here to do. But we still have a long way to go. It will be awhile before conversations with a group of native speaker don't move too fast for us. It would also be false to say that ministry begins when we are fluent in the language. That statement implies that the time we are investing now isn't "ministry time." But it is. One thing that was reinforced through support raising was that this entire process is ministry. It is not an end goal situation, but a journey of evolving ministry responsibilities. As we walk through this phase, we are reminded that God will continue to provide for our needs and open doors every step of the way.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Monday Morning Puritans

I have really come to love the Puritan prayers in the book, the Valley of Vision. So often they express hopes and desires that I have in such thoughtful and constructive ways. They are balanced in a way that I think my prayer life and personal thought life rarely is. There is never too much "hell fire and brimstone", but there is an acute awareness of our own sinfulness, and the grace that is never far off. I'd like to share one of these prayers this morning.


O Thou That Hearest Prayer,
Teach me to pray.
I confess in religious exercises that the language of my lips and the feelings of my heart have not always agreed,
that I have frequently taken carelessly upon my tongue a name never pronounced above without reverence and humility,
that I have often desired things which would have injured me,
that I have depreciated some of my chief mercies,
that I have erred both on the side of my hopes and of my fears, 
that I am unfit to choose for myself,
for it is not in me to direct my steps.
Let thy Spirit help my infirmities,
for I know not what to pray for as I ought.
Let him produce in me wise desires by which I may ask right things,
then I shall know thou hearest me.
May I never be importunate* for temporal blessings,
but always refer them to thy fatherly goodness,
for thou knowest what I need before I ask;
May I never think I prosper unless my soul prospers,
or that I am rich unless rich toward thee,
or that I am wise unless wise unto salvation.
May I seek first thy kingdom and its righteousness.
May I value things in relation to eternity.
May my spiritual welfare be my chief solicitude**.
May I be poor, afflicted, despised and have thy blessing,
rather than be successful in enterprise,
or have more than my heart can wish,
or be admired by my fellow-men,
if thereby these things make me forget thee.
May I regard the world as dreams, lies, vanities, vexations of the spirit, and desire to depart from it.
And may I seek my happiness in thy favour, image, presence, service.

* importunate means to obnoxiously ask
** solicitude here means concern

There are so many things to grab ahold of here, but I really love the prayer of confession at the beginning. I think coming out of a Sunday service experience, it is good and right for us to confess our unbelief and the contradictions that we live with internally. Confessing those to God and to each other is a valuable way to press in to God.

The other section that I really love is towards the end and it talks about our connection to God. The writer asks that he be poor, afflicted and despised with God's blessing, rather than admired and rich and thereby forgetting God. It is easy to get caught up in trying to please other people, or trying to gain their admiration. Our main goal and focus should be nearness and closeness to God. May we continue to seek that.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

And the verdict is...

We got some big news at the doctor today!

Exciting News for the Evangelical Churches in Austria!

For the first time in the history of Austria, the evangelical church here is being recognized as an official faith!

Yesterday, this ruling became official and the news is now public. Being fully recognized by the government is something that that has been in process for years and brings with it many benefits for the church here.

Before the church became recognized...
  • Many Austrians saw evangelicalism as a "cult", rather than a legitimate faith
  • Evangelicals pastors who worked on Sundays were technically breaking the law because of labor laws in Austria (though the law was never enforced)
  • Religious worker visas were not available for missionaries or church workers coming here from other countries, as they are for other official religions (which is why we endured our complicated visa process)
  • When Austrians are born and registered for the government and their parents wanted to mark their religion on official documents (which is standard here), evangelicals had to check the box "other" on the form
  • Financially, evangelical churches functioned as "clubs" here, required to follow some regulations that really didn't apply to them (for example, having regular leadership meetings that had to follow format and voting rules)
Now that the "free church" is recognized...
  • It will be considered a true, rather than half-way recognized, faith by many Austrians! It joins a group of 16 other state-recognized religions (to which Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, already belonged)
  • It will have easy access to missionary/ministry worker visas!
  • Austrian evangelical churches will get the same tax benefits as other churches in Austria
  • The news has gone public and talking about this new reality can open up new opportunities to share with Austrians about the evangelical church, what we're all about, and what distinguishes us from other religious faiths in Austria
  • The free church now has the right to teach religious education in public schools here in Austria. (I'm not sure of all the nuances of this, but I know it will open up new doors! But it will require the church to provide teachers, so we need to start recruiting.)
Join us in praising God for this amazing answer to prayer. This is a historical day in the history of the evangelical church here and something we've been praying for for a long time (and many have been praying long before we knew about it!).

To read more, you can see an article here. Use google translate to read, if you can't speak German, of course!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

B1 Test (AKA Saturday Morning Adventures)

Today we took the B1 German competency exam at our language school. Here is the explanation of the levels. It went pretty well, and we felt good coming out of it, even though it was a formal test. We won't know how we did for another 10 days or so. Here are some thoughts from today and an explanation of why we decided to take this formal exam.

The first reason we took this test was because we needed it for our visas. I think we have between two and three years to get to this level of German to meet the visa requirement, but we figured that it would be good to get it out of the way while the grammar nuts and bolts were firmly fixed in our heads. This leads into our second reason for taking the test. We wanted to get a bench mark for how far we have progressed in the language. Language learning is something in life that is hard to pin down. Often times you grow and grow and don't really notice the growth that has happened. There aren't that many times that we have something like this to take the pulse of our progress and so we jumped at the opportunity.

Last fall, I wrote about speaking like a child and preparing for our A1 exam. That feels like so long ago and it is amazing to see how we have grown in the last nine months. Like any student studying a subject, the further we go into German, the more we realize how much we have yet to learn. 

Ultimately, language and culture are tools that we use to effectively communicate the gospel cross-culturally. We really love German and Austria, but we are not here just to learn the language and culture. We are here because we have a loving and good God that wants to have a relationship with Austrians in German*. And we believe wholeheartedly that the time we are investing now in language learning will bear fruit in the future as we seek to be a witness to Christ's message and to encourage Austrian believers to do the same.

*I am still blow away at the language diversity on this planet. The fact that communion with God is had through so many different languages and variety of cultures completely astounds me.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Capture Video Training

These last couple weeks, we had the privilege of hosting in our home a good friend and fellow WorldVenture missionary, Drew Hayes. Drew and Nate attended Moody together, and we were excited to learn a few years ago that Drew had become a mid-term missionary with WorldVenture. But Drew's ministry is a bit different from ours. Drew is a professional video shooter, editor and producer, specializing in the telling stories of what God is doing around the world in documentary-style short films. Drew is highly skilled and his work is a great gift to missionaries, enabling them to better share their stories with churches, supporters, friends and family back home. You can check out some of his videos here.

While Drew was in Vienna, he spent most of his two weeks utilizing the fast internet connection he doesn't have in Africa to edit and upload videos he'd been shooting over the last few months. But we also took advantage of the opportunity and asked him to teach a workshop called "Capture: Video Training for Missionaries".  We got together a group of four missionaries interested in shooting and editing their own videos, and Drew facilitated 2-1/2 days of training to give them the tools necessary to create their own videos. Drew was an excellent teacher and the missionaries came away better equipped! Nate and I served as planners/facilitators in setting up the workshop, getting the word out, and finding a place to meet. Overall, we were so thankful that this training came together.

Check our Drew's monthly update video below, where he talks about teaching the seminar here in Vienna.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Work Hard, Rest Hard

Yesterday, we picked up our puppy, Mozzy. It's been an interesting and fun 2 days, as we've been learning Mozzy's personality and attempting to train him. Neither of us have had a puppy before, so it's a whole new experience! (Case in point: Mozzy was up at 4am this morning ready to play...Good practice for a baby, I suppose.)

One thing that has become quickly clear: Mozzy takes his job very seriously. As a puppy, Mozzy's job in life is to play. So when he plays, he plays hard! He throws his whole body into his work, whether he is gnawing on a chew toy, running after a ball, or climbing into a pile of pillows. He has very little fear and doesn't hold back.

Another important part of Mozzy's job, though, is to rest. As a growing puppy, he needs more sleep than most dogs and because of his energetic play, he wears himself out. So after an intense play session, he goes and takes an hour nap! Just like Mozzy plays hard, he also rests hard.

I was thinking about Mozzy's "life philosophy" today and realized I can learn some important lessons from him. First of all, we should take our work seriously and put 100% of our effort in every time. For us, that means working diligently on language learning while we're in this phase of ministry and earnestly seeking out opportunity to live out (sometimes without words!) the gospel with the people we meet. But just like we need to work hard, we also need to rest. Like Mozzy, we need to take the time to sleep, take care of ourselves and do the things that give us rest, so that we are ready for the next challenge. We also need spiritual rest - times with the Lord in prayer and studying his Word, so we are spiritually prepared for the work ahead. Without the proper rest, we are ill-equipped to completely the work God has laid out for us in Austria.

So, may we be more like Mozzy - working hard and resting hard, throwing our whole selves into the tasks God has given us!

Panting on the couch in between play sessions.

Working hard to destroy his chew stick (which he devoured in 24 hours).

Resting in his "house" in the living room

Fast asleep on the couch after a tiring hour of "work"

Asleep in the bathroom, where the tiles can keep him cool and he can sniff Nate's sneakers!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Our First Family Visitor!

Lately, life has just been chugging along. We're wrapping up this month's German class next Friday and we've been spending most of our time outside of class doing homework, meeting with language partners and going to church. Hence the lack of blog posts recently! Not much to report.

However, a welcome interruption to all of this normalcy was our first family visitor - Nate's brother! For the last 7-ish years, Neil has spent time volunteering at English camps sponsored by Josiah Venture in the Czech Republic, and this summer was no different. After two weeks there, he decided to pop down to Vienna for a quick visit before heading back to the States. It was really fun to show him around the city and take him to a few favorite places and authentic restaurants. (Anyone who knows us well knows that food is really important to us, so of course this was a big focus of what we shared with Neil.) Nate also was able to skip a day of class to spend more time with his brother and they visited a few museums in the downtown area.

Thank you, Neil, for coming to visit!

Sadly we didn't take very many photos, but here are just a couple...

Having Vienna's best apple strudel at Cafe Landtmann.

Nate catching Neil in some of his more pensive, thoughtful moments.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


When we started this language learning process, I was unsure about the middle stages. To be fair, I still am pretty unsure. I had a sense of the beginning...I knew what it was to start. It is easy to envision learning (or relearning, as was my case after a few years of high school German) basic verbs and nouns. I could envision learning basic sentences about dogs jumping and people running or cooking. But I have been amazed and encouraged at the other milestones we have encountered along the way. Here is a brief recap, in no particular order, of those spots along the way.

I clearly remember my first conversation when I felt like I spoke mostly German for an evening. I was at a restaurant with a few guys and celebrating Reformation Day. I remember the conversation was about language learning, and I was so amazed as I walked home that day, thinking that I actually had a conversation in German! The interesting thing about that memory is that later, I got together with the guy I talked with that night and his memory of the evening was the opposite of mine. He remembers that we spoke mostly English that night! I think it reminds me that this process is just that - a process. 

Today, I went into a climbing store because I wanted to look around. I mean come on, it's a climbing store and I like climbing. So I wandered around for a little while and finally someone looked at me and asked me if needed help. I asked a few questions and laughed with the guy behind the counter (most climbers are laid back and willing to chat about stuff). Later on in the afternoon, I was talking to a fellow language learner and I realized that I hadn't done something earlier. I hadn't rehearsed. One stage of language learning involves a lot of mental rehearsal before a social interaction, especially with a stranger. To be honest, it is emotionally draining. You think through exactly what you are looking to get out of the conversation and then what you expect them to say, or what questions you expect them to ask. So the fact that I went to the climbing store without mentally rehearsing anything, had a comfortable conversation and had no stress was an important milestone.
I would definitely not say that I am through the woods regarding language learning. I still have a long way to go, but it is great to look back and see times that were once difficult are not so hard today. It is great to see growth. 

Photo credit: Seemann from morguefile.com

Monday, July 22, 2013

Church Announcement (Hear us speak German!)

At the end of every church service at our church here, there is a time where people get up and share prayer requests, praises or thoughts on what God is teaching them. So on the 14th of July, we got up in front of the church and shared our exciting news about being pregnant. It was the first time for both of us speaking German in front of such a large group (probably about 75 people), so we were a bit nervous and our German wasn't perfect. But it was a great accomplishment and it was fun to share the news with our church community.

Here is the video of our announcement, with English subtitles. Enjoy!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Some fellow students on the hike (being around high school
and college age kids can make you feel a little old.)
**Note: click the images to see them full screen!

Last Friday, we took part in an adventure with our language school. Our language school offers a large variety of opportunities to visit important cultural locations and learn about the history and cultural significance that goes along with those places. We also get valuable time to speak the German language both with teachers and other language learners.

This time, a large group of us took a bus up to a local mountain called Kahlenberg. It has a beautiful church on top that commemorates the famous Siege of Vienna and the Polish king Sobieski who rescued the city. We got to see the beautiful view and then hike down the mountain (the hike up is a lot more intense than the hike down). I (Nate) would like to ride my bike up it some day, even though it is pretty challenging!

 An important part of the outing was getting to practice German as we walked down the mountain. It is very important that we have these opportunities to speak outside of class and practice naturally expressing our thoughts and experiences. It is also fun to get to know classmates and teachers outside of the more structured classroom setting. We learn everyday words that may not come up in class (like the word for mosquito) or ways of expressing ideas or experiences. So take a look at the photos and enjoy!

The view from the top!

You can just see famous buildings in the main part of the cities.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Typical Sunday

As I was sitting in church this morning, I felt so thankful for our community here in Vienna where we now feel comfortable and welcomed. And I also realized that our experience on a Sunday morning is a bit different that what church used to look like for us in the States. So I thought I would share those things!

Here are some things about our church in Vienna that are a bit different that our U.S. church experience...

1. Relaxed pace. Sunday services are usually somewhere between 1.5 - 2 hours long and the length is determined by what needs to happen on a typical Sunday. If there is more going on, then the service goes longer. This has been a refreshing change for me. Because we're a small church and have only one service each Sunday, there's no need to worry about how long the service goes. It ends when it ends!

2. Group prayer. After a few songs at the beginning of the service, we always have an open group prayer time. It's an open-ended time where anyone can pray aloud. Since the room isn't very big, it's easy to hear everyone share. The purpose of this time is not designed to lift up specific prayer requests, but to praise God for who he is and what He's done for us.

3. Birthdays.  Every week, the people who have birthdays that week are announced and a special verse is chosen for the group to encourage and bless them.

4. Sharing time. At the end of the service, there is an open mic and anyone is welcome to come up and share. People often share prayer requests with everyone or updates on previous requests. This is also a time to share what God's been teaching someone or some specific thoughts based on that day's sermon.

5. Lots of music. I'm pretty sure we sing at least 6 songs each week, which is more than I remember singing in most churches in the States. They are scattered throughout the service time.

6. Simultaneous translation in two languages. We have two unique groups of people in our church who benefit from translation. Up at the front right side of the room, there is a group of hearing impaired church attenders and a translator who translated the entire service for them into sign language. It's so fun to watch! We also have several Romanian families in the church and there is usually a young person in the church (fluent in German and Romanian) who translated the service into a microphone. The Romanians who need translation listen to the Romanian version with headphones.

7. Social time. Austria is a very relational and social culture. They love spending time chatting and are laid back about how long this time lasts. After the service, most people stay for at least an hour or more to chat and socialize with other people in the church community.

8. Pot-luck lunches. Periodically (about once a quarter), we have a big lunch after church where everyone brings something to share. And of course, there is always tons of food and desserts to go around. This lasts at least 2, maybe 3 hours. In my experience, Austrian culture is a bit less schedule-oriented than the U.S., especially when it comes to social time, so these lunches can last for as long as people will stay!

I've really grown to love these aspects of our church experience here and as we become more and more comfortable with the language, I feel able to worship more and more on Sunday morning. This is a huge blessing and a feeling I had looked forward to for awhile. God truly blessed us when he led us to this church!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Royal Pup

This morning, we met a new family member - our first puppy! We have been wanting to get a dog for years, but were waiting until we got here and were settled. This month, we are taking care of a dog for some friends, and we've really fallen in love with this breed - the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. They are sweet, calm and love to cuddle. They are also at the top of many lists we've read for the best apartment dogs. So we did some research and found a breeder in Austria!

We picked an adorable male puppy from the litter this morning and put down a deposit. They are only 6 weeks old now, so we will be able to take him home in the middle of August, when he's grown a bit more and gotten the nutrients he needs from his mother. But it was fun to meet him!

We haven't picked a name yet, but we're researching popular names in Austria. Feel free to comment with your ideas!

We have always been told that getting a dog is a great way to make new friends here and meet neighbors. Dogs are really popular here and when we take the dog to the "dog park" to play, we can make new friends, too! We'll see!

The puppy meets Nate.

Isn't he just adorable?!