Sunday, December 21, 2014

Advent Celebration

Thank you so much to those of you who prayed for our recent church event! The advent event was a wonderful celebration of "hidden treasures", our gifts and talents, and the giver of those talents. The evening included an arts and crafts exhibit, plus a stage performance that included music, theatrical performances, hand puppets, a film, poetry and more! There were many many guests in attendance and our sanctuary was packed to the brim. The guests enjoyed the performances, heard the messages from our pastor, and then stayed for Punsch, treats and the exhibit.

Please continue to pray for those in attendance, especially guests who do not know Christ and who are in relationship with people from our church. Pray for conversations to go further and deeper.

Here are some photos highlights from the evening!

Member of the string quartet

Hand puppets, who told the sweet story of a shepherd

The packed room

A skit

8-person acapella performance (Bethany is second from the left)

Rachel planned the event (with our assistance) and directed the orchestra

The art exhibition that Nate built!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Update and a Prayer Request

As anyone that lives in a city knows, space is at a premium. Parking is challenging, apartment living is the norm, and things are smaller and more compact. This is also a European value. It still amazes me to think about my time last summer in the States - there is just so much open space! Many of these things we have gotten used to and recognize that they are just different ways of operating.

Because of this reality, most churches here consistently struggle with space issues. Rent (or mortgage) tends to hold a pretty large spot in any church's budget. Growth also brings its own challenges. Questions like: Where are we going to put all these people? or How will we have enough or properly-sized classrooms for all the groups that need to meet? Most church buildings are occupied by multiple congregations that are able to afford a rent together. Even with this reality, many churches can tell stories of God providing, such as finding a reduced-rent facility based on the church doing a renovation of the space. Others have seen God move in creative ways, utilizing the space throughout the week for non-profit offices, kindergartens, and other creative solutions.

Our church has been wrestling with the issue of space for awhile now. It is a long story, that I won't try to completely explain, but it is amazing to watch God move as He opens and closes doors and to see leaders making decisions and working with one another. This experience is invaluable, also because I will probably go through a process like this again in the future.

The latest step in this journey has popped up within the last few weeks. God recently closed the door in our church for renovating our current space, so we are seeking a new solution. There is a new rental opportunity, where we could fit more people into the sanctuary as well as have all the Sunday school rooms we would need. The challenge is the decision will need to be made fast (with in the next few weeks).

Will you pray for our church? Please pray for:
  • wisdom on the part of the leadership and the church to consider this from every perspective to have all the information needed
  • all of the details that would need to happen
  • ultimately, God's leading on behalf of our church

We can't wait to see what God does and how he leads in this new chapter our church's history. We will keep you posted!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Learning and Growing!

As a general rule, I try not to be a professional conference-goer. Ministry conferences are always taking place and the option is there to attend conference all year round.  This past weekend, however,  I was so thankful to attend a special conference and witness a wonderful example of the body of Christ active.

When we talk about Austria, it is often easy to be focused on the need here. There are many people in our beloved country that have little or no access to the life transforming gospel of Jesus. To many, he is a fable hanging on a crucifix or a name that is invoked to make people feel bad about themselves. However, we often don't highlight enough the fact that God is living and active in this land! He is at work and lives are being changed!

This last weekend was a reminder of that. We had the yearly meeting of BEG (Bund Evangelikaler Gemeinden in Ă–sterreich). It took place in Bad Aussee, which is the geographic center of Austria. The delegates came from all over the country, and are either elders or leaders in their respective churches.  Here is a quick summary of some things we talked about or observations that I picked up.

1. This Country is Beautiful and Diverse

We live very much in a concrete jungle that is the city. We have some green spaces, but it is nothing compared to the natural setting outside of Vienna. It is amazing how quickly things open up. The edge of the city is far more pronounced and it is clear when you are no longer in the city. I drove up with an Austrian pastor and two other guys from our church, and i was amazed by their knowledge about the areas outside of the city. They knew names and had stories for the peaks as we drove by them or were able to share a memory of a special family time "just over that mountain top there." The beauty is there, but it is accompanied by stories and a collective cultural memory. Once we arrived, I was also struck by the diversity of accents and dialects I heard. "High German" is the formal Germany German, but the regions of Austria each have their own dialect. From Tyrol to Carinthia, Styria or Upper Austria, each province sounds different. There were even times where I either had to really focus to understand someone, or just completely missed what they would say. It was a fun test of my comprehension, and I was so glad to be able to join in on jokes and laugh with many new acquaintances.

2. The Mix of Topics was Astounding

In two days of meetings, we cover a ton of ground! We left Vienna at 11am and arrived just after 2:30 pm and jumped right in. We talked about the new church recognition in Austria and their ability to offer religion classes in schools for "Free Church" students. We celebrated the two new supported church plants, one of which is the Aspern project that we had talked about previously, the second one is in Eisenstadt, down in Burgenland (the south eastern most province of Austria). Supported missionaries from the BEG reported on ministry all across the globe and the delegates voted on budgets and accepting two new independent churches into the association. They could not have packed more into that time... it was go go go!

3. God is at Work in Austria

I hope that everything above has showed this last point to you. I was blessed by so many of the conversations that I had and the dear people I met. These are men and women that faithfully serve and love the church in Austria. I was so encouraged by how God is at work in new projects and new ideas, as well as churches that have been around for a while.

I posted photos after the break!

The Need in Austria

Living as a missionary has its good days and bad days. On a tough day, we can feel homesick, discouraged or uncertain about what the future holds. We can try to accomplish things out of our own strength and feel inferior or ill-equipped. On a good day, however, we feel encouraged and confident about why God brought us here and how He is using us. We look forward to seeing what God has in store and the people He will draw to Himself in Vienna.

On tough days, it's important for us to go back to the reason why we are here. Recently, we put together a video for a missions conference that is an overview of the needs here in Austria and our ministry focus. Watching this video helps to remind us, as well as our friends, family and supporters, why we are here! It's so important for us to always go back to the basics - the need here in Austria and the Supplier of all our needs.

We hope you will take a look at the video, as well as pray for the work God is doing here in our city.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Reverse Cross-cultural Experience

Ellie and I have been back in Vienna just two days, and already I feel settled in and back to a normal routine. I'm still catching up on laundry...but other than that, I've slipped back into speaking German, navigating public transportation, reconnecting with friends and other daily routines.

Being back is giving me a chance to reflect on my recent trip back to the States. It had been over two years since I stepped foot on American soil and longer than that since I'd been back to Connecticut, my home state. Overall, we had a very wonderful and special time visiting with my family. Ellie warmed up to my parents more quickly than expected (she has some stranger anxiety) and it was really fun having all of the cousins together for Halloween.

There were, however, some funny and awkward "reverse culture shock" experiences I had, especially the first few days. Here are a few:

  • I had to get used to hearing English everywhere I went. When I first got off the plane, I didn't even notice that a gentleman was talking to me because he spoke with an accent and I just assumed it was a foreign language. I wasn't used to being able to understand everyone around me! 
  • The sales people in the U.S. are SO helpful and friendly. I have gotten so used to being ignored by sales people or waiters or having to work hard to get a question answered, it really threw me off to have sales people approached me and genuinely seem to want to be helpful. They were so friendly, it almost started to annoy me! I thought, "I just want to get my shopping done. Why does everyone keep asking me if I need help?" At Trader Joe's, I asked the salesman if they sold a particular product and he responded, "No, I'm so sorry, we don't. But thank you for asking!" What?! Thank you?! I almost laughed out loud.
  • The amount of choices at the store in America is huge and, for me, a bit overwhelming. I can definitely see the benefits of having lots of choice - you have access to almost anything your heart could possibly desire. But on the flip side, finding what you want amidst so many options takes a lot longer. In Vienna, I can get my shopping done a lot faster because I have less to choose from and I typically know what to expect on the shelves. I would have been completely lost wandering around Stop 'n' Shop and Costco without my mother's help!
  • They give you bags at the grocery store and bag your groceries for you! I honestly forgot about this.
  • Worshiping in English isn't quite the same as it used to me. I thought that maybe being back in an English-speaking church, where I could sing songs in my native tongue and hear preaching in English, would be refreshing and perhaps even emotional. However, it surprised me that I actually really missed speaking and hearing German.  I had trouble focusing on the sermon because I didn't have to concentrate as hard to understand the words, and I missed singing songs in German. It wasn't the reaction I expected.
  • A suburban life can be very sedentary. Living in the city, I am very used to doing a lot of walking. I love that it keeps me active, even when I don't have the time or motivation to exercise. However, during my visit home, I went from sitting on the couch to sitting in the car, to sitting somewhere else. I missed all of the walking! Towards the end, I took a few walks with Ellie just to get out of the house. (At one point, I asked my mom if I should walk to the grocery store, and she assured me it was too far away. I guess I wasn't used to judging distances that I normally drive!)
  • "Pumpkin spice" is out of control. Apparently, this flavor is so popular that any food product that could possibly be made with pumpkin spice is marketed to the American consumer. I found this hilarious, but also a bit enjoyable. I saw pumpkins spice english muffins, candy corn, coffee syrup, M&Ms, muffins, beer, and swirl bread....and the list could go on!
  • Halloween. Enough said. In Vienna, some people have Halloween parties or celebrations, but rarely. It was fun to dress Ellie up in a cute costume and to parade around house to house for candy. It definitely brought back lots of fun childhood memories.
I could probably keep writing, but I'll wrap up there. It was a great visit and I was so thankful for the chance to visit. Here are some photo highlights for you to enjoy!

Playing in the leaves. (This was short-lived, because I was paranoid about ticks!)

Storytime with Grammy

Meeting goats at the petting zoo

Making a clay impression of Ellie's foot as a Christmas ornament at the Clay Date

Ellie and her oldest cousin, Kylie

All 7 cousins at the pumpkin patch

Ellie and cousin Tyler

The cousins in their Halloween costumes

My brother gets creative, carving his pumpkin with a drill

Ellie touches the Atlantic Ocean (well, the Long Island Sound...but they're connected)

Hanging out with Aunt Crista

The lit pumpkins

Hiking and enjoying the fall colors

Ellie and Grampy

Monday, October 20, 2014

Preaching Conference

Last Saturday, I (Nate) had the privilege of taking part in the 1st Predigertag at the Quellenstrasse Church. This was a one-day preaching conference at our field leader's church in the 10th district hosted by Langham Preaching, which is a part of All Souls Church in England.
The goal of the conference was to teach the whole process of preaching an expository sermon. (Don't be scared off by the word "expository"! It just means going through a single passage and explaining its meaning and application.) This contrasts with "topical" sermons, which use many different bible texts and seek to address a single topic (eg. marriage, fear, or redemption). If you are curious what this looks like, this book by Brian Chapel called Christ-Centered Preaching is one of the main books used to teach this process.

If you are thinking, "wow that is a lot of content to cover in a single day!" you would be right. This became even more difficult because the speaker presented in English and then another pastor translated into German. The translator did an amazing job, and I am continually impressed at those that are able to do that well. Now that I speak German, though, I find it distracting to basically listen to a message twice. It is also hard to not start thinking about how I would translate something into German. I think it is mentally easier for me to be in one language than switching between two. This is why often at a German speaking event or a church service, I will speak with other English speakers in German. It is less work to switch gears and remember English words than it is to just speak German.

I was very excited by a few specific things at this conference. First, it was great to see a lot of younger guys at this conference. It is easy sometimes to forget that God is moving among the younger generation here in Austria, but Saturday was a good reminder to me that there God is at work here. It was also exciting to see so many different churches and areas of Austria represented. We had leaders from many of the provinces of Austria, included a contingent from Tirol, which is way on the western side!

This conference was also a great chance for me to see Bobby Harnist and Pastor Jeff from Grace Community Bible Church. Bobby and his wife, Danielle, will soon be missionaries here and Danielle and I grew up together. Bobby and his pastor are in Austria for a week visiting with church leaders and prepping for the Harnists to come here. 

Based on all this, we ask for your prayer. Please pray for the leaders of the churches in Austria, that they would be close to God and lead wisely and faithfully, as well as faithfully teach God's word in their churches.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Going Back

This coming Thursday, Ellie and I (Bethany) will fly back to the U.S. for a 10-day visit to Connecticut to see my family. I'm very excited and have been preparing for weeks now...making packing lists, buying new toys for the plane (small ones!), thinking of strategies to keep her entertained, etc. I have even made little gifts for 12 of the people sitting around us on the plane, complete with candy, ear plugs and a sweet note from Ellie (pictured to the left). My hope is to endear them to us before she starts breaking down :) 

I'm excited, first and foremost, to spend quality time with my family and for them to get to see Ellie at this stage. It will be so fun to have all of the cousins together and to go trick-or-treating (ages 9 months to 13 years!). I'm also excited about being there in the fall. Connecticut is beautiful this time of year, and I can't wait to carve pumpkins, eat honey crisps apples, drink apple cider, photograph leaves and explore a corn maze. I will also have the chance to share an update at two supporting churches, which will be a really valuable opportunity to connect people with what God is doing in Austria.

However, there are a few parts of the trip that I'm nervous about. Understandably, I am nervous about flying with Ellie alone and how she will cope with being couped up on a plane for 9 hours. I'm also nervous about how she will handle jetlag and if that will put a damper on my time there. But most of all, I'm nervous and a bit curious about how I will handle being back in my home country after being gone for 2 years. Will it make me even more homesick? Will I notice things about the U.S. that bother me and become judgmental towards my home culture, idealizing our home in Vienna? Will I be overwhelmed with the amount of choices at the grocery store, paralyzed in the cereal or salad dressing aisle? I have no idea what to expect or how I can be preparing myself now for the feelings I will encounter...other than to start thinking and processing it now.

Your prayers for us are appreciated, specifically...
  • For a smooth flight experience with Ellie and patient people on the plane
  • For a blessed time with family
  • For Nate, as he holds down the fort by himself
  • For me, as I return to my home culture and process the journey we've been on for the last two years

Monday, October 6, 2014

Two Years

Posing with our team leaders at the airport on October 6, 2012
Pushing our carts of luggage through the Vienna Airport
Two years ago today, we stepped off a plane and arrived in Vienna. Two years! It is one of those things that seems like yesterday and seems simultaneously like so long ago. The longer we are here, the farther away our life in the States feels and the more Vienna feels like home. We have gone through so much change since the fall of 2012 - learning a new language, acclimating to a culture, finding and being blessed by a new community and church, making a home and expanding our family. No wonder our "previous life" feels like a distant past!
Through all of this, the Lord's hand has been so clear to us. He has directed and guided us each step of the way and continues to bring encouragement into our lives. We still feel very confirmed and certain that this is where He wants us to serve, and it has been exciting to get more and more involved in practical ministry over these last few months. From finding an apartment and getting settled, to discovering and being welcomed in by our church, to picking up German...God has blessed every step and we are so thankful. We look forward to seeing what the next two years in Vienna will bring!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Great Moment at Bible Study

So many of you have said you enjoy reading my (Nate's) "Word of the Day" or "Phrase of the Day" that I post semi-daily on Facebook. Most of the time, this is just a new word that I learn and a way to have additional touches with the word. Part of this is because they say you have to have contact with a word at least 6 times before it comes into your vocabulary (the same is true in a native language as well), and I want to maximize the amount of contact I have with a new word or phrase.

But often times, there is a second reason that I post these words, and that is because there is a great story attached to them. Sometimes I am the star of that story, bravely carrying my new word into unexplored territory. More often, I am simply the "Dick Van Dyke" of the story, tripping over the same ottoman again and again.

Yesterday was one of those days. We were talking in small group about someone writing a card, and then someone else, in response to saying what would be in the card, said, "oh yeah, then you know schleim schleim" (it sounds like slime but with an "sh" on the front). Bethany and I both looked at each other and gave a collective "what?"

"sich einschleimen" is a verb that means to kiss up to someone or suck up. It has the same negative connotation that our phrases do in English. So in the context of the conversation, they meant "yeah and then you just fill in the card with things that butter them up."

First of all, can I tell you how much I love this word?! It is onomatopoeia (words that sound like what they are) at it's best! "Der Schleim" is actually slime or phlegm (another great word). This is just a fun word to say.

Second of all, it illustrates a point that I think is important. A while ago, I was using a language tool we have that is a series of question cards for starting a conversation. The question was: "If you could learn any language over night, what would it be?" The challenge with that question is that language learning is tied to relationships and memories. I can't disconnect my knowledge of the word "einschleimen" with the memory of last night, and I would say my language learning is richer because of those memories.

We will continue to have "wait what?!" moments for a long time, but this one was far more fun than embarrassing.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Nate's Second Sermon

He's at it again! Nate preached his second sermon in German this past Sunday! This time, he co-preached with a university student from our church, so Johannes spoke for the first 20 minutes and Nate closed out the sermon for the second 20 minutes.

Having his first sermon out of the way already, the second time around was a a little bit less pressure. Plus, there was less content to prepare and only half the time to speak. However, co-preaching also meant meeting with Johannes and coordinating how their messages would fit together and provide a well-rounded picture of the 2 Corinthians text. Johannes hadn't preached before, so Nate also spent some time helping him prepare and giving him feedback and tips on how to preach effectively. It was a unique challenge, but one that brought another opportunity for growth for Nate.

I was thankful to have heard most of his sermon, because Ellie was quiet enough to sit at the back of the sanctuary with me for awhile. (Sometimes her joyful shrieking relegates me to the "baby room".)  Nate's message was about discerning the will of God and his three main points were:
  • God is faithful
  • God gives us the holy spirit
  • God gives us community

Here are some more photos of Nate in action!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Meat Counter

We are coming up on the 2-year anniversary of being in Austria. In some ways, that seems and sounds like a long time; we feel very at home here and have learned so much in terms of the language and culture. We have found friends and a community of both German and English speakers. We are in the midst of serving and done with our official language study phase. Our life in the States before this feels like a long way away.

And yet, we are still babies, learning how to crawl. As I watch Ellie figure out her body and how to move around, I see a lot of similarities with our journey. Each opportunity to learn how to live and serve here builds on the previous one, much like a baby strengthens her muscles and learns how to put movements together. Before we know it, we will be full-out walking!

Sometimes, it feels like I am walking already...but then I have an experience that reminds me that I'm still learning and I'm still reaching new milestones. This week's success: the meat counter.

When we first moved here, everyone would tell us hilarious and embarrassing stories about trying to order meat at the supermarket. Not only are you attempting to use your new language skills to order food, but you are also figuring out how much to order in kilograms instead of pounds. This makes for some entertaining accidental mix-ups. (Similar to the time I tried to order 100 Kilos of dried cranberries at the market. That's 200 pounds, people.)

In an attempt to avoid making some of these same mistakes, I have been avoiding the meat counter. Today's supermarkets have plenty of pre-packaged meat options, so it hasn't been difficult for me to just look at a package and decide if it's the right kind and amount of meat that I need. But this week, I took a sample of a new lunch meat at the counter and really wanted to order some. Thankfully, the man asked me how many slices I wanted. Now, slices are something I understand! I ordered 15 slices and felt accomplished. That gave me the confidence 2 days later to order ground beef from the counter. I wasn't sure how much I needed, so I asked her, "Can I see how much 250 g is?" And that was a good way for me to judge if the amount was right for my chili recipe.

Even after two years, I am still experiencing small little victories like this. They remind me how far we've come but also how far we still have to go. We are always learning and with God's grace, we hope to keep a learner's attitude the whole way through.

[Side Note: sorry for the slow down in our blog posting lately! Life has been chugging along and keeping us busy. We will try to post more often in the weeks to come!]

Photo credit: Seemann from

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

More Than a Bucket of Ice Water on the Head

If you aren't on facebook, instagram, or just don't care about social media, you may have not heard yet about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It has gone viral and continues to raise more and more money for research into this disease. As of yesterday, that number is in the $70 million territory, which is a huge amount of money. The rules get a bit fuzzy at times (as anything viral is prone to), but basically, you dump a bucket of ice water on your head, and then challenge friends or family to do the same, or donate money, or both.

There are compilations on YouTube of celebrities taking the challenge and people failing at it in almost every way imaginable. Some people, including President Obama, were unwilling to take on the challenge due to to amount of water it uses or because of fear the money will be used for stem cell research. Much internet ink has been spilled over this idea, with many claiming this is just group-think or fad activism at it's worst.

One thing that has struck me about this whole thing is how many young people have gotten involved. A survey of teenagers before this summer would probably have produced dismal results regarding ALS, but now, there is awareness. Greater than this, I hope that everyone involved discovers something new. I hope they discover generosity.

Giving is an essential part of the Christian life. A "God perspective" of possessions and money is essential to our understanding of the world. In Matthew 6, Jesus says "for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." We recognize that there are certain external things in life that display inward realities. When a 12-year-old spends every last bit of their money on candy swizzles, they are showing what is most important to them, namely candy swizzles. Likewise, when a 40-year-old spends every last bit of their disposable income on a two-wheel device that lets them drive down the street very quickly, they also display what is important to them.

The great thing about generosity, though, is it is a spiritual disciple just like prayer or study. It is something we can get a taste for and the amazing thing about it is, it is fun! Not in a "look at how much better I am than all these other people" sort of way, but an actual "look at what God can do with my little bit" sort of way.

The reality is that pouring water on your head is kinda fun, especially when it means you get to tell your friends to do the same thing, but that is not what it is about. I hope that at least a few people out there give money away and get a small taste of generosity. And through that small taste, they look around for other ways to get involved, to reject a consumerist "me" mentality and find ways to give. I know that everyone that participates will not experience this, but I think there will be a few. And for those few, this could be a first step.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Importance of Status

We are constantly learning about cultural difference between the U.S. and Austria. Sure, there are obvious things; traditional dress and food are the easiest ones to spot. But it's the subtle differences that involve cultural values and ways of thinking that are more difficult to learn and that take time to understand deeply. The longer we live here, the more we learn to recognize cultural values that affect multiple areas of Austrian life and culture.

One of those values is respect and status. In Austria, respecting your elders and those "above you" is highly valued. The most obvious way this is demonstrated is through the language. When you are speaking to someone and you want to show respect, you use the formal "you", rather than the informal. (I wrote more about this here.) But the importance of status comes out in many other ways in the culture. For example, if you have earned a university degree or certificate of any kind, you often communicate this after your name in emails you write, documents you sign, etc. It demonstrates to others the status you have and the respect you should receive. In the U.S., there are many people who have masters degrees but never put "MA" after their name. However, here, this would be common and accepted.

Another place I noticed this cultural difference recently was, of all places, at the card store. Closely connected to this concept of status is achievement. When someone achieves a new level of status, this is celebrated and highly respected. I was walking past the greeting cards the other day and happened to look through the different categories of cards available to purchase. They were definitely different than what I have seen in the U.S. and reflect this cultural difference. The cards you could purchase related to status and achievement (pictured to the left in purple) included:
  • Master's degree
  • Promotion at work
  • Passing an exam
  • Getting your driver's license
  • Passing your final high school comprehensive exams
Many of these cards were for things that might hardly be celebrated in the U.S.! But here, achieving these things is praised and earns you the respect of your family, friends and colleagues. They give you one more "notch in your belt".

Noticing this difference encourages me to keep my eyes and ears open. Subtle cultural difference can sometimes be difficult to spot. But if we are aware and observant, we can notice how cultural values impact nearly every aspect of daily life in a foreign culture. It's these little things that we will slowly come to understand and internalize as we acclimate to the culture here.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Cultivating Thankfulness

This past week, I started reading Ann Voskamp's book 1,000 Gifts. I had heard good things about this book, but hadn't picked it up yet because it had been so wildly popular over the past few years. For some reason, I tend to be a bit skeptical of popular things...or perhaps I just don't want to feel like a lemming, going with the crowd. Either way, I finally got over that.

It was truly God's timing that I began reading this book last week. I was having a rough week with Ellie - I think she was teething or constipated or learning a new skill or something (I'm not 100% sure which one and she can't tell me!) and was in a difficult mood many days in a row. I was struggling to be patient and was having trouble sleeping, both because she was waking up in the night and I couldn't always go back to sleep. I was becoming resentful of her moodiness and how difficult it was to get through each day. I was just trying to survive, but I was doing so without a good attitude.

Simultaneously, I remembered that I wanted to read this book and decided to download it to my kindle. I started the book during Ellie's morning nap, after a particularly bad night, and the first chapter hit me square in the face. Right off the bat, Ann tells the traumatic and heart-wrenching story of her baby sister being hit by a car and dying when Ann was only a few years old. Ann describes the grief of her and her parents in such amazing detail and also in a way that really affected me. I was instantly moved to tears.

After I had spent the week harboring resentfulness toward my daughter, I was instantly convicted of my ungratefulness. How could I dare to take her for granted, when there are families who have lost children and families who can't have children? I have a beautiful, healthy little girl! She is a precious gift from God and I need to cherish her. Yes, there are hard days...that will always be true. But I have so much to be thankful for, and I cannot even imagine the thought of losing her.  It would break me.

God has an amazing way of pinpointing our areas of sin and speaking truth to us, doesn't he? As long as we're listening, I believe God is constantly wanting to speak to us and convict us, in order to spur us on to be more like Christ. Christ, who on the night he was betrayed, "...took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which is given for you.'" Christ was about to suffer and die and he displayed thankfulness. How much more so should we be thankful to God. 

What area of your life are you struggling to be thankful for this week? How can you thank God in the midst of that struggle?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Processing My First Sermon

...or "2 Corinthians 12:9 Lived out"

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

I have had a week and a half to process through preaching my first sermon in German. It was a huge honor and a great learning experience. This is one of those milestones that we can point to along the road. It is a stone of remembrance at which we can say, "up till now, the Lord has helped us."  Now that it is over, I am starting to get some perspective on what God taught me through the entire process.

1. Preaching in German Highlights my Weaknesses

At Moody, I was able to take a preaching class and learn the basic nuts and bolts of preparing and delivering a message. Also in our preparation to move to Vienna, I had the privilege of speaking in various contexts, as well as preaching. Through all this, I have become acquainted with my weaknesses as a speaker. While I am generally not very nervous when speaking in front of groups, I am also a verbal processor. This means I can verbally chew on an idea (too long) while I am speaking until I craft it the way I like it. The big way to work on this is two-fold. The first is spending more time in preparation, crafting specific statements to make them just right. The second is practicing a sermon once it is prepared.
The great thing for me about preaching in German has been that crutch of being able to "verbally chew" an idea in English is greatly diminished in my German. If I tried to do that, we'd be there for a long time and many words would just not come to mind. Because of that, I had to manuscript the sermon and practice it far more than I have in the past. I had to stick to my notes because they were my lifeline!

2. Encouragement is Legit

Austrian culture is not always known as an encouragement-oriented culture. We Americans often get lovingly made fun of for how we are so positive and exuberant about things (eg. what awesome hair do you have there! or It was the best night ever!). There is a phrase in German that you hear all the time here, which is "schau mal mal." It basically translates, "eh, we'll see." Neither response is 100% correct. Americans can be too flippant. In a world where everything is "awesome" or "legendary", do those words lose all meaning?
In this respect, our church is very counter-cultural. After my sermon, I received emails, facebook notes, and in person encouragements that were so wonderful. In all the ways that we try to put ourselves out there, we are consistently met with encouragement and love from our church community. For me, this shows how the body of Christ can be counter-cultural and display the gospel to one another. It has even more impact when we see it countering deeply-held or automatic cultural responses and to see it as a natural outflow and not something forced. 

3. I am far more weak, broken and frail than I usually am willing to admit to myself or others

During the preparation process, I had a few moments of shear doubt and fear. That feeling of dread, like when you are really caught, came over me. The source of this doubt was, "What happens when Sunday comes and I am not ready? What happens when I get to that point and it is just not there?" To be honest, there is a twinge in me just writing it out again. But it is in those moments of desperation that we are able to cry out to God. It means trusting him to supply our needs and taking steps of faith forward.
Don't be discouraged if you have moments like this. If we take no risks or never put ourselves in a position where we can fail, we are also missing the chance for God to do something through us.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Nate's First Sermon

Nate reached an exciting milestone this past Sunday: he preached his first sermon in German! It was an exciting accomplishment and a testimony to how God has been working and equipping us for ministry here in Austria. I was extremely proud of Nate, watching him in front of our congregation preaching the word. Speaking for 30 minutes in German after only having arrived here a year and a half ago is something to be very proud of and Nate's hard work and dedication in language learning has paid off. As I watched him, I could really envision how God is going to use him here to impact many people, and it excites me to think of our future in ministry.

For this month update, Nate put together a brief video talking about his experience preaching, including some clips from his sermon. Take a look and enjoy!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Learning About Train Tickets

I had an interesting experience on Saturday. I spent 5 hours in total at the airport waiting for some people that were flying in to do a short term trip...but that is a story of delayed flights and lost baggage, not the story I want to tell today.  No, the story I have today is about riding the train and continually learning.

Up to this point, we haven't needed to buy a car. We can use public transit to get most places that we need to go. To be honest, it is really great most of the time. Unlike transit systems in other cities, there is no pass to scan or long lines to wait in. With our year long rail pass, we can simply go to the platform, get on the train and ride. It is really slick. Every now and then, you get randomly checked by a person in plain clothes that shows you a badge, but since we never "ride black", this is not a problem. It is usually a stroke of my rule-following ego that I in fact follow the rules, unlike those other miscreants. 

Another thing you need to know is that our year-long passes are good for all the bus, tram, and train rides we can handle (and here comes the important part) inside the city limits of Vienna. The airport is outside these city limits by only 2 stops (come on people, really?!). So we need to use another ticket to supplement these rides.  For this, we usually buy these tickets that have spaces numbered 1 - 8 with a small machine at the entrance to the train that stamps one of the spaces.

Ok so here is my story. I was riding along listening to my podcast and enjoying the time. The checker came by to look at my ticket and so I produced a ticket and my year-long pass, as I usually do. He looked at it for a second and then looked at it for a few more seconds. I was a little confused, but he told me that there was something wrong. At this point, I was glad for my language skills because I could A: understand what he was saying and what he meant, and B: explain to him that I had never heard what he was explaining to me before. I was also glad for point C: I sound like a foreigner so that it is plausable that I made an honest mistake. Basically, he told me that you have to punch the ticket in number order from 1 to 8 and not just any given point on the ticket that you feel like. For some reason I had punched 1-4 and then on another day some time in the past I had punched 8, before going back to punch 7 today. He said that because 8 had been punched before 7, technically when I punched 8, I had also punched 5-7 along with it. This actually makes a lot of sense because sometimes, you travel through multiple zones which each require their own punch, but I had no idea this was really a thing.

Looking back on it, because I hadn't left the city limits (there was still one more stop until then), I could have gotten off the train, got a fresh ticket, and caught the next one. And because the flight of the guys I was picking up was delayed, it would have meant waiting for the same amount of time in two different places instead of just at the airport. The ticket checker let me go because he recognized an honest mistake, and I am still out those few Euros for the ride that I accidentally overpaid for.

I think oftentimes it is easy to say, "language and culture learning time was the first section of our time here in Vienna and now we've moved on," which is a very results-oriented (and frankly, American) way of thinking. The reality is we will continue to learn for as long as we live here. I hear stories all the time from people that have been here 30 + years that still learn a new piece of language or a cultural nuance. It is humbling to know I will never truly finish this stage, but it is also the joy and challenge. Experiences like this reinforce my need to be a learner in this adopted home of ours.

1 Cor. 3:18-19a "Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God."  (ESV)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Special Family Visit

This morning, I did a heart-wrenching thing: I put my sister on the train to the airport and said goodbye. Saying goodbye to family never gets fact, I think it's been harder and harder for us as we've had Ellie. As she grows and learns, it is so sad for us to recognize that our family misses out on so many moments with her. We are so thankful to live and do ministry here, but living far from our family is the hardest part about it.

Thankfully, we are still able to have quality time with family when they come to visit. It was really special for me to show my sister around Vienna and to share my life with her. There is something unique about being able to see where and how we live, in order to better understand our ministry here and the blessings and challenges we face each day. Now, when I talk to her on the phone about church, friends, cultural differences or life here, she understands in a new way.

Ellie is old enough now that we were able to get out and see a lot of things with her. She did a great job of taking some naps in the stroller and exploring the city with us! Here are some photos from our time together:

Enjoying beautiful weather at the park

Happy 4th of July!

Exploring the city

Dinner and a movie, just Crista and I

Naschmarkt - open air market

The view from the top of the Vienna Aquarium

At church

Posing with "Mozart" in front of Schönbrunn Palace

The overlook at Kahlenberg

Swimming at an indoor pool

Crista bonds with our dog, Mozzy

Our last dinner together of homemade ravioli

Riding the swings at Prater Park - the highest in the world!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Big Step Forward

Last Sunday, Nate took a big step forward in his language accomplishments and role at the church. He served as the "moderator" of the Sunday morning worship service, i.e. the point person who provides introductions and transitions. He welcomed everybody, facilitated times of prayer, read announcements, and most importantly, gave a 5-minute devotional. This was a HUGE accomplishment for him in regards to his progress in German. Although he spent a lot of time preparing his remarks, it also included quite a bit of extemporaneous speaking, and he did a great job. To be able to speak in front of a crowd that much is a great milestone to reach and demonstrates his comfort in and grasp of the language. I really enjoyed seeing him up there and was proud of him for being able to fill this important role at church, after only being here for less than 2 years.

His devotional thoughts were also good, though I thought I would share them with you. Here is a rough translation of the devotional he shared with the congregation:

"I have just begun reading a book* about failure. Normally, we think that we should try to avoid failure at all costs, but this author sees it the other way around. She suggests that it is only through failure that we truly learn. When we accomplish things successfully, the list of things that we do is relatively short and we are not given the chance to grow.

The more I think about this idea, the more it seems true to me. When one thinks about the how he learns something, it is always through trying and failing. This makes me think about our daughter, Ellie, and how many things she needs to learn and find out on her own. But no one believes that failure is pleasant. No one wakes up and thinks, "today, I'm going to try to make mistakes as much as I can!" Of course not!

Last week, I was in the States to attend a conference and this idea was constantly on my mind. The head of our organization posed a question during one of our sessions about failure. He said that the gospel gives us a model for how we should understand failure. And this indeed depends on our beliefs about the idea, that our relationship with God is broken and that we could never pleasure God through our own strength and ability. We need to accept failure, in order to truly understand the gospel and to accept the grace of God. We must be honest with ourselves and God about our weaknesses. We are saved through grace and not through our own striving. "

*Book credit: The Upside of Down by Megan McArdle