Monday, April 28, 2014

Thoughts from the BEG Forum

Last weekend, I (Nate) went to a conference in the mountains called the BEG Forum. Besides being in an incredibly beautiful setting, I heard from two really great speakers. They shared their hearts for the church to work along with parents to disciple children. The topic is near and dear to our hearts as we think about raising little Ellie in the knowledge and love of God.

Here are some photos from the weekend followed by some short thoughts that I gleaned from the weekend.

The conference center in the Alps

We learned to "think Orange" - church (yellow) and family (red) together

Some really great thoughts from a psychologist about talking with children
I was able to play with the worship band and get some great experience leading music in German

So in no particular order, here are some thoughts that were valuable to me coming out of the weekend.

1. The goal of parenting is not well-behaved children. Our goal as parents is to lead children to the true and living God and teach them to follow him. This idea is profound to me. I think there is a strong pragmatic force in parenting. It moves us towards what works in the moment instead of what is best for the child or what moves us towards our ultimate goal. Guiding children towards holiness and godliness involves bringing them into our relationship with God and allowing them to share in that. Jesus modeled this idea. He was far more concerned with the hearts of his hearers than their outward ability to keep the law.

2. Our culture (it was addressed to Austrian culture, but it fits with American culture, as well) has a very distorted view of what love actually is. It is highly romanticized (does every kiss really begin with a jewelry store?). The question that was really stark for me was "What kind of romantic feelings did Jesus have for us, when he was on the cross?" This thought is huge for me in exploring the "other side" of love. The speaker said that this is in direct contrast to an Old Testament view of love that is forever tied to actions and not just feelings. (I understand that this could be its own post or a series thereof.)

I think this idea resonated so much for me coming out of the last few months with Ellie. Even though there is a lot of "romanticizing" that surrounds having children, no one has deeply romantic feelings about holding a screaming baby. But, there is still so much love in that moment.

These are just some of the thoughts I had coming out of this weekend. Feel free to share your experiences if you were there. Or share your reactions to what I have shared.

Why We Are Here

This month, I've found myself going back to the core reasons of why God brought us here. Sometimes when I'm mired in the details of everyday life, it helps me to step back and look at the big picture. I need to remind myself of God's plan and how we fit into it, because otherwise, I can lose sight of it and get distracted by the tyranny of the urgent matters in life.

So why are we here? We shared a lot about the need in Austria when we were preparing to come and raising support. But I was recently reminded of some important facts that I want to share with you. These come from the blog of our friends, Bobby and Danielle, who are preparing to come serve in Austria in church planting and hope to arrive in the next year.

  • In America, there is one evangelical church for approximately every 1,500 people. But in Austria, there is one evangelical church for every 60,000 people. In some states, that number is 1 for every 100,000.
  • Austria is an immigration center - it's centrally located and is home to one of the major UN offices. By planting church here, we have the opportunity to impact the world through those who move here from different countries.
  • Less than 0.5% of the population claims to be evangelical, but more than 4% claim to be Muslim and that number is rapidly growing.
  • Adherence to formalized religion is on the rapid decline. Many Austrians, however, claim to be "spiritual". This means they pick and choose from many different philosophical and theological ideas, putting together their own conglomeration of beliefs.
  • Austria is a rich country...which means many people have "all that they need" and do not see a need for God. They do not recognize their own spiritual need or sin.
  • There is high rate of suicide.
  • Prostitution is legal and there are upwards of 6,000 prostitutes in Austria. (They actually are registered with the government, because they are required to get regular AIDS blood tests.)
  • Austria is a common destination for human trafficking, especially for the sex trade.
Revisiting these reasons fuels the flame for us and reminds us of the task ahead. To be honest, many days, it seems overwhelming. How can God possibly use us in such a dark place? But God is bigger than all of this and our job is to be obedient to how He leads us, even if it only impacts a handful of people. Even one soul is worth it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

6 Ways Speaking German Has Messed With My English

One thing that is fascinating about crossing cultures is the mixing that happens. This whole process involves taking on a 2nd filter through which we view the world and there are plenty of times where it is easy to get confused...

1. Sentences: German sentences can keep going and going, and it really isn't that big of a deal how long the sentence is, as long as the thought remains the same. This is very freeing, actually. So even though English sentences need to be shorter and get to the point, I find myself constantly needing to go back and cut down my last sentence when I am writing in English. My German long-sentence-tendencies are crossing over.

2. Things that Aren't Really "Things": Certain events, objects or experiences we have here can be translated, but they just don't carry the same sort of emotional connection. The biggest example of this is Strassenbahn (street car / tram). Both translations don't really capture the essence of the object in my mind. Street cars are only in San Francisco and trams are usually at the airport between terminals. What we have here is different and the German word fits it the best. So we usually just use the German word for it, even when we speak English. It makes for some mixed sentences.

3. Word Order / Words : This one is tricky because it is so subtle. German sentences like to have the time before the place in a sentence. So every now and then a sentence like, "I went yesterday to the store"or "I need at four o'clock to call my mom" comes out of your mouth.

4. Forgetting Both Languages: My favorite moment is when I am talking about something and I can't think of the word in German, so I try to think of the word in English and I can't remember that either.

5. Figures of Speech: I have learned that I like to use figures of speech or metaphors a lot in my speaking and writing. This is great until you translate a figure of speech literally into German and your friend looks at you oddly. The other side of it is now I try to go the other direction and talk about a "donkey's bridge" in English and non-German speakers look at me oddly, as well.

6. When the German word IS the English word: today I was reading an article in German about reintroducing the "Wisent" into a certain part of Germany. So I looked up the English translation... which is wisent. That is the name of the "European buffalo." This also goes back to number 2 above.

I know there are way more than six here. Perhaps at the end of the day I am wrong and German hasn't "messed up" my English. I do think that it has made my life richer to learn another language. Sometimes when I am in a group speaking German it just hits me out of the blue - I am speaking and understanding another language! This truly is a blessing from God.

Share your stories of how speaking a second language below, we can't wait to hear them!

Friday, April 11, 2014

From Everywhere to Everywhere

Certain concepts fall into your mind somehow and get stuck there. You think them for a long time without questioning them until a great class, scripture or a sermon pushes you to be more thoughtful or more nuanced.

For me, the idea that missions is not just from "us" to "them" is one of these ideas. It is the idea that missions is not just a "first world" to a "two-thirds world" project or only in poor places. To paraphrase John Piper in Let the Nations Be Glad, missions isn't about being right or wrong, it is about worship. Missions happens because worship does not. Because there are and continue to be places on the planet where the worship of God does not happen, where people have yet to hear of the wonderful love of Christ that cleanses sin and removes shame.

Because of this, the older mindset of "from the West to the rest" is not valid. There are mission fields all around us the require stepping out cross-culturally or across community borders. Missions is truly a "from everywhere to everywhere" endeavor. It is about reciprocity and learning from one another. It is the humility to say, "my cultural expressions of the christian faith can be enriched as I interact with those that see things differently."

One quick example of this.

Our church here in Austria has been around for a little while. They have had a great deal of influence from missionaries over the years, many from our own team and organization. This Sunday, they were preparing to send out a short term team to eastern Europe. This is one of many short term trips they send out as well as supporting many long term missionaries.

I don't mean to just brag about our church here, but I think it illustrates the point. Even as they are receiving missionaries, they are also sending people out. It isn't about one-way relationships. No matter how small or large a church is, there is a benefit from not just engaging in missions from a "sender" perspective, but also from the "receiver" perspective. There is a humility that is connected with saying, "I have something to learn from you as much as you can learn from me."

So if you think of it this week, pray for the students from our church that are on this trip.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Presence of Islam in Vienna

As more and more immigrants move to Europe, there is a growing Islamic presence in most European countries and cities. Austria is no exception. An article was recently published here stating that Muslims now outnumber Catholics in middle and secondary schools in Vienna (with primary schools close behind). In a catholic country like Austria, this development is significant. Not only that, but according to the article, "Austria is also in the process of introducing new taxpayer-funded textbooks for the formal teaching if Islam in all public elementary schools across the country.... This is the first time Islam is being taught to Austrian students in the German language."

I think these statistics may not be as straight forward as they appear. Yes, there are more Muslims moving to Vienna and registered their children with the government as officially "Muslim". But this also points to the shrinking number of Catholic children in the schools. Although the older generation placed a high value on church membership and attendance, the growing trend is a disinterest in the church and formalized religion. I suspect that today's generation of parents is less likely to register their children as "Catholic", even if they themselves grew up in Catholic homes. With this in mind, it's no surprise that Muslims are passing up Catholics in official numbers.

The article also talks a lot about the new textbooks that will be used in the schools to educate Islamic students. The focus is to reinforce Islamic beliefs and help the students feel "at home" in Austria. It seems to me that the Islamic faith here is putting much more effort into educating their young than the Catholic church...or at least are doing it more effectively. Another new development is that Islamic clergy will now be educated within the Austrian university system.

For us, this news confirm what we knew already, mainly that there is a strong need for the gospel in Austria. With Islam's growing presence and the current level of disenchantment with the Catholic church, few people are hearing and embracing a Christian faith.  We've heard from many people that when they decide to leave the Catholic church, they are not looking for "another Christian option". Instead, if they are searching for God, they go in a different direction completely, such as towards Islam. And that is becoming easier and easier, since Muslims number 6% of the population, while evangelical Christians are only 0.5%.

Please pray with us for Austria and this growing need. Pray for the true God to be seen and known and for boldness for us and our fellow brother and sisters in Christ to share the good news with Austria.