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

Saturday, June 21, 2014

There and Back Again

Last week was a whirlwind for me (Nate). WorldVenture hosted a Global Summit in Estes Park, Colorado that I was able to attend. This was an organization-wide conference to discuss changes that are happening and to offer input on how these changes would be implemented. This post could go really "inside baseball", which in turn would make it really boring. So instead, I want to offer a few quotes, ideas or themes that really struck me from this conference.

1. The Pastoral Difference
The CEO of our organization gave the initial greeting/message when we all arrived and one idea he offered really struck me. We were talking about the concept of ethos and who were as a community. He said that as a leadership team, they are a community of shepherds doing organizational leadership, and not managers. This concept resonated with me. I think we often see organizational leadership within the church that grabs whatever is popular or trendy within the corporate management world and pulls it into the church. To hear that instead they see their roles as pastors and shepherds first and managers second, was very powerful to me.

2. Encouragement is Gold
This whole week was spent with people who have become my peer group. There were so many times sitting around a circle or at a meal and asking questions like, "what is the visa process like for you?" or "how do you convert money into the local currency?" (our first answer is a lot more interesting than our second) was so encouraging. Having people to compare notes with about language learning faux pas and cultural differences that you have come to love and cherish, was something that was very special.

3. The Home Office
Every organization has invisible walls. Accounting never talks to anyone, or IT does their job through magic and no one is allowed behind the curtain. For us, the biggest wall is between those that are spread across the globe and those that serve in our home office. Everyone is aware of it, but these sorts of events can bring divides to the forefront. The great thing was to see these walls continually torn down and understanding and care to be built in their place. There are many people in ministries and organizations across the globe that work hard in obscurity so that the world of God can move forward.

4. Setting Matters
This conference was held in Estes Park, Colorado. If you have never been there (it was my first time), I cannot explain how beautiful the setting was. Longs Peak stood majestically in the distance and all around were beautiful mountains and rock faces. It created a restful and God focused atmosphere for us to meet (even though we spent most of our time inside in meetings or fighting jetlag).

All this to say, I was encouraged at what God is doing through WorldVenture across the globe. We are excited to be a part of what God will do through her to reach the nations.

YMCA of the Rockies

Hearing from the WorldVenture leadership team

Local wildlife

Monday, June 9, 2014

Du oder Sie?

The title of this post would literally be translated into English "You or you?" That's because, like many other languages, German has both formal and informal speech. (Having learned Spanish in high school, this was familiar to me when we started German language learning.) There is a form of "you" that you use with kids, friends and family and a form of you that brings along with it more respect and that you use with those older than you, people you don't know, etc.

Sounds simple, right? There are only two categories, so it must not be complex. But it's actually not simple. When to use Du (informal) or Sie (formal) can be challenging to figure out and the last thing you ever want to do as an "outsider" is to use the wrong form and offend someone. It's something we need to be careful about.

For example, a 30-year-old could be referred to by a bartender with the formal "Sie" out of respect, but be offended because it makes them feel old. Or a recent college graduate could be referred to with the informal "du" and feel like someone isn't taking them seriously or treating them like an adult.

I recently read an article in a German language magazine about when and how to use formal and informal language, and the crux of the article was this: it's not easy! Language and culture are always changing, so the "rules" of etiquette 5 years ago could be different now and with each generation, perceptions of formal and informal language morph and change.

The article laid out 10 general rules for use, as follows:

1) Friends and family: always informal

2)  Strangers who are adults: always formal

3) Children and youth: informal

4) Students talking to students (no matter the age) and those in a sports club together: informal

5) Speaking to employees at the bank, doctor's office, or in an official office: formal

6) Speaking to police:  always formal!

7) The older person in the relationship always offers the informal language and then the younger person can speak informally back.

8) The person in the relationship with the higher status offers the informal language first, regardless of age (i.e. a doctor to a patient, professor/teacher to student, etc.).

9) At the workplace, no one should be spoken to informally by someone to whom they would speak formally.

10) If you're unsure, always wait until the other person speaks informally to you, before speaking informally to them.

This last one is most important to us! As foreigners, we need to be especially careful when communicating in ways that could be considered offensive. Because we are not readily accepted, we want to hold ourselves to a high standard and always go out of our way to show respect and courtesy. We want to impress, rather than confirm a negative stereotype.

Thinking about this reminds me of the idea of being "above reproach" as Christians. Just as we want to be careful with our German language use, shouldn't we be even more aware of how we use every word and live our lives, setting an example for others? We should give no one reason to accuse us and we should not put the name of Christ to shame (I Peter 3:14 - 16). May we live lives above reproach, always setting an example, showing respect and demonstrating love. By this, they will see Christ in us!

Photo credit: Yoel from 

Monday, June 2, 2014

2014 Church Retreat

We just returned from a 4-day retreat with our church at a hostel an hour outside of Vienna. It was a great weekend of worship, quality time, game playing, eating, chatting and listening to a great guest speaker.

What was most encouraging for Nate and I was thinking back on the same retreat last year and how different our experience was this time around. Last year, we were exhausted from speaking German for 4 days straight (and I was exhausted from being early in my pregnancy!). We didn't know very many people, so it was a lot of introductory conversations. We could barely follow along with what the speaker was sharing, and we took naps during all of the breaks!

This year, however, was totally different. Ellie was with us, so I ended up being a bit distracted by caring for her. But aside from that, we got so much more out of the content that the speaker shared. Speaking German for 4 days was basically a non-event for us both - it's not longer very exhausting or taxing to communicate in our new language. Nate helped lead worship by playing guitar for half of the group sessions. We were able to deepen relationships with people we already know, as well as meet some new people. Many people enjoyed seeing Ellie and we also took her for her first swim in a swimming pool. Nate was introduced to the church as the new intern, and he got up and spoke for 5 minutes about his background and his goals and hopes for his time serving in the church! (A year ago, this would have been a huge challenge.) It was an all-around great weekend, and we're so thankful we could attend.

Here are some photo highlights from our time:

Worship time and hearing our speaker

Nate's discussion group, with Ellie as a participant

Nate helping to lead worship

Ellie's first time in a swimming pool

Enjoying the water

Nate running from a cow on our group hike