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 Österreich). 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