Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas!

"For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this."
Isaiah 9: 6 - 7

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Christmas Update Video

Hey Everyone! This month, we'd like to update you with a video! Here are some highlights from what God has been doing on our home assignment thus far. Thanks for your prayers and merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Language Milestone

Before Ellie arrived on the scene, I tried to get as far as I could learning German. I wasn't sure what life with a baby at home would look like, but I rightfully assumed it would make language learning more difficult than before. And I was right. Because it is important for us that Ellie learn English as one of her first languages, and because being home with a small child takes up a lot of time and energy, I found that my German language opportunities in Ellie's first year were quite limited. I was often at home with her, speaking English to her.  As time went on, I definitely became concerned and fearful that I would regress, either in my language proficiency or my confidence in German, if I didn't do something to move forward or set some new goals. 

After our church relocation project wrapped up, Nate had a little more flexibility in his schedule and we agreed it would  be wise for me to go back to school for a 2-week intensive German class. It was a wonderful refresher and a challenging two weeks. Although it was exhausting, it was also very fun to be learning again and it jump-started me back into German learning. When I asked my teacher if she thought I could take the C1 level competency exam in German sometime in the fall, she encouraged me to definitely pursue it. (Actually, I asked her if I should take the level below it instead and she said, "absolutely not! That would be way too easy for you!")

So from the end of July to the end of October, I met regularly with her as a tutor and studied at home to prepare for the exam. It is a 4 hour exam, with reading comprehension, listening, writing and speaking components. Not for the faint of heart! You can read about the different language levels here. I was testing at a level described as "Effective operational proficiency or advanced", one step higher than the level needed to study at the University. It was a little intimidating, to say the least!

I needed 60% to pass and when I got the email with the results, I was standing in O'Hare airport on our layover to Minneapolis. To say I was excited about my 90% result was an understatement. To me, doing well on this test meant much more than acing a test. It meant that all my hard work had paid off, that I was still equipped for life and ministry despite being a stay-at-home mom, and that I could be confident in my abilities and not let insecurities hold me back. It was truly a gift from God, a confidence builder that I needed to continue feeling secure in that fact that God led us (not just Nate) to Vienna to minister. 

I wouldn't normally brag so much about an accomplishment like this, but I felt it was important to share to assure those who follow along with us that it's not just Nate who is out there, preaching, teaching and progressing. It is important to us that we are a team in Vienna and are both equipped with the tools we need to share the gospel. God has been faithful in this and I praise Him for it!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

An Update in Pictures

We have been here in MN for 3 week already! Time is already flying by and we've had a full schedule. We have been very busy developing content to share with small groups, supporters and churches. We have been writing thank you notes and sermons, making posters and PowerPoint presentations, and everything in between. They say you are supposed to rest at the beginning of your Home Assignment, but so far it hasn't been possible! But we look forward to things slowing down in December for us.

Here are some photo highlights from our time here so far (can you tell Ellie is pretty popular around here?):

Our little "Ellie Bear" trick-or-treating

Touching fish at the MN Zoo

Ellie playing in the box from Oma and Opa's new dishwasher

Nate helping to install a new dishwasher in Mom & Dad's house
Sticker and coloring time

Riding a train at a local mall 

Our table set-up at the Friendship Church missions conference

Nate and his brother, Neil, playing with our Austrian table decorations

Enjoying the playground near Oma & Opa's house

Before the Chaska, MN Turkey Trot 5K

After the race. Go, Team Johnson!

Doing the monkey bars

Down the slide with Papa

Playing during "toddler time" at an indoor sports center. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Saying Goodbye...again

Send-off at church this morning
I'm not gonna lie...Sometimes, being a missionary is really exhausting. Case in point: We said many many goodbyes at church this morning. As many of you know, we are preparing for a 7-month "home assignment" in the States. We will fly back Thursday morning and spend the time there updating churches, friends and supporters on our ministry here in Austria and what God is doing. We hope to spread the word to more people about the needs here and in western Europe in general. We will also, of course, spend quality time with friends and family and serve in the churches where we are at.

I really dislike saying goodbye. Perhaps that is a universal thing...but I think I especially dislike it. I sometimes avoid goodbyes entirely, which I know is not healthy, but I do it anyways. And sometimes when I'm saying goodbye to someone (especially for a long time), I have no idea what to say so I end up saying weird or awkward things. Not great.

I don't think we, as people, were designed for goodbyes...for parting. We were designed for relationship and connection, made in God's image to be in community with one another. But we are forced, throughout our life, to be painfully separated from others through distance, conflict, death, and a variety of other changes in circumstances. It doesn't feel right - it feels unnatural. And saying lots of goodbyes makes me yearn for Heaven, when we won't have to do this anymore.

It was especially hard to say goodbye to our church community this morning because when we return in June, life will be different. We are preparing for church planting and will eventually move on to start a new church in a different area of Vienna. Just as we have really hit our stride in ministry and community in our church, we must uproot ourselves again to start over. And this, after doing the same thing by leaving our home country, family and friends 3 years ago. It hurts.

And right now, we are preparing to travel back to the States, where we will say many hellos but also many goodbyes. In every place, we will connect with people and then leave them again. As you might expect, we approach this home assignment with many mixed feelings. We are excited to see everyone and be back in our home culture, but we know it will be an emotionally challenging time of many transitions and goodbyes. And all the while we will be missing our home in Austria and everyone there.

All of this is very tiring and challenging. But what has brought me comfort in the last few weeks are the words of a blog post I read recently about this home assignment phenomenon, called "The Far Side of Somewhere". Please read this - it will really help you understand the thoughts and feelings we are missionaries experience in a circumstance like this. This article really preached truth to me when it reminded me that God is present everywhere we go - in Austria, in every location where we will visit in the States, and everywhere else. He goes with us and before us. Amidst transition, that brings me a lot of comfort.

I invite you to meditate on Psalm 139 with me and remember, too, that no matter what transition you are going through right now, God is already there. You cannot escape his presence. Praise the Lord!

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Learning Through Failure

As some of you know, I did a pastoral internship at our church here in Vienna. The experiences were so varied and challenging. In the beginning, I spent a lot of time learning and absorbing information. It was a lot of learning through listening and observing. This is an important first step, but at some point you have to jump into the pool and get wet.

The internship has been a chance to do that. At some point during the internship, I was asked to give a short devotion at the beginning of an all church meeting. These are great chances to share something and engage, without the larger time commitment of preparing a sermon. (Some will argue that shorter time constraints are harder, but that is another blog post.)

Me demonstrating the rubber band 
Up to that point, I had used a full manuscript for speaking engagements, where I wrote every word I wanted to say before hand. I am bad with a manuscript in English, but I felt I needed it in order to speak fluidly in German. This time around, for the devotion, I tried bullet points and I felt so much more fluid. I was able to just talk, instead of needing to read what was on the page. It felt really great.

So everything went well and I was feeling good. I talked about 1 Kings chapter 8 and Solomon's benediction after he build the temple. It is an amazing prayer. I talked about the constant need for repentance in our lives as Christians. I focused on the idea that at this very high point in Israel's history, Solomon talked so much about sin in our lives. Not just sin itself, but the beautiful cycle of recognizing sin in our lives, confessing it to God, repenting and turning away from those missteps and focusing our attention on God.

Or so I thought. The problem was...that wasn't what I was talking about. There is something special in German - prefixes. I talked about the Christian's need to continually "sich bekehren." Unfortunately, this does not mean "to repent" but instead it means repentance in the context of conversion... "to convert". I told them we continually need to convert. The word I was actually looking for is "sich umkehren." That's right, just one prefix changes the meaning from conversion to repentance. I have to be honest, I have made plenty of mistakes in language learning, but this one stung. That was a big difference.

In our training, we talked about a "rubber band" principle. Imagine that you have a giant rubber band around your waist. On one side, there is my expectations and on the other is what actually happens. When the distance between the two is small, the "snap" of a negative situation is minimal. But when I expect something, and something completely different happens, the "snap" hurts more because the two ends are farther apart.

Being at the stage in language learning where we are right now, these "snaps" happen less often than they used to. But when they do come, they can hurt more. We are required to continually put ourselves out there and take risks. When it works, it works really well! But when it doesn't, it can hurt.

One other thing that has been important for me to remember is that this is still actually learning! As frustrated as I can be with myself at a mistake like this, I will never make that mistake again. Language learning is tied to experiences. It takes humility to constantly place yourself in the position of learner. It is not easy to accept critique and input from others, but it is worth it because it is the only way to develop the language skills that we desire and need.

Failure in general is often considered wrong. In principle, we laud people like Edison who took so many tries before discovering the proper material to put in a light bulb, but it is different to personally put ourselves in a situation where failure is possible. I am noticing more and more that the longer I speak German, the less inclined I am to dive back into that role of "learner" or someone who doesn't know all the answers.

There is value in admitting ignorance and asking for help...spending time listening or asking good questions instead of just jumping in with our own knowledge or experience. There is value in being a learner and a disciple.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Crisis Becomes Personal

Some of you know that the refugee crisis has been going strong here in Europe. Thousands of people have been streaming in from Syria and many middle eastern countries trying to reach western Europe. The response here has been mixed. Many fear terrorism or the importation of these conflicts. Others have pushed back against this with things like the #refugeeswelcome hashtag, demonstrations, and volunteers at the main train station here. We have seen really cool uses of social media with Facebook groups, set up to provide real time information about what is needed and what they already have enough of.

This whole issue is incredibly complicated, and I am no politician or a person with an answer to every question. We knew that there were people suffering and needing immediate help. We donated a few things like medicine and clothes based on the needs that were communicated. We also had some friends here that talked about an opportunity to give refugees a warm place to stay for a night or two as they are in transit or waiting for more permanent housing. We jumped at the idea to practically show the love of Christ like in Matthew 25. We put our names on a list while we were donating and and then didn't hear anything for a while.

Two weeks ago, we got a call asking if we would be available for two young guys. We picked them up on Tuesday and they were with us until Friday. It was an intense few days, but fun as well. We were able to use google translate to communicate (though it did not always work). They had also met another guy that had been here longer that could speak English and a bit of German, as well, and he met up with us sometimes to translate (he also met the guys during the day to help them get around). We were able to offer a warm place to sleep and do laundry. It took up some time, but we didn't have to put our lives completely on hold while they were with us.

One of the hardest things about this whole process, was recognizing how small our impact was in all of this. We can offer a few nights in a warm room, but that is far less than most of these people need. They need short term or long term housing. They need help learning German and navigating in this new culture and the massive bureaucracy through which they may be able to get asylum. On top of this, many people have come out of war situations and are dealing with real trauma. Spending time with these two guys and seeing how massive their needs are made me see how big this whole issue is. By no means should we give up or stop helping, but my vision of the need has exploded. There is a real feeling of helplessness when faced with challenges of this magnitude.

Spending time with these guys has also humanized the issue for me. It is important to talk about laws, systems and policies when dealing with issues like this, but we need to remember that these are real people. People for whom it was so bad where they lived, that they risked everything to escape and start over. I can't imagine that kind of personal calculus. Our reasons for coming here were so different, I can't imagine a war raging so bad or a government so oppressive that I decide to leave and create a better life. But millions have made or were forced to make that decision. Most sources are saying that 50% of the population of Syria is currently displaced. Many have said this is the worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II.

Numbers are important to understand issues, but for me it is the people behind the numbers. The individuals that are affected. Meeting these two guys made this crisis not just about numbers of people displaced or the magnitude of the need, but people, image bearers of God, that are hurting and hungry. People that God desperately loves are in need. We can debate politics and legality, and we should. But let us not forget that the love of God compels us to help others not based on their passport, but based on their worth before a holy and loving God.

I want to write more about this in the future, but these are my thoughts for now. Throw me a comment below if you have experience with this crisis and others. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Open House

Saturday was a big day, both for our church and for me. For months, our planning team and I had been meeting to discuss and organize an open house event in our new church building. Our goal was to "peek the curiosity" of the neighbors, giving them a chance to find out who we are (and vice versa) and hopefully lead them to want to know more and visit us again. We offered a plethora of activities for kids, because we really wanted the neighborhood kids to have fun and to draw in the parents - face painting (a big hit), bubbles, crafts, sidewalk chalk, a scavenger hunt, a puppet show, a big inflatable soccer activity, and more. For the adults, we had a big buffet, information table, book table, chess, live music and informational sessions, where members of the church were interviewed about the various aspects of our church community.

The day went very smoothly from a logistical standpoint and although it was chilly and cloudy, it did not rain
(a huge answer to prayer)! Things were quiet in the morning, but we had many guests stopping in by the time midday rolled around. All in all, we saw many new faces and everyone who was there seemed to enjoy themselves and feel welcome. The church really came together to make this event happen - we had church members helping at every station, working hard to keep the buffet stocked, playing music, being interviewed, setting up, cleaning name it. It was wonderful to see what a team effort it was.

The biggest answer to prayer, though, was to see new faces in church Sunday morning - people who had
visited on Saturday and were still curious. Most of these people came to the open house because of personal invites and relationships with people in the church, which is often the case and, in my opinion, the best way to reach out. But there were also a few faces of neighbors who simply wanted to know more! And what's more, Nate preached a wonderful and challenging sermon Sunday morning for these guests to hear, a sermon that he has gotten wonderful feedback about over the last few days. Another answer to prayer.

Thank you to the many of you who were praying for this event. We continue to pray that the connections from Saturday would continue and deepen. God is working in our new neighborhood and we are excited to see what is to come!

Book table

Buffet. Full of treats and drinks all day!


The face painting was a huge hit!

One of our deaf members, talking about our church's thriving deaf ministry

Inflatable soccer activity

Kids, watching the puppet show

Our music team

Ping pong

Ellie sitting on my lap, watching the puppets

Monday, September 21, 2015

Dedication Sunday

Yesterday was yet another special milestone and celebration in the life of our church! (We are in an exciting season!) We had a special Sunday service to celebrate the new church building - a "dedication Sunday". The service was held in the afternoon, so that friends, former pastors and many others could join us to celebrate (and still attend their own churches in the morning). There were special messages and thank you from several people, special music performances, and Nate shared the story of the new building and renovation. We thanked God for all that he has done over the last few years and especially since we first visited our new space in December 2014.

The theme of the event was "Many Nations - One Goal". We highlighted that we have 23 countries of origin represented in our church but we are united in Christ. It's wonderful to celebrate our diversity, as well as our unity, together! Everyone brought sweet treats to celebrate, each representing their county of origin (I baked american chocolate chip cookies, of course!). The buffet was very large and well enjoyed by everyone afterwards. People stayed around for several hours to chat and mingle after the service concluded.

Here are a few photos from the day:

Opening musical performance

Bethany sang on the worship team

Nate, sharing the story of the building renovation through photos

The very full sanctuary!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

A Special Thank You!

In our old church building, the babies and kids up to age three had a small room in which to play. When there were three kids and three adults, it was nearly claustrophobic. Many of the toys were old or dirty and needed to be replaced. As parents of a little one, we were thankful to have a room to go to during the service, but we were wishing for something bigger, cleaner and better organized.

Fast forward to today and our new Baby Room! This has been a project of mine over the last few months (with the help of the other moms in the church) and I'm so pleased with how it has turned out. Because of the financial support of many of you readers, we had enough funds this year to purchase new baby room furniture, as well as used and new toys. So far, we have been enjoying this new space on Sundays during the sermon, and we also feel good about visitors with small kids coming to our church and joining us. We've even gotten comments from church-goers that it's the nicest room in the building!

Thank you for your partnership with us and enabling us to make this happen! Here's a quick video so you can see the results!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Working Through It

Ellie, Mama & Mozzy reunited
Last week, Bethany and I were able to get away for a few days. Bethany's parents watched Ellie, which was something they really enjoyed! It was so good for us to have some time away to relax and rejuvenate. Ellie did really great with Grammy and Grampy and had a lot of fun.

But our first day back, when we tried to put her to bed, she started crying and would not go to bed until Bethany rocked her and got her to sleep. This never happens and in the beginning, we were really confused. She is just getting to the point where she can express what she is thinking about through words or phrases. Last night, as Bethany was putting her to bed, she was saying things like "Mama back" and "Papa back." She was processing her experiences in her own way and working through it all. She was still processing the fact that Mama and Papa were gone but came back.

Part of being an adult means that we get better at stuffing our challenges and issues down and not dealing with them. Ellie thankfully hasn't learned this yet and processes her thoughts and challenges out loud. For us, it is easier to forget or shove things aside and try to forget about them instead of dealing with our issues. A fundamental part of the gospel is that we are not able to heal ourselves and that we need to confess that inability to God and to ourselves. Once we respond to God's calling on our lives, which is to live in communion with Him, we are called into a process of healing and restoration. As we confess our sins, fears and weakness to God and to others, we are able to access the power of the Holy Spirit that continues to transform our hearts! It is a beautiful and painful process of letting go of idols and leaning on our creator.

I needed this reminder to engage in this process. Transformation is a constant process. We need to keep working through it!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Why Are You Here?

Why are you here?  

This is a pretty simple question and one we get asked often, but the answer gets more complicated the more I think about it. I think sometimes I have done a pretty bad job of answering it. At times, it was because I was bad at German and had trouble expressing the answer. Other times, it has to do with context and trying to answer the question in a country with a history like Austria's. When religion is primarily a tool of power, authority and guilt, it is easy to see how someone would not want to be associated with it. When one has never met someone with honest and sincere faith, it is easy to dismiss it.  Knowing these things, it's hard for me to answer the question in a way that doesn't turn someone off or give them the wrong impression.

Why are you here? For a long time my answer was something along the lines of:
  • I went to university to be a pastor and studied theology.
  • We are working with the newly recognized “evangelikale Gemeinden”(evangelical churches), because they are small and many cannot afford to pay a pastor. (Having "government recognition" means our churches have some validity in people's minds)
  • We want to connect with those that are searching and share with them about Jesus.
This isn’t the wrong answer. It is straight forward and hopefully understandable to someone with little contact with faith outside of very hierarchical churches. But I am wondering if there is a better answer. One that is directer and gets to the point.

Why are you here?
  • I am here because Jesus is different. He says religion is man trying to reach God, but in him God came to us.
  • I am here because the world is broken, it is not as it should be.
  • I am here because I believe Jesus transforms lives. He is doing it in my life (I am not finished yet) and he wants to do it in every life.
  • I am here because the stories are true. All of them. The ones that make our hearts sing and the tragedies that cause them to break, that God reveals himself to man and calls us into communion with him.
I think it is important to remind myself of this, just like we need constant reminders in life.
So the question is... why are you there?

- Nate

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Emotional Moments

Most people who know me know that I have always been a pretty even keel person. Before I had Ellie, I would pretty rarely cry, and Nate and I used to joke that he cried more than I did. However, having a baby apparently changes you! I cry much more often now, not just when I'm sad but for all sorts of reasons...watching a touching commercial, seeing someone else cry (i.e. the sympathy cry), tears of joy, every episode of 'So You Think You Can name it.

This morning's church service was, therefore, a teary one, because it was baptism Sunday. Many amazing and emotional stories were told by the 5 people choosing to be baptized. There were conversion stories where families were unaccepting, stories of dramatic encounters with God, stories of high highs and low lows, stories of answers to prayer and many more. There were tears on the stage, so of course there were tears in my eyes, as well!

One of the testimonies was translated from Spanish and done interview-style.

A full sanctuary!
It was also a special celebration, because these were the first baptisms in our new the swimming pool on the roof! It might be a bit of a non-traditional baptism venue, but it worked great.

We are so encouraged to see people here coming to faith and publicly it professing. Baptisms are also a wonderful reason to invite guests to church and our sanctuary was packed this morning! This just confirms how important it was to move into our new, bigger space so that special Sundays like this could happen. Praise God!

Our new baptismal!

All of the people being baptised, with one of our elders.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Radio Silence

It feels like a really long time since I have sat here, and shared my heart with you all. I have sat down a few times and tried to write something, but never got far enough to post it, but finally that time is here, so here we go!

About 6 months ago our church started the process to move from our now former location to a new worship space. We had known for a while that the previous facility wasn't meeting all of our needs, but space is a difficult issue here, and most churches struggle to have adequate worship space. Often times they need some sort of multi-use building that is a church on Sundays and a pre-school or offices the rest of the week.

After much prayer, searching, and struggle, we landed in our new home. The challenge was this new space was empty commercial real estate with cement walls and pipes coming out of the ceiling. So we started planning and dreaming.

A few months ago, things really started to kick into high gear. The last month or so has been a whirlwind of activity. It has been really fascinating to work at the construction site. I am just handy enough that I can make really great mistakes, but I am no expert craftsman. It has been hard to find a balance between "regular ministry," this special project, and family life. We knew that it would be temporary, but certain things have fallen by the wayside (i.e. this blog).

At the moment, I (Nate) feel like I can come back up for air and reconnect with life again.

We are very excited for what God will do through this new space and in the new neighborhood. There continue to be challenges and we still have many kinks and new systems to work out. We know that God has great plans for this church and we are praying that he will walk with them through this new stage of impact.

Here are some photos including me using power tools! Click the images to see them full screen. Thanks so much for your prayers and support!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Back in the Classroom

Right now, I am in the midst of an intensive 2-week German class. It's hard for me to believe that it's been almost 20 months since I've been in the classroom learning German! Being back in a language course feels like such a familiar place for me, having spent most of our first year here in Vienna doing exactly that. It's like riding a bike...I haven't forgotten how to be a student!

I feel very blessed and thankful for this opportunity and experience. Everything came together for this course just a few weeks before I enrolled, and it clearly seemed like God's doing. The course had SPACE (there are only three of us!), was FREE (because Nate helped out this language school when it was first getting started), was SHORT (2 weeks, instead of the typical 4) and started at the RIGHT TIME, just when our church relocation project was calming down. I was worried that I would be disappointed in the course quality or materials, because I've had good and bad experiences in the past...but I have been blown away this time around. The course is moving very fast, because the other two students actually teach German in their home country, so we are focusing on advanced concepts. The teacher is truly gifted in her ability to explain grammar and language and keeps the class very interesting. Despite the fact that the course has been quite tiring, everything else about it has been perfect.

In my current stage of life, I stay at home with Ellie and speak lots of English (in order for her to learn English before she goes to school here). It has been hard for me at times to feel like my German is progressing, or even staying at the same level. It is opportunities like these that will help me improve my language, as well as my confidence, and be a better servant here in Austria. Please pray for more language learning and speaking opportunities for me in the coming months, so I can put into practice what I've learned!