Monday, September 24, 2018

Dealing with Weakness

I like to listen to podcasts. I may in fact be that guy who mentions it in a conversation. Much of what I listen to is incredibly nerdy and only of interest to insatiably curious people like me. One podcast I've come to enjoy is the outgrowth of an internet friendship. Two guys, Destin from Smarter Every Day and Matt from the 10 Minute Bible Hour, got together and started having conversations about history, science and things that they thought were interesting. I listened to one of their recent episodes called "Congrats...On a Life with Chapters". And it hit home for me because our rhythm of life provides this sort of chapter structure. Our life is one where we have extended times of ministry, usually between 2 and 3 years, and then we travel back to the States and get the chance to share what God has done and give an update. This provides milestones or boundary lines for our life. It marks the changes that have happened in our lives.

Some changes are obvious. Last time we were in the States, we had one child; now there are two. Last time, my hair was one shade darker; now you see a lot more grey. But some changes are more subtle and under the surface. Through conversations with some of the really great people we know across the country, I had the opportunity to look back on the last few years of ministry, and these are some of the themes that have emerged, especially as we've transitioned into a position of leadership.

1. No Leader Can Do It All
It is easy to fool ourselves as leaders, to think that we have things together. Often we expect a leader to have an overabundance of all of the necessary skills. They must be gifted administrators, communicators, organizers, visionaries, and not let anything fall through the cracks. The reality is leaders are people, and all people have strengths and weaknesses. This is of course an obvious observation, especially for leaders we know that have glaring weakness, but I think where it really holds true are for exactly those leaders who look like they are competent. Exactly those people who look like they are holding it together are the ones for whom this reminder is the most important, and it is important mainly because of my second point.

2. Our Weaknesses Don't Have Only Short-term Consequences 
We often have this short-term view of areas in our life where we are not as strong. We see it play out in the smaller ways. I am, for example, really bad at calendars. Dates don't stick well in my head, and I struggle to keep them all straight. My Google calendar has saved my bacon so many times. I get into a situation where I have completely forgotten an appointment but was reminded in time to make it. My wife and I joke that I know so little about the calendar that she takes care of it and I just put my shoes on when she tells me to so we can leave on time. These things play themselves out in the micro, in the specific moments. But they also have longer term impacts. People often point out that pastors that have served in churches for longer periods of time tend to take on some of their weaknesses, even down to a structural level. If my weaknesses as a leader go unchecked, then that can have lasting consequences. 

3. I Need to Know My Weaknesses 

It is incumbent on leaders, not just leaders that struggle but all leaders, to know themselves. I need to know my weaknesses and strengths. I must be aware of my blind spots and the places where I struggle. I need to recognize where I am lacking and then find people around me that can help to balance out where I are weak. I need that level of self-awareness. I need to see my own weaknesses and see the places where I need others. I also then need to empower those people that are strong in certain areas to take those areas over so I can also work in my strengths.

Much of this I have been processing as I have been stepping into the role of leading our team here in Austria. I've been asking big questions about what we want this team, this community of workers to look like. Some of this is recognizing that Bethany is very gifted administratively, and there are some details that she handles effortlessly that would bog me down. Working together in this, we are strong where the other person is weak. To accomplish the things that we want to see happen as a field leader, I need to be honest with myself about my weaknesses. We need to then seek out strategies and people that can help me work through those weaknesses.

As I was thinking about this, I posed the question to my brother, who is also in full-time ministry. His big question about all these ideas, which I found profound, was how do we do this? What does this look like practically? It is profound because we often see leaders investing in those that they manage. We see a boss doing "professional development" with her employees...but actually if we are going to put this into practice, if we really are going to be realistic about our weaknesses as leaders, then there needs to be space for humble leaders that ask hard questions about themselves and ask those they partner with to accurately assess them. We need to be open to healthy feedback and criticism. We to have our antenna up. When we hear suggestions or critiques, we need to receive them with humility and gladness, even if we ultimately go a different direction.  

A Photo Update

We have been back in Austria now for a few weeks, and we've settled back into a rhythm and routine. We have a great summer in the US, but we are also very thankful to be back home. Here are a few photos from our first few weeks back:

Ellie started a ballet class last week

Getting lots of work done at our fall team meeting :)

Nate purchased a new guitar and used it at small group last week

At a local amusement park with Ellie for a fun afternoon

A trip to the zoo with our new teammates, Brian and Melissa

Ellie's first day back to kindergarten

A walk on a rainy day

We missed Mozzy so much this summer! He got a haircut right when we returned.

Riding in the combine in a friend's rice field

Happy to be back home!!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Looking Back on Summer 2018

Time for a video update! Here's a look back at our summer adventure:

Heading Home

As always, it is with mixed emotions that we prepare for our journey back to Austria on Monday. We are very excited and eager to return to our home, our community, our dog and our routine. We have missed Austria a lot this summer, and we anticipate a sweet reunion with many friends there. On the other hand, though, we have had a wonderful summer with friends and family here, and we will miss these people so much.  It has been a special time, with a refreshing break from our daily routine (even when this "break" was very busy!).  No matter where we are, whether in Austria or in the U.S., our heart is always aching for people on the other side of the ocean. We are always missing someone somewhere!

We are so thankful for God's provision this summer, and we look back on the last two months very fondly. We made some wonderful memories that we will cherish! We head back Monday on an overnight direct flight from New York to Vienna. Please pray that we all sleep at least a little and for a smooth transition back to home and ministry in Austria. 

Here are a few more photo highlights from the last few weeks:

Enjoying beach time and lobster rolls in CT

The "great American playground tour" continues!

Ellie and Aunt Crista

Ellie seeing Uncle John call the horse races at Yonkers Raceway

Cousin Tyler and Ellie at Silverman's Farm


A Girls' overnight with Bethany, her mom and her sister

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

What God Has Been Doing This Summer

We have been on a whirlwind adventure this summer, travelling across the U.S. on a 2-month home assignment, visiting friends, family and supporters, connecting with churches, and sharing about Austria. Wow - God has been doing amazing things! Here are a few highlights from recent weeks:

  • God has provided enough donations for us to pay off our car loan IN FULL!
  • God has provided enough donations IN ADDITION that we met our goal for the summer and will return to Austria in a better position financially!
  • God has provided the funds for a new guitar!
  • God has blessed us with many new monthly supporters and our need is now down to $240/month.
  • God has lavishly blessed us with many homes to stay in, many delicious meals and lots of special times connecting with people.
  • God has given Nate the opportunity to preach a powerful message from John 4 four times. (After hearing the sermon all 4 times, God's words have really sunk in for me!)
  • God has allowed us some times to connect with our family, whom we don't get to see very often. Those times have been very special.
  • God has reminded us of all the wonderful friendships we have here in the States, as we've reconnected with many dear friends during our trip.
  • God provided a vehicle to use this summer and has kept us safe through many trips on the road.
Wow! We have been blown away by His provision through His people. A special thanks to all those who have been a part of this blessing this summer. We are humbled by all of this, and through it, God is reminding us of how much He loves us and how He provides for our needs.

Here are some photos highlights from the last month of our travels!

Nate preaching at Cornerstone Church in MN

Sunbathing with friends in WI

Picnicking with friends in Chicago

Reuniting with our Interns from 2016!

Sharing with friends and supporters in Winfield, IL

Visiting Wheaton College

Sharing with friends and supporters in Wheaton, IL

Meeting up with Bethany's Aunt in Chicago
Sharing in Warren, OH at Champion Presbyterian Church

Ellie and Ellie (Bethany's cousin's daughter)

Nate preaching at Stanwood Church in Navarre, OH

Hanging out with friends in OH

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Summer Home Assignment Highlights

Oops! Another blogging hiatus from us - we are so sorry! Our last few months in Austria before boarding a plane for the U.S. were quite busy and Nate also came down with a very bad case of tonsillitis that zapped him of energy for about 3 weeks. He was just trying to keep up with what he could during that time. Then, on June 17, we all hopped on a plane and flew to Atlanta to begin our 2-month summer home assignment in the U.S. It's been a whirlwind adventure so far and will continue to be! We have been having a great time and feel really blessed to be here. Here are a few highlights from our time so far!

On the trans-atlantic flight from Frankfurt to Atlanta. Lots of screen time for all :)

Attending VBS for a day in Atlanta with Ellie's cousin, Meg

Driving from Atlanta to my parents' house in SC

Grocery shopping with Grammy

Maya goes for a walk with Grampy

At the Veerman family reunion in NC. Maya plays piano with her cousins

Beach time!

My dad and his siblings and spouses at the reunion

The next generation down

Grampy and Maya snuggling

We've arrived in MN! Beach time at the lake!

Ellie gets to go fishing with Opa!
Many more memories to come! We will soon be sharing with churches and small groups about our ministry in Austria, as well as spending time with family. We'll keep you updated!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Bringing Moms Together

Mütternander Planning Team
 Last Saturday, I (Bethany) helped plan a daylong conference for Christian moms in Austria. The conference has been going on for about 15 years already and was originally started by an organization called "Hearts at Home". When the organization left Austria, the women planning the yearly conference wanted to keep going, so they founded their own non-profit so keep this great event going!

I was in charge of registration, so a lot of the time I invested was before the event even took place. On Saturday, I then had the joy of greeting all the moms as they arrived. It was amazing to see such a diverse group of moms from different backgrounds and ages come together to learn, encourage and worship. The day consisted of two main sessions, two breakout session, a lunch and free-time to chat, visit sponsor booths and even visit a wellness area with nail painting and massages. The conference was designed to be a free day for moms to relax, learn, enjoy and be encouraged.

I was incredibly grateful to be on the planning team and to be a part of this great event. I can't wait for next year!
Breakout Sessions

Afternoon Cake and Coffee Break

A Full Main Session

Morning Session

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Where the Cool Kids Are

Like many people of my generation (I'm barely a millennial), I have a complicated relationship with street evangelism. We can all easily conjure an image in our minds of the aggressive street preacher screaming at everyone or the poorly done puppet show just trying to draw a crowd. 

With this in mind, I was invited by a friend from church to go help him with a book table down in the city. They have a small table where they give away paper back books that are short biographies of lives transformed by the gospel or books like Josh McDowell's "More Than a Carpenter." The thing that got me intrigued with this was how they were doing it. Other street witnessing I've heard about here happens in pedestrian zones in the city during the day. But those areas are usually only occupied by tourists. This was in an area where a lot of people were going out to clubs and bars in the area. We definitely saw a fair amount of intoxicated people, but there were plenty of people that were just curious what we were doing. We explained what some of the books were about and tried to recommend some of them. We answered questions and started discussions with anyone that was interested in talking.

In the midst of all this talking two guys came up to us. In the beginning, one guy was clearly trying to play "stump the theist giving away books."  I'm not a big fan of arguing about stuff, at least not like I used to be when I was in college. I tried to just have a conversation with him instead. We kept talking, asking each other questions and discussing various arguments for God or why people would believe. I talked about the things that had convinced me, and also areas where I've struggled with doubt. I talked about the fine tuning argument for God. It talks about how many different parts of our physical universe generally but also our solar system in particular are perfectly tuned for human life. We talked for a long time, almost two hours actually. It was a really good conversation, one that I don't think is had enough both in America and here in Austria.

Part of me was pretty surprised that it was possible. I came into this evening pretty skeptical that people would be open to having this sort of conversation late on a Friday night. To be honest, there were plenty of people that either wanted their free book or didn't care at all. My friend who invited me had a bunch of smaller conversations with a variety of people. I was, however, really surprised at the openness that many people displayed to ask questions or take a book. That isn't the same as what I've seen from people on the street in this country up to this point.

Dialogue like this is also important for me in terms of taking many things that I've only every studied in detail in English and translating them into German. There is a whole set of "Christian" vocabulary that we had to learn in the church when we arrived. Learning to pray in German took a lot of time and listening to how others pray before we were able to do it. Sharing your faith is the same way. I think often times we as non-native speakers have an advantage where we have to use simpler words, because we don't know all the terminology. But it is still a muscle like any others that needs to be trained a bit. Every Christian should be able to quickly give their testimony, and this was a chance to learn how to talk about these things.

This was a good experience, and I'd be interested to do it again, but I'm still convinced that relationship is the most effective way to share about Christ. The gospel is best communicated in lives transformed by grace.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Kendra's Thoughts

Our 6-week spring intern, Kendra, has been enjoying her first two weeks with us serving in Austria! We would like to share her recent newsletter, as it provides a great overview of what she is learning and how we've been spending our time the last few weeks. Enjoy!


First off, THANK YOU for taking the time to follow me along during my time in Vienna. The fact that you wanted to be on this newsletter list really touches my heart. Knowing that I have friends and family across the globe praying for me is the most encouraging thing!

Since Austria is stereotyped as the land of Schnitzel, Lederhosen, Sound of Music, and Mozart, I want to give you guys a deeper look into the needs and culture of this amazing country ;)

As most of you know, I was born in Salzburg, Austria, so the fact that God opened a door to go back to Austria to serve the people in Vienna and practice my German was an absolute dream! I arrived in the city the Saturday before Easter, and since then, it has been a complete adventure with many ups and downs. I have seen beautiful architecture, tried incredible food, and meet such beautiful people...but I have also gotten lost more times than I care to admit (in forests and the city), gotten frustrated with my German language skills, and experienced deep bouts of loneliness and sadness. However, God has been using this time to teach me about REST and what it means to rest in him throughout the day. Even when I am working or volunteering, I am learning that nothing has to be perfect as long as I am trying to do everything for HIS glory...and let me tell you that is the most relieving concept in the world.

My hosts, the Johnsons, are a missionary couple from the US, who have two sweet little girls and a crazy cute pup. They have not only made me feel extremely welcome in their home and community, but they have already taught me so much about what it looks like to serve as a missionary in Austria! In Austrian culture, it takes a long time for people to warm up to new ideas and strangers. Because of this, missionaries might have to live in a community for years before they see progress in their ministry. It was so encouraging to see their perseverance and trust that God had placed them in this culture for a specific purpose, even if some days it seems hopeless.

So much has happened in the short 10 days that I have already been here, but a short list of my activities have included:
  • Meeting other Christians in the community
  • Working with refugees at a Christian outreach center
  • Ministering to prostitutes and their children in the center of Vienna
  • Attending German class
  • Discovering the city and going on prayer walks
  • English tutoring outreach at an international church
  • Rediscovering my Austrian roots

Although there is incredible sadness in the stories of the refugees and prostitutes we come in contact with, it is such an honor to be able to be God's hands and feet and serve them in any way possible! 

Prayer Request:
I want to ask you to please pray for the people of the city of Vienna. Many have completely rejected the idea of religion or are very ingrained in old, cold traditions that are very far from a personal relationship with the Lord. Please pray that they will be open and given the opportunity to see what Christ's love really looks like.

Also, please pray for my emotional health while I am here Austria. Going back to the country I was born in has brought up nostalgic and sad memories I thought I had dealt with long ago. I am so grateful to have the Johnson's to mentor and disciple me during this short time in Vienna, and I have already experienced incredible freedom in understanding what happened in my past to help me learn and grow for the future. 

I hope you all have an amazing rest of the week, and if I can be praying for you in ANY WAY, please send me a message!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Meet the Kosses!

Many of you may remember the Kosse Family. They visited in the fall of 2016 for a vision trip, and then began raising support to join our team with WorldVenture here in Austria. They recently had the video below put together to communicate their vision for ministry and how/why God has called them here. We are excited to share this - it not only allows you to get to know them, but also so clearly communicates the needs here in Austria. Take a look and pray for the Kosses!

Meet our New Intern!

We are very excited to have a spring intern joining in April and May this year! She will be a very unique addition to our team, coming to Austria not only with cultural understanding but also German language ability! Praise God for His provision! Take a look below to get to know Kendra!

"My name is Kendra and I will be interning with the Johnsons this April and May! 

A few basic facts about me are:
- I am 20 years old
- I have one younger sister who is 17 years old
- I am a dual citizen of both Austria and The US
- I study Fashion Business and International Marketing in New York (I want to use this degree to pursue a career in Ethical and Sustainable Fashion)

As you might have guessed, I come from a bicultural household, where my Dad is fully Austrian and my Mom is fully American. My sister and I were both born in Salzburg, Austria, but we all moved to the States when I was 7 years old. I was blessed to be raised in a Christian household, and I first began to realize my passion for missions as I got more involved through volunteer organizations at my high school, in my youth group, and even as a Young Life Leader in college. Everyone I volunteered or came in contact with was searching for something, and many were looking in dark places. Specifically, my family and friends back in Austria each have had issues with substances such as alcohol, nightlife, black magic, or simply believing they are completely self-sufficient. Over the years, it has broken my heart to see the disconnect between the "religiousness" of Austrian culture and actually developing a relationship with the Living God. 

I have felt God put a burden on my heart for Austria all of my life, but especially this past summer, when I was doing a two-month missions trip in Bulgaria and Romania, I very clearly knew God was calling me to come back to serve in Europe. Through a great deal of prayer and trust, I found this amazing opportunity to serve with the Johnsons in Vienna. I am already extremely expectant and excited to see the type of work I will be able to do with the refugees and locals in the city. I know that no matter where God takes me, he will provide a way for me to reach my people either through direct mission work or just being a living example among them.  "

Please pray for Kendra as she prepares now to serve in Austria by raising support and preparing for her various ministry opportunities here. She will be with us March 31 - May 20. We are excited to see how God uses her here and what she learns through the experience!