Thursday, December 20, 2018

2018 in Review

2018 has been a good year! Here are a few highlights from our family in 2018...

Ellie turned 4 and started her second full year in Kindergarten

Maya learned to walk and talk.

Ellie dressed up as a fairy for Fasching (Mardi Gras).

We attended our team retreat, with special speaker Landon Reesor from Darien, CT.

After a long, drawn-out journey with our previous car, we were blessed with a new vehicle

Nate turned 35! Wow, we're getting old :)

Our spring intern, Kendra, joined us for 2 months

The girls' friendship with each other began to blossom!

We attended our church's retreat. Our ministry continued at the church with small groups, music and discipleship

We flew to the U.S. for a summer of adventure, travel and sharing with churches and supporters.

We spent lots of the summer like this...

We went to a family reunion on the beach in NC.

We celebrated 4th of July at Nate's grandma's cabin in WI.
We visited 11 churches in 8 weeks! What a blessing it was to share an update with so many supporters!

We had a reunion with our 2016 interns!

We flew home in August and were happy to be back in our own beds!

We were thankful to return to our small group, which has grown to 4 families and 3 individuals.

Brian and Melissa joined our team and got their visas!

We took a trip to the mountains with Nate's parents.

Nate's parents explored a glacier with us!

Maya turned 2 and continued to be entertaining and fun-loving.


Our small group ministry (early steps towards church planting) continued. We baked cookies at Christmas for a ministry to prostitutes.

Beth got her visa! We celebrated!

Nate preached at Christmas time at our church.

We had our annual Christmas party and were thankful for many neighbors and friends attending!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

What a long road it's been....

Meeting Beth at the airport after her second stint in Ireland.
It all started during the summer of 2017, when Beth was preparing to join our team here in Vienna. It had been five years since someone new joined Team WorldVenture in Austria, and Nate and I had just stepped into the field leader role. This was also the first time a team member of our would be applying for a "church worker visa" through the Free Church, since the Free Church just became a government-recognized religious group a few years ago. Since receiving that recognition, the church has had the ability for the first time EVER to bring over workers on it's own visas.

So, the field leader role was new, overseeing someone's arrival was new, and the visa process for the Free Church was new. We all had a lot to learn. Most of our information about the visa came from one particular family who had gone before us and received the visa two years earlier. We tried our best to do everything exactly as they had done it, not knowing if rules and laws had changed in the meantime. Beth applied for her visa at an Austrian Embassy in the U.S. and then, without hearing a final answer, came over in October 2017 for her first 90 days on an automatic tourist visa.

The questions started popping up from the immigration office - uncertainties about her income (which was not at it's full level until she arrived in Austria and became a full-time employee), questions about her rental contract (which was not long enough, apparently) and most importantly, questions about our American health insurance coverage. Little did we know, they had been cracking down on health insurance plans that had certain "exceptions to coverage", after an unfortunate incident the year before where someone came to Austria with insufficient insurance and ended up in the hospital. The national health insurance had to foot the bill and they sued the immigration office for letting this person into the country without sufficient coverage. Since then, laws became stricter and were highly enforced.

For several months, we had a back and forth with the immigration office. They asked for more documentation, we tried to provide it. Beth signed a longer term lease and provided more proof of income. We sent in more insurance documents, trying to prove our insurance coverage was sufficient. Then in January, Beth's visa application was suddenly denied without any warning. We were stunned! We had never experienced a denial before, and had through that we would have some warning if we needed to acquire different health insurance.

God blessed us with a friend in our small group who studied law. He was truly a God send. Richard helped us submit an extensive appeal to the decision and then we waited. Beth left Austria for her 90 days out of the Schengen Zone of Europe (required) and went to Ireland to join WorldVenture colleagues there. She returned in late spring, but still no answer on the appeal. She left again in the summer...still no answer. Finally, just before she returned in the fall, the appeals court contacted us and asked for copies of her passport. Then a date was set for a hearing before the judge on December 5th. This was 16 months after her initial application was submitted for a residence permit.
Celebrating the end of a long visa journey

Through all this, there were many ups and downs. The journey was very challenging for Beth, as she had no permanent home and while in Ireland, very few opportunities to serve and have "purpose" there. I was also struggling with a lot of guilt, that perhaps somehow I had made some wrong decisions along the way or wasn't thorough enough during the process. I kept wondering if I could have prevented this whole mess if I had done more research or asked more people how to proceed. But God provided comfort and reassurance that we had made decisions along the way based on what we knew then and there should be no regrets.

On December 5th, with hundreds of people praying (truly - so many people were praying that day!!), God answered our prayers. The judge was not very friendly, but he did decide fairly and in Beth's favor. She was granted the residence permit as of that day. We were so thankful and blown away. She is finally allowed to stay in country and can begin thinking more about her future here.

The official positive decision!
We are so thankful for the prayers for Beth and for us along the way. It's been such a long road, and a huge weight has been lifted. We are confident God has helped us all grow as a result of this experience, and God has already used Beth's challenges to help her understand and connect with the refugees she will serve (who experience an even longer and more difficult immigration journey).

Monday, November 26, 2018

Fighting Against Human Trafficking

We had new teammates join us in Vienna this summer. Brian and Melissa Leak will be serving at WorldVenture's Europe Liaison for anti-human trafficking ministry. What exactly does this mean? They are still flushing this out, but the vision is to join the fight against human trafficking by equipping churches to get involved, networking with organizations working in this area, doing some direct work with women working in prostitution, and supporting efforts to get law changed. And it could be more! Visions and plans are still being formed.

This issue has been on my heart ever since we moved to Vienna, and I learned more about the situation with women in prostitution here. Sex work is legal in Austria, and over 90% of the women working in this area are not Austrian. This points to a huge percentage of the women being trafficked here, mostly from eastern Europe, China and Nigeria. There is an organization here called Herzwerk (Heart Factory) that reaches out directly to the women, helping to care for them, provide them with training and resources and hopefully assist them in breaking free from this industry.

Although this is not our area of ministry focus, I've been looking for ways to support this ministry over the years. One way has been to have our summer interns serve at Herzwerk in behind-the-scenes ministry. They have babysat for training programs, sorted clothing donations, and helped with logistics and food for an Art Therapy training conference. This past Saturday, I had another chance to support this type of ministry by hosting a home party for Hope for the Future, a small but growing organization that trains women in business skills and teaches them German, as well as teaches them how to sew beautifully-made hand bags. At the home party, friends came and learned about the organization and then purchased bags (either for themselves or as Christmas presents!).

Yesterday, our small group gathered and each family brought 75 cookies with them. We then stuffed small plastic bags and created 75 cookie packages with ribbons and Christmas ornaments on them. These bags, along with hundreds made by other small groups and churches in Vienna, will be given out by Herzwerk volunteers in one week to 800 women working in prostitution. These packages are one way that Herzwerk shows the women that they are loved and care for, and provides another way to connect with the women. Many of these women have no family in Vienna and won't receive gifts for Christmas. This is a tangible way to demonstrate love and care and is sometimes the first connection with a women who eventually comes out of prostitution and hears the gospel message from the Herzwerk workers.

For a brief look into one way that women are trafficked here to Vienna, I encourage you to watch this Hope for the Future video clip (with English subtitles) (log into Facebook first to watch).

We hope to have more opportunities to support this type of work in Vienna. Would you please pray this Christmas season for the women working in prostitution in Vienna, that God would reach them with a message of hope?

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Family Visit

We were so thankful to have Nate's parents (Oma & Opa) here with us for nearly two weeks in early October. We had a really special time together playing at home, doing some fun outings and taking a 5-day trip to the Alps. We also got to celebrate Maya's birthday with them before they left. Here are a few highlights from our time together:

Visit and hike up to Dürnstein Castle

At the top of Dürnstein
Walking around on top of Dachstein

Snow in October!

The view from the top of Dachstein

Riding up the cable car to the overlook in Hallstatt



Sisters holding hands!

The house we rented in St. Martin am Tennengebirge

Going for a hike

Enjoying the fall colors!

Exploring Hallstatt

Walking around Salzburg

Overlooking Salzburg from the fortress

Running Around and Chasing a Ball

I (Nate) tend to enjoy solo sports. It is fun to compete against myself and see how I grow as I train and work hard. But when a guy at our church wanted to start a soccer group, I jumped at the chance to build relationships with some of the younger guys in our church. I also love the chance to stay fit and run around. I have accepted the fact that many of these guys have been playing soccer a lot longer than I have and are way more skilled, but I can run hard and have a good time. This last weekend, we had a practice tournament against a few other teams on Saturday morning. It can be hard for me to make time for an event like this. Saturdays are important family times, as well as the chance to spend time with people we are connected to inside and outside of the church. But I think this time with these guys is also important. So as we stepped out onto the field, I was genuinely curious how the day would go.

Well first things first, we lost... Every. Game. It was hard to be at the bottom of the pile. I played defense most of the game, and man, some of the other offensive players were small and fast and just way beyond my abilities. In no way did my few seasons of grade school and middle school soccer prepare me to face these guys. I honestly didn't expect anything different for myself. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I am not sure I expected it to go this badly. I had heard we hadn't done well in previous games, but I didn't know that we would lose all of our games. And that we would lose them so decisively. Most of the other teams were just better. But here is something I realized: this is practice. Not just actual match practice. Not that we are practicing soccer. We are practicing life. This brings up a basic question: How do I handle failure? What do I do when I screw up? What do I do when it feels like the failure of your team is someone else's fault? How easy is it to undervalue my own failures and overvalue others? Once you start thinking of things this way, it can be hard to stop asking these sorts of questions. Each question has a subtly different answer. Each question peels back the layers, showing us the selfishness and sinfulness in each of our hearts.

The challenge is we often face true failure so seldom in regular life, that it can be hard to apply the personal gains to the next instance. But in this environment, where we get to accelerate the exposure, we can also learn more about it in our own lives. I said this is retrospect to a few people after the games, and the more I process it, the deeper in strikes home for me. The way we win or lose is far more important than the outcome. Displaying godly character is far more important than a number on a page. Scoring goals is fun. Winning is fun as well, but my identity is not defined by the number on the page.

I think the ultimate question I'm sorting through here is: Is there a Christian way to win and lose? Can we glorify God and be a witness in how we treat people when emotions are high on the field? I've seen it before, and I strive to model it as well. I want to be someone that works hard, that pushes and gives it my all, but also someone who doesn't lose a kindness that stems from remembering the image of God in each of my fellow teammates and the people I'm playing against. It is possible to show people Christ as we play together because I've seen it. I've seen players that work hard, but are selfless and charitable. I've seen and made my best effort to grab onto the chances to encourage others and to tell them when they did well. This is a habit that should extend into our daily life. We should be generous with our encouragement.

I found this to a be a pretty valuable experience, even though my 35 year old body is hurting, and we lost every game. Where do you see unexpected discipleship opportunities around you?

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!!