Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Speaking at a Youth Retreat

Some things in our ministry here happen pretty regularly. I get invited to preach a sermon at various churches. Other times, I'm asked to be on a worship team for an event. I've also taught courses at our church. I love all of the opportunities to open God's word with his people and see what he has to say. A few weeks ago, I was honored to be able to do that again. The leader of the youth group at our church asked me to come for one night and speak twice as a part of the bible teaching at their youth retreat. It was a huge honor to open the Word with these young people. Here are some of the thoughts we looked at.

I was given Colossians 1 and the first few verses of chapter 2 to deal with in just two sessions. We weren't able to hit everything in our times together. One thought that really jumped out at me was right at the beginning of the letter. Paul has a pretty normal greeting structure that involves introductions (who is writing to whom) and a quick "grace and peace to you from God" greeting. He then thanks God for three things that the Colossians already have. 1. Their Faith in Christ 2. their Love for all of the saints and 3. Both of which are based on the Hope they have in the Gospel. So these three things: faith, love and hope are what Paul thanks God for. Of all of the good things that he has heard about the Colossians and all that God is doing in their midst, this is what he is most thankful for.

First and foremost, that is a pretty good list of qualities. In a lot of ways, it is a great all encompassing list of qualities. Their faith is grounded in Christ, which is the central message of the book of Colossians. If you want to avoid believing false teaching and straying away from the core, keep Christ at the center. Keep pursuing Christ. 

The second is equally as laudable but also difficult to live out. It is their love for all the saints. This second aspect to their character as a church is something that is difficult to live out alongside the first aspect. What do I mean by that? We all have known churches that are very focused on Christ, they are very focused on teaching correctly the things of Christ. They want to make sure that every doctrinal particulate is sorted and sieved. But they are so focused on that, they miss the chance to show love to all the saints. The word "all" there is important. I think it focuses on unity in the face of geographic distance, cultural distance, and ethnic origin. Probably this took the form of direct financial investment or support of workers or churches. 

Finally, what is great is that both of these things flow out of a hope in the gospel. All of this faith in Christ and love for the saints is all set on a foundation of hope. They hope in the promises of God and the future that he has in store for them.

These three things are what the Colossian church was known for. These were the things that Paul praised in them. The question I challenged the students with was this:

What is this youth group known for? How do you want to be known?

If a friend of your youth leader visited you and then went and reported back to your your youth leader's mentor, what would that friend say? Would the mentor thank God for your faith and love that is grounded in the gospel?

I challenged them to think and take an active part in knowing what the vision for the youth group was. They have the chance to either hinder or help that vision to succeed. The youth leaders can point them in the right direction, but if they want to be a youth group that is focused on the Word of God, then they need to actively take part in it.

I hope and pray that the youth are going to take on this challenge. I pray that they would grow in Faith and Love that is based on the Hope of the Gospel.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

A Very Special Visit

Beating first day jetlag with a ferris wheel ride!
In early July, I was blessed with the visit from a dear from from the States, Suzanne. She and I got to know each other in a small group just after I graduated from college, and we have stayed in touch ever since! She was a bridesmaid in my wedding, and we always make it a point to see each other when we are back in Chicago. But this time around, we got to spend a whole week together! And because Suz left her kids and hubby at home (who we missed, of course), we got lots of uninterrupted time and that was a treat. It was so special for me to show her our life here and our beautiful city, as well as to go on some special adventures just the two of us. We spent the day in Budapest, a city I'd been wanting to visit for years, and it was fun to explore it together. We ate lots of delicious food, played tourist in Vienna and hung out with my kids, of course, too. Here are some photos from our time together!

In front of Stephansdom in downtown Vienna

Relaxing at the Therme (thermal baths)

In front of Karlskirche (Karl's Church)

Riding some ride at the Prater Amusement Park

Suz and I did the swings that go 117 M high!

Climbing the tower of Stephansdom

The Grand Market in Budapest

The top of Gellert Hill in Budapest

Budapest Parliament

Riding the Ubahn! (Subway in Vienna)

Girls' Night Out!

Riding the train at Schönbrunn Palace

Downtown gardens

Pastries at the famous Cafe Central

English-Deutsch Woche (English/German Week)

My co-leader, Jola, standing next to our group meeting point.
Last week, we participated in and served at a English-German week for ages 6 - 11. It was a blessed, exhausting and encouraging week for everyone involved! This week has been going on for 10 years already and is planned in partnership by one woman and an organization called Kid's Team (formerly Children's Evangelism Fellowship). There were 140 kids who participated in the week!

All of the kids during the morning worship and skit time.
The goal of this day camp, which goes from 10 am to 4 pm each day, is twofold - 1) to support and encourage language development of the kids by challenging them in their weaker language (either English or German), and 2) to share the gospel with the kids through song, story and relationship. Nate helped with registration at the camp and then helped with music in the main session and in the English-speaking kids bible time. I (Bethany) was a group leader for (8) 9-year-old girls (with a wonderful co-leader and helper!), a helper with a baking workshop, a bible small group leader for (4) 6-year-old boys and I planned a field trip/game for all of the kids on one afternoon.

My group of girls with our group helper

Needless to say, it was quite the exhausting week! But I had some wonderful conversations with my girls and also helped them practice their English. We saw lots of kids learn about the bible who had never heard about God before. Ellie also brought a friend with her from school who had a really great time the whole week. I saw many parents at the final celebration who were moved by the message and the songs. We are praying that the seeds planted in the hearts of many as a results of this camp will grow into something wonderful!

We were also blessed to have Pastor Dave Genberg at our house for 10 days and serving alongside us at the English Camp. He survived the week as a group leader for 10 and 11 year old boys (lots of energy!!) and oversaw the sports workshops. He had the chance to teach many kids how to swing a bat for the first time, since baseball and wiffle ball aren't known here! We had many good conversations with him about Austrian culture, ministry challenges and this particular kind of ministry.

The baking workshop I assisted with
The reason for Dave's trip was primarily to discern if his church could send a team next summer to support us in creating our own English camp ministry in our target area for the church plant. We came out of the week concluding that this ministry endeavor seems possible and we all feel better equipped for it, after this past week of ministry. We will continue conversations, prayers and plans to see if God opens the door for this opportunity next year.

Overall, it was a wonderful week and we are so thankful for all that God did through the many volunteers to impact these families!