Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Second Lockdown

 Well, here we are again! After a summer in Austria that felt almost like normal, with businesses open, vacations happening and social gathering taking place with only mild restrictions, the fall hit us and Coronavirus cases were on the rise. By the time early November rolled around, the rate of spread in Austria was one of the highest in the world and the government put us on a modified lockdown. We had an 8pm curfew every night and were only allowed to meet with one other household at a time. Kids age 14 & above were doing school online, but all other schools were open as normal. Unfortunately, these moderate restrictions didn't have the needed effect and things needed to get strict. Last Tuesday, the government put us into a strict lockdown for the second time in 2020. The girls are now doing school at home and we are not allowed to meet or socialize with anyone outside our household. Only essential businesses are open and offices are encouraged to let their employees work from home when possible.

This lockdown has felt different for us. First of all, Ellie is in school this time around, so we have been spending every morning doing her daily school work. To keep Maya busy, she's been doing "home pre-schooling", which is basically just coloring and fun worksheets. School work takes up at least half the day, so the challenge I faced in the spring of "filling up the day" and keep the girls busy is partially taken care of. We have also jumped back into the routines we had during the lockdown and the girls have quickly adjusting, since this isn't new to them. We often go outside once a day, the girls do a quiet time, and we often work in a kids yoga video. 

Overall, we miss social interaction, but the days have been slow-paced and peaceful. The forced slowdown has been a welcome change for me, and I'm thankful for clear decisions from the government and a peaceful home. I know many are struggling with home-schooling and working full-time jobs simultaneously, so I am not taking for granted the flexibility I have to focus on the girls during these few weeks. 

Here are a few photos from our lockdown so far:

After finishing our first Lockdown #2 puzzle

Kids Yoga (Cosmic Kids for the win!)

Learning time! It doesn't always look this calm...

Sushi making night for dinner

A scene from the vineyards, where we went for a hike

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

1 Peter 2 Ruminations

cornerstone, stone fence, wall,

Some of you know, that I (Nate) started a degree program this year. It has been challenging to do what has turned into all online classes. Even classes that would have been in person for a week long module were all online. The reading has been wonderful as have the chances to deeply study ideas that are also practical to ministry. My last class had the somewhat bland title of "Research Methods." As a lot of the classes taught by the school  are biblical studies classes(there are a few different degree options and this class is required for all of them), this class also had a strong focus on biblical interpretation. The major paper for the class was an exegetical paper. Because we did the paper in stages, I was able to spend a lot of time in the book of 1 Peter, and in my specific text, 1 Peter 2:4-10. There is a great deal in those few verses, but one of the main themes is one of hope.

We have hope in Christ. He is the living stone, rejected by the builder but chosen and precious to God. We are being built up like living stones into a holy temple, a place for God to dwell and be worshiped. Christ was dishonored in his death and burial, but his resurrection brought him great honor. We too experience dishonor, but we are a royal priesthood, a new people for his possession.

This connection to and drawing on Christ is not new in the New Testament, but Peter succinctly pulls together this new reality. He answers the main question, what does it mean to follow Christ? It means a brand new identity, given to you by God and brought together with all of those who believe. It is a sweet and pure expression of unity, at a time when mud and insults fly across the interwebs without much thought. Peter is unapologetically centered on Christ as the answer to the shame and alienation that his readers felt.

The two main purpose statements in the text also give us a picture of what our role in this whole thing is. The first is in verse 5, where we are told that we are built up "like living stones into a spiritual house...to offer spiritual sacrifices." Later on in verse 9 we are said to be "a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him, who called you out of darkness." The sacrifices seem to be closely linked to the theme of suffering before others in the letter itself. We display God's faithfulness in the way we suffer, and we also proclaim what God has done, bringing us out of darkness and into light.

These two purposes give me a great deal of hope. We want to be people that proclaim who God is in word and deed. These are not easy times to live, whether in the US or else where. So much is uncertain and there is a lot of fear, but we know the living stone. We are built on the cornerstone, a firm foundation. We can rely on the foundation, the one who keeps his promises. On Christ the solid rock I stand.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Coronavirus Time in Photos

Virtual Tea Party with a friend

Geo-caching on Nate's birthday

Nate's birthday cake with a "spraying candle"

Veerman Family Virtual Talent Show

We've discovered puzzling and are now on our fourth!

"All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth..."

Easter Egg hunt in the yard

Easter Egg Hunt

Johnson Family Virtual Easter Dinner

Kite Flying

Visiting the local botanical gardens when they re-opened

Nature Bingo
Visiting the kindergarten and adding to their "rock snake"

Learning to cook with America's Test Kitchen Kids!

Church Planting Update

Hi everyone! We were blessed to have a WorldVenture missionary visit us in early March (just before the crisis!) to help us put together a video and some other media elements. We now have a new video that captures where we are at in our church planting ministry today. We hope it gives you a clear update of where things are at today and what our focus in ministry is right now!

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Processing Through Corona Time

Hey friends, many of you are a couple weeks into our new reality. Some are dealing with job loss, others are struggling with questions about safety at work. These times are really uncertain and difficult. As all of this was getting started, I started recognizing these emotions. I observed myself feeling general uncertainty and heightened stress. Initially it took some processing, until I realized something very important. I've been here before.

I don't mean here, here. I've never been in the middle of a global pandemic that is destroying economies and bringing massive health care systems into real danger, none of us have. But for me personally, living cross-culturally now for over seven years, I have felt some similar feelings. Moving to a new culture and learning a new language can be very stressful and disorienting. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that I have mastered all of this and can speak with perfect authority. I have found that the tools that I developed for living cross-culturally have been the same tools that have served me through this crisis. And I wanted to share with you some of those tools, but more so, it is a chance for you to learn about yourself and figure out what carries you through a time like this. Who knows, you could be back here again in your life. And it will be good to have some of these tools stored up for later.

My first point is this: your experience is your own. Sounds straight forward but it is good to remember. Everyone responds to extreme stress differently. For some, this time is ultra productive or focuses their mind in key ways. I read that Shakespeare wrote prolifically while under quarantine against the plague. Social media is plastered with people going above and beyond to provide fun and entertainment for their kids. Sourdough bread baking is all the rage. Here is the deal: that might be you but it doesn't have to be. How you process this stress and transition is going to be different from your neighbor or your favorite mommy blogger. That is ok.

Furthermore, this is a chance for you to observe yourself. How do you handle a lot of uncertainty? How are you responding physically, socially, spiritually? This is actually the perfect time to start to observe these subtle changes. The initial shock is starting to wear off. Here in Austria we are into week 5 of the "virus counter measures." What are the things that have been healthy and life-giving to you? What are things that have not been as fruitful?

Here are a couple things from my experience:

The difference between not exercising and exercising for me is palpable.
For me, this can't be overstated. Exercising isn't just about burning calories; for me, it feels like I burn the stress up with it. I can't say this is true for everyone, but for me, I feel so different after a good hard workout. It took me way too long to realize this, and there are still times where I go too many days without exercise while I'm in a stressful stretch. For some, their preferred form of exercise is no longer an option, others live in an apartment where the neighbors wouldn't appreciate someone jumping around and making a ton of noise. We need to be creative in how we pursue physical, emotional and mental health at this time. The bodyweight exercise movement (also the resurgence of calisthenics) can be great options for people with no equipment or limited space. So called "quiet cardio" workouts are also helpful. Find something you like that you will do and fight the stress, literally.

Sleep is also really important. I'm bad at this one. I'm a night owl. I can stay up until all hours of the night and pay for it the next day. But I find I need not just the same amount of sleep when I'm in a stressful season, but I actually need more sleep. I remember coming home from language school and just collapsing on the couch with a full and tired brain. Processing emotions costs energy, and sleep can help us get through these difficult times.

A decrease in total productivity is completely normal under extreme circumstances such as these. We're processing a lot right now. If your expectation was that this time would be a flurry of growth and internal peace, then maybe it is time to modulate some of the expectations. We don't have our normal routines or support structures. We are doing our best to make due with what we have, and we need to give ourselves grace to work through all of this. Prolonged uncertainty is really hard for us. 

My last thought here is be mindful of your use of healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Strike a balance with screens. I'm not opposed to streaming shows or video games. I enjoy both of those things. But we need to be careful how we are using screens to simply numb us through this time instead of actually engaging and processing. We don't need to be constantly pouring out our inner emotional monologues to everyone near us, but we need to make sure to find a balance. We need to remember we are in a difficult situation, and we should be processing it. We need to work through the emotional toll and stress that this time is bringing on us. Not having healthy outlets to process the stress will lead to relational and emotionally unhealthy behavior.

For me, this time has brought a renewed holding fast to the Gospel. Our only hope in this life and in the next is the ultimate victory over the ultimate enemy. Christ conquered death on our behalf. That is our sole source of hope.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Learning through the Crisis

These last few weeks have been challenging for many of us. Most are us experiencing this level of extended uncertainty for the first time in our lives. For those that have gone through a difficult season of life before, these feelings are an unwelcome friend that has returned. Here in Austria, we are a little over a week into the process of being in some sort of stage of "lock down." In the face of all of this difficulty, I wanted to share a few things that I've been learning and processing. I don't mean to say that I have mastered any of these things, but I see how the Lord is working in my heart through these uncertain times. I don't want to waste this time. It is valuable to examine our hearts and see where God wants to strengthen our trust in Him.

A Focus on Prayer:
We believe prayer is essential to the Christian life. It is our lifeline. It is a chance to share our troubles and struggles with the almighty God. As we confess the things we know to be true, our hearts are strengthened. We pull our gaze away from our anxieties and fears and fix them on the unchanging truth of the Word made flesh.

For us, this has taken the form of a daily prayer meeting with folks from our church. I (Nate) was looking for a way to encourage people in our church and also frankly feeling disconnected and struggling with a lot of anxious emotions. So we started a Zoom prayer meeting once a day. The first week we looked at a few different Psalms and heard David's words about distress and anxiety. This week has been focused on 1. Corinthians 15 and the resurrection as the foundation of our faith. It was really wonderful to connect and pray for one another where we were at.

We want to continue a focus on prayer in our church plant. We believe wholeheartedly that when God's people pray, He moves. Based on this, we want to be people of prayer. We want to cry out to God in our distress and carry this focus beyond these times.

Meeting God through Song:
Music has a special place in my heart. I can strum a few chords on the guitar in a worship band, and I also listen to a fair amount of music as I work and for fun. As I've been processing the stress and uncertainty of the last few weeks, I've had some powerful moments of connecting with God through song. There is something about a well-crafted piece of poetry that cuts through and delivers its medicine right to the heart.

A few days ago, I was on the bicycle trainer in the basement (which itself has been a huge gift). The song from Andrew Peterson called "His Heart Beats" came on my mix and I found it so moving.

He took one breath
and put death to death
Where is your sting, O grave?
How grave is your defeat
I know, I know his heart beats

These words put so much in perspective for me. We need these moments. We need to refocus our vision. I need to look to Christ and his victory as my only hope. Which brings me to my final thought...

Our only Hope - The Gospel:
I have been consistently reminded through this time that our hope lies squarely and singularly by one thing. The gospel itself. Our hope is not in a test or a drug, a vaccine or a government. Our riches and our homes cannot protect us. A virus doesn't care how many hit movies you've made or if you're a big-time pop star. We only have one hope. Just over a week ago, I preached to an almost entirely empty church and a webcam for our church's first ever live stream. I quoted the first question in the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?
A. That I am not my own,
           but belong with body and soul,
           both in life and in death,
           to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.

The answer goes on, but this central theme is not to be overlooked. In body and soul, in life and death, as Christians we belong to Christ. He is our comfort and our safe harbor. We have a place to bring our anxiety. We have a place for our worry. The resurrected Christ is our hope.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Experiencing Coronavirus in Austria

Eating homemade sushi
Like many people around the world, we are staying at home right now due to the Coronavirus pandemic.  Before Corona became a big issue in the U.S., Europe because the outbreak's epicenter when the disease spread rapidly in Italy. Since we border Italy to the north, it wasn't long before Corona was also here and the government in Austria began rapidly ramping up measures to try and slow the disease's spread. One day, the government banned gatherings of 100 or more. A day or two later, they closed the university. Then they closed the schools and soon after, they told everyone to stay home and only gather in groups of 5 or less, and they closed the playgrounds and sports fields. Every day, the intense of the measures ramped up and quicker than we expected, we were all in a "lockdown" state. 

So here we are, having been home for 8 days so far. The time has had its ups and downs, but overall,
Craft Time!
we have found the time at home as a family restful and relaxing. We have had to get creative about how to fill the time, but the kids have adjusted well to new routines and to playing with each other and not going out (except for walks around the neighborhood). We have both continued working on some projects, and Nate has been leading daily prayer times with our church to keep people connected and encouraged.  We are blessed to be in an easy phase with the kids, who aren't in school yet and don't have any requirements of what they have to learn during this time. We have been filling the time with crafts, podcasts, kids yoga, games, food adventures, experiments, and some screen time. For me, I am feeling much less stressed in some ways than I was a few weeks ago, as many of my big projects have been cancelled.

Introducing Battleship
There is, of course, some underlying anxiety about how long this phase will last and what the coming months will hold. Will all of our plans for the summer be cancelled? How can we reach out to people during this time of need, when we can't meet or communicate very easily? Will we get sick and if so, when? We are praying for peace and for the safety of our family and others, while also acknowledging that much of this situation is out of our control and many of us will, eventually, get sick with the virus. Our small town already has several cases and who knows if we touched the same grocery carts as those people. It's requiring patience, trust, and also creativity in how we can stay connected and stay strong in our faith. 

It's a lot to process, as I'm sure it is for all of you reading this. Our prayer is that during this time of uncertainty, many people are confronted with the most difficult questions of life and about what they believeWhat happens when we die? What do I believe about the world and about God? Is the foundation upon which I built my life strong enough to carry me through this time? God can certainly use a crisis like this to work in people's hearts and our prayer is that many people who come to know Jesus for the first time. Please pray with us that the gospel would spread!

Bonfire in the backyard

Family worship time on Sunday morning

Teaching Ellie how to play Mario Brothers

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Ellie turns 6!

Our little girl, the one who made us parents, turned 6 a few weeks ago! We can't believe she's getting so big and is getting ready to start school (first grade) this fall. We had our school sign-up interview last week, and she impressed the teacher with her vocabulary and German language skills, enthusiastic sharing and fine motor skills. She has grown up so much in the last few years and is now confident, bold and creative, always coming up with new games, crafts and imaginative projects. She loves ballet, drawing, singing and playing pretend. She's not afraid to go off on her own and meet new people (which was not the case a few years ago!) and people are always complimenting her on her sweet and caring nature. We love you, Ellie!

Celebrating at home after a day opening gifts and swimming at the thermal baths.

Friends party at the play area of a local furniture store

Opening gifts

Another "spraying candle"

Unicorn theme!

Highlights from Malta

Over New Year's this year, we had the privilege of travelling to Malta for WorldVenture's Hope Malta Conference for all of the workers in Europe and the Middle East. It was an incredibly encouraging 5 days for us. They had a team come in from Texas to plan a great program for the kids and while they were having fun, we had the chance to worship, listen to great teachings from Mark Young (President of Denver Seminary and former WorldVenture missionary), attend helpful and practical workshops and spend time with other missionaries. We also heard updates from the home office on policies, training and health care, had important in-person meetings, and reconnected with friends with whom we'd attended training years ago. A highlight was a talent show and party on New Year's eve, where I (Bethany) performed the "Who's on First" skit with our teammate and friend, Beth, and performed a song with Nate. We came away from the week exhausted but also rejuvenated and encouraged.

Here are a few photo highlights from our trip:

Beth and I performing Who's on First

The full video of our shortened version of "Who's on First"

Nate and I performing a duet at the talent show

We had a free day and went to the island of Gozo. We got to go climbing there with some others

Pub Quiz night with our "hosts" (These are our direct supervisors! haha)

Worship in English - a huge blessing!