Tuesday, February 28, 2006
This week the cars are in Jena, visiting the hospital & shopping areas, a soup kitchen & the downtown. Today I accompanied Stefan, a student leader, as he was sharing his faith with a 6th grade class on "ethics" (one either takes religion or ethics in school). They are studying Christianity at the moment. The amazing thing is that we- Stefan, another student Sebastian, and I - were given a really open-minded class (a few are pictured below). They asked all kinds of questions for over an hour. When I asked them what THEY believed, the consensus seemed to be reflected by: "I don't believe in God, but like most kids, I pray when I'm in a tight spot." And, "It would be nice to believe in something, like even a higher power; but it doesn't seem logical." "I'm afraid of death & really wish I had something to reassure me."
An extra surprise --Stefan called today before the school visit: "Martha, can i pick you up earlier? The Jena TV channel wants an interview!" (see camera interviewer, right). All 3 of us were on this all-news channel. It was to be repeated each hour, through the night. Cool, huh?
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Culture "adaptation" is a 3-step process. First, one must keenly observe similarities & differences. Second comes the hard part-- deciding what they mean AND deciding how to view them: some traditions, events or habits are not "bad" or "good"-- but just "different." Third, I must learn when to modify (or not!) my habits or learn a new preference.
And Yes, I DO believe in absolutes ... but here are examples of what I mean. The carton of eggs above-- comes in a package of 10 (not a dozen). Why is that? (& why do the States use 12?) The milk here comes in 1 liter cartons. In my first 2 months in Germany, when i had a bike with a cute basket on the front (but had no auto), I quickly discovered at least one reason why milk comes in smaller packages. A gallon bottle would fill most of your basket-- ahhh! Then you'd have to shop even more often. (It would fill your refrigerator here, too!)
On a weightier matter-- how does the liter figure into gas costs? If the auto uses 25 gallons--you need 94.6 liters to fill the tank. SO, at 1.10 Euro per liter (present cost IF you use diesel, which I do, which is cheaper!). Total at the tank = $124! Thankfully, my organization pays for much of my gas costs.
Saturday, February 25, 2006
The university "Clinic." It was one of those weird moments on Thursday & again today when I visited my friend Nadin in our large, glass & steel hospital in Jena. She had surgery on her knee and is stationed just 1 floor above where I spent 2 weeks last spring.
I had an emergency situation in late March 2005 when the disc between my 3rd & 4th lumbar vertebrae bulged & 'ruptured' & a tiny piece went into my spinal column. It caused numbness in my left knee & also great discomfort (i nearly fainted at home from the pain, but managed to call a taxi on Good Friday). They wanted to operate on Easter, but I urged them to wait until I could get more counsel and see if the problem would resolve itself through prayer, or another treatment. I was desperate not to miss my only sibling's, my brother's, wedding on April 15th (bottom line: i missed it).
So many mixed & random memories ran through my mind today... & it was not a "happy" feeling. The many kind visitors from my church; the flowers & cards; as well as the early morning visits by a team of doctors (yawn! LIGHTS on!) & nurses coming in & out all day. I barely knew what the "outside world" looked like (entrance halls on the ground floor), since I'd admitted myself into the ER. I recall being exhausted even though I did nothing very physical. The electric "shock" thing they put on my foot a few times, to measure nerve damage. Not being able to reach the sink properly to brush my teeth. Meeting with Anja at bedside about the start-up of our next semester, & the arrival of a new intern from Florida. There were the myriad of late night phone calls to the States to try to figure out if I could maybe manage flying to Florida in my condition. Making hundreds of decisions myself.
Then the next 3 weeks spent in a lovely (but lonely) rehabilitation clinic in a village 25 minutes from Jena (& that's another whole story which I won't go into now). That initial event on Good Friday-- I had pulled myself off the floor (why on the floor? To keep from fainting-- with the help, too, of 800 mg. of Ibuprofen), gotten dressed quickly to meet the taxi, & stuffed a toothbrush & a couple of items in my backpack in case I had to spend the night-- little did I know I wouldn't see my apartment again for 5 weeks!
It was in many ways a true 'nightmare,' but also -- as are most tragic instances in our lives-- a chance to hear from God. To sing new songs and experience grace afresh in my humbled situation. To cry and pray a lot. To live with unanswered questions. To 'break in' a new journal --which I could only write in carefully in a semi-lounging versus sitting position. To draw near to friends who cared. To fight bitterness. To ask God to speak clearly and that I not 'miss' any lesson or new insight. To connect with verses in the Word...
Friday, February 24, 2006
We enjoyed eating, watching the winter games on TV & playing crazy games ourselves in 4 Olympic "events"-- including arranging 5 rings so they correctly formed the Olympics logo as well as our own version of the biathlon (thanks to the creative Conny, Jan & Caro). It involved walking as fast as you can with a ping-pong ball in a spoon, up & down my indoor flight of stairs, crossing the finish line, & then throwing the ball at a line of cups, trying to topple one (see Lukas with Peter). Our team came in 2nd place-- i was happy with our SILVER! To carry out the theme, some of us dressed up in scarves, sweaters, and/or ski pants. (photo: Conny, Maria, Matthias, Martha, Lydia, Mario)
Parties are for sure a HUGE part of our Connexxion group-- they are a great place to invite friends. And it's amazing how much you can connect in small ways while laughing about a game, or maybe in big ways, when even in the first 5 minutes of talking you can have a "wow-- i really got to know you" conversation.
Ayham had a birthday the next day (pictured here with Johanna)--in Germany, when it turns 12:01 a.m. of your special day, the gang can finally wish you "happy birthday"-- but never earlier. Needless to say we had a late night & loads of fun!
This is a look backwards... since my blog is new I'm still wanting to share about cool stuff from the months "B.B." ("before Blog"). In September ( our "summer break" for colleges here) we took students for several days on a mission trip to the North Sea. We helped a Baptist church doing a city-wide outreach (more like a village /city) and tent revival.
Here I am with our new friend there Jaclin, a champion high school athlete, whose openness won our hearts! Experiences with friends like this reminded me of the photo above: God is the kind and persevering Fisherman.
We led discussions in English classes at the high school. And on the tent grounds we played games with kids & did crafts, shared our faith around the campfire with teens, and also in the evenings helped with praise music, drama & interpreting at the worship services. There were 2 visiting pastors from South Africa there, as well as a well-known German evangelist named Helmut Gohr.
Stefan from our group interpreted into German at a crazy pace, trying to keep up (& doing well) with their loud, fast-paced preaching (uncharacteristic for more subtle and subdued Germans!), which was delivered in a strong African- British accent.
This region of Germany has it's own breath-taking & serene, yet wild look-- windmills & moors, ocean & "watt (ocean floor mud-- oozy!) wandering" as well as docks linking the North Sea (thus the Atlantic) to the Baltic Sea.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
This week 2 men from Kansas, Russell W. and a friend of his, came to my city to fellowship, observe our ministry & meet our students. They have connections in helping college students in the States experience life overseas. Here they are on our "Marktplatz" (the town square). The statue is of Duke Johann Friedrich, the founder of our university.
Since I felt that they could give good insight into a decision about starting up work on a new campus, on Tuesday Lukas (student leader) & I took them on a trip to 2 university cities-- Erlangen & Bayreuth-- about 2 hours south of Jena (see Erlangen palace & present univ. building, right).
Our students and staff really enjoyed the chance to pick their brains, especially at an evening group time on Wednesday in my apartment.
No visit to this area would be complete without seeing the Wartburg Castle in Eisenach. Stefan (a student leader) & I took them today where Martin Luther translated the New Testament --in just 10 weeks!
In the year 1206 there was a contest of minstrels, in which 6 poets and singers competed, and the loser was going to lose his life (see re-enactment left! :-)
Saturday, February 18, 2006
What does it mean to struggle well?
1) Ask myself: what is my motivation in struggling with the Lord?
Jacob wrestled with God, or an angel (thus, also God’s emissary). Genesis 32:16 - "I will not let you go until you bless me." – As we say in German, “Frechheit!” (that’s so brazen of him)! How can one basically TRY to wrestle with God? Isn’t that insane? Do I think I can “win” against or thwart Him? Didn’t Jacob know what He was doing or with whom he was dealing? (maybe he did & thus cried out and ‘demanded’ the blessing?)
Perhaps one way of struggling well is when I do have a "fight" with God-- but in the end I'm fighting not to win my OWN way, but to see if I can get the BEST will He has for me— (like when people say praying diligently isn’t to turn God’s hand, but to make sure that you understand what the Lord’s will is for you all along & can fall in line with it).
And what is the alternative—just to “resign” myself to His will as it seems to be played out now? Or maybe I wonder if my resignation isn’t HIS WILL but my inability to believe God for big things (see Hebrews 11). What if my desires are meant to be fulfilled and I must wait? The timing is off. I must pray towards them & claim Scripture. Jacob interacted & talked with the One he wrestled with; he fought AND prayed, so to speak.
Noch was… Stefan B. says we should delineate between positive & negative resignation. “Positive” resignation is based on trust in God’s character and His plan for my life. “Negative resignation” says “well, I can’t change anything in my destiny so will just sit here.” Stef said, too: “…Because Jacob chose to trust the Man, to exhibit faith in the Man's character to the point that he would continue to struggle with Him.” Cool. So motivation to get God’s best & fall in line with His character, as He has revealed it.
2) Ask: am I open with God and with “meaningful others” (loyal friends, godly mentors, authority, etc.) about my struggle, when appropriate? This is struggling well. Heart attitude: “living an open & honest life before others.” Because if you try to only bury your feelings, then they are going to pop up elsewhere or later, in a wrong way possibly. If the reality is that I’m not satisfied with life as it is, then I think it's ok to be HONEST with God & let him know my hesitations, or fears (He knows them anyway, right?). Sweeping things under the rug is not the “good form” of not struggling with God.
3) Ask: am I determined that this isn’t about my winning, but about God getting the ‘upper hand’ in the end?
What is gonna be the result? Similar to Nr. 1 - in the end, I'm not going to be bitter or turn against God-- no matter WHAT the struggle is. I'm determined that this is gonna turn out for His glory and my good, in the end. (Even if the middle gets sort of 'messy.')
The “middle” is also important—I can’t leave out the process (by only focusing on the END result). It could be what God is doing IN me, in us. Maybe my unfulfilled desires ARE the sacrifice & the identification with Christ. The “process” God is doing in me. If being in Germany & being a single weren’t hard, well, people might say “How cool that you’re making this ‘sacrifice,’ only seeing friends & family sporadically & at a high plane fare cost. You’re living on a low salary. Away from Christian concerts & radio & multiple bible study opportunities & singles groups. You’re out of touch with your culture & home language. And daily learning & trying to adapt to be an ‘insider.’” Then I could respond: “No, no biggie—it’s no sacrifice.”
But if, on the other hand, like Jacob I might say, “although I’m truly rich & can’t complain about life—(Jacob had 2 wives, plenty of kids, servants, lots of animals & wealth) -- something about my life as it is, is STILL not enough. I’m not satisfied.” (and after all I really do NOT desire to live in the US right now- but do sometimes feel torn). The struggle, the process of getting to the blessing—that must be worth it- right?
So motivation, openness & determination about the end/ result (or seeing God’s hand in the process stage). These 3 help me see what it means to struggle well.
Psalm 24: 5-6: “He will receive BLESSING from the Lord, and vindication from God his Savior…Such is the generation of THOSE WHO SEEK HIM, who seek Your face, O God of JACOB.” I am totally attached to that quote by Jacob right now—it will be a ‘life verse’ for the year for me -- "I will not let You go, until..."
Thursday, February 16, 2006
On Monday the Bible discussion group, which I attend at the Quergasse Nr. 1 pub, had our last 'session' of the semester-- here is who was still there a bit after the evening had winded down: Sebastian, Maria (co-leader), Vera, Thomas (leader) and yours-truly! I think partly because it's a fun place, & the music is 'happenin' -- also the building is a few centuries old (plus Thomas likes the chili), students like to come. I know that for me it's really a joy to hang with these guys.
I'm looking forward to what God will do next semester (beginning April) when our Connexxion group adds yet another weekly discussion group -- from 4 groups to 5 (& this semester the FOUR was already a 'world record' for us! wow!). Thanks, God! I do love Mondays-- know why? What's amazing to recall is that when we began the group in 2000 we were first 1 group, meeting in my apartment on Monday nights.
Fellow teammates Jeff & Deanna Davis spoke this week (using their new favorite language as of the last 7 months--German-- mixed in with English -- "GOOD GOIN' gang"!!!). Topic: "Eine Liebe fürs Leben" ("A Love for Life" -- Jeff, left, with interpreter, Julia, right)
Worship Team: Thomas, Petra, Lydia, and Nicole (band leader) & usually Sebastian on drums.
Monday, February 13, 2006
I have really enjoyed teaching an English conversation & oral presentation course at Friedrich-Schiller University since 2001. Today I took a photo of my bright & dedicated class (a few are missing because of final exams that have already begun!). Being on campus in this capacity keeps me 'sharp' --in meeting new students, & in contributing to society in a way which most people in my community can appreciate!
One more thing-- teaching here has been a living example to me, yet again, that there are no 'wasted circumstances.' No accidents.
"God never wastes his men, or wastes experiences."
A quote from years before by my mom. This was when my brother Bruce was biking through south China & a young guy in his tour group, reacting to a malaria medication, died soon after in a hospital in Hawaii. Sometimes people, nice events or even tragedies we come across make us question: "why is this part of my life?" In college, I got a minor in bilingual education (Spanish & English), and then taught English for 2 years in my old high school. But thinking about moving to Germany, I figured it would just be to work in campus ministry. Little did I know... The Lord knew, however, that I'd be able to use this specialized piece of my training & degree again!
Sunday, February 12, 2006
How does my heart stand it,
This poverty of oneness?
The intimacy with the world,
Invites me to fun-ness,
Your call on my life
And my love
When bonding with You
means I leave the world behind.
Will I fail the test
and only take “so much,”
not rely on Your faithfulness, and count You
as not enough?
But are you more than I need?
Yes, in heavenly terms, but on earth
Like you’re not quite sufficient,
To make real my fine dreams.
The satisfaction quotient of my
Body and soul
Says ‘Lord, give me some slack,
Your will comes too slow,
To check all my passions and yearnings
Would Jesus be able to stand here, without tears?
The stripping—it’s started again,
The soul ripping, of things of earth and clay
The grinding, of rough edges,
You’re burning dross away
You’re calling me to white, to purity,
The gray can’t stay,
And I’m hanging on
with bare fingernails,
to believe what I know
about You and your goodness,
of your plan and its flow.
I’m hanging on
avoiding false “options”
To live out what is true,
While having doubts of your character,
And still wanting a clue.
You’ve called me to freedom,
To light and to joy,
But the power and pulling and tugging of
Of things that are good, but not the best, from above,
Is straining to steal my heart from higher things
And wrenching your grasp away--
What can hold me
In the gap, come what may?
The stripping, it’s started,
Gone the layers of stuff,
The burning is painful,
I’m struggling to breathe,
The stretching— is forcing me
To live just for One.
We’ve been through this before,
Must I give up again?
Must I surrender to you as boss, shall you win?
No glory for me, no limits allowed,
Isn’t once all that’s needed,
For my heart to be yours?
Were decisions not made many years before
Sufficient to hold me until death’s door?
Why must I keep giving up,
with white flag waving?
Brutal call on my life,
Stop the backward glance, wavering.
And I’m hanging on with fingernails,
Over the cliff of bitterness.
Over the options of half-way,
Of sin or of play.
Jacob’s wrestle repeated.
“Oh, Lord, will you bless me,”
Cries my soul quite defeated.
Shall I fight or resign,
Make a fist or act benign?
In the great scheme of things my heart wills to say,
“You are here.”
I will stay.
I’m hanging on
And crying myself to sleep,
Over the crevice of “good enough,” or of sin,
Or of half-way.
Yes, it’s on-going,
(Do you hear ripping?)
Heart is pounding,
Got me by the stomach—
Eyes are tired.
A very special treat was having a telephone interview on speaker phone with our beloved Anja. She is our former staffer now working on her Master of Arts in Christian Education at Southwestern Seminary. Afterwards we baked cookies, played games & laughed a lot!... (below: Nadin, Kathrin & Deanna, left & Petra with Nadin, right)
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Monday, February 06, 2006
Thomas, a computer programmer, will start working part-time as an intern on our Connexxion staff as of April 1st. We couldn't be more excited! He's been a friend of mine and our group since 2001 & has been an active leader in Connexxion also after graduation.
Here is a photo of him from one of our 2 Monday night Bible discussion groups. Thomas & Maria lead this group which I attend weekly; the group meets in a Cafe (the Cafe is probably a couple of hundred years OLD!). Last Monday we had a special "Big Frage Abend" (big question night). Thomas explained the Good News & drew out the "Bridge" illustration , showing the relationship which we can have with God through Jesus Christ, the bridge.
Sunday, February 05, 2006
It is exciting that Thomas got to be with us, too. He's a former student & present computer programmer, & will be joining our staff part-time as of April! Yea!
Deanna & daughter Georgia are anticipating their strategy to slide down the slope. (A few more fun photos are found at Deanna's Diary.)
This past week I enjoyed a brisk, early morning walk with Deanna, my friend on our campus ministry team, about 30 minutes up a hill from Jena. We walked in the fog to a once -upon-a-time battlefield. There Napoleon & his Grand Armee won against a Prussian army of 130,000. Many decades later it became a training ground for Russian tanks & soldiers during the GDR days.
Having lived primarily in warmer or moderate climates, I am still learning to appreciate the (brrr!) below-freezing COLD! But oh—I have learned that snow is frosty, even romantic, pure, cozy (once you’re indoors!), creative (the crystals!) and enchanting—it looks like powdered sugar sprinkling the evergreen trees (did you seen Chronicles of Narnia?).
the gate is wide
the road is paved in moderation
the crowd is kind and quick to pull you in.
welcome to the middle ground
you're safe and sound and
until now, it's where i've been
cause it's been fear that ties me down to everything.
but it's been love, Your love, that cuts the strings.
so long, status quo
i think i just let go,
you make me wanna be brave.
the way it always was,
is no longer good enough
you make me wanna be brave.
...but i am willing to risk it all,
i say Your name, just Your name,
and i'm ready to jump
even ready to fall.
why did i take this vow of compromise?
why did i try to keep it all inside?
i've never known a fire that didn't begin with a flame
and every storm with just a drop of rain
but if You believe in me,
that changes everything.
so long, i'm gone.
I was 'brave' on a Friday night recently when speaking -- well, being interviewed -- without knowing the questions ahead of time-- for the youth group at my church. They ask about 15 standard questions to an invited guest each 6 weeks. And they're really kind about it. Then it's 'open-season' questions.
But since they don't know "my story" ... well. I thought inside about a decision I had to make: we could just stick with comfortable answers to their questions about my favorite verse, or my job, comparisons with the USA, my most embarrassing moment, etc. And what would happen if I left here and their eternity wasn't really 'rocked'? But what could the Lord do if I totally got bare and crazy REAL-- and told them, "hey, you didn't ask me yet about my worst moment," ...or "don't you wanna know what happened to motivate me to move to germany --even though i wasn't married yet..." so, guess what i did? (I think we ended up going 'overtime'!) I mean, what do ya got to lose?
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Since then Kim has been to Okinawa & now Germany (she loves to travel somewhere about every month anyway!). And Ken & Amy had a baby (Mary--who is now 7!! -- isn't that an adventure in itself?!). They moved to North Carolina before Germany. How neat of God to bring us within 4 to 5 hours of one another on this side of the Big Pond!
The weekend was just special in many ways. One of which was going to Base Chapel in English last Sunday. Another was visiting the Commissary (and the BX & the furniture store, looking at mattresses of all things, because of my back surgery last year). Kim laughed at how "gleeful" I was over the aisles of American goods & groceries-- what a blast to find all that HERE. And be able to take some goodies back home in my car for myself & for my colleagues (versus take a FEW things back to Jena in a suitcase, 2 or 3 times a year when I visit the States). What kinds of things are a treat for me? For starters-- Oreos, cheddar cheese, Stonewheat Crackers, A&W rootbeer, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, & chocolate chips.
I commented at how similar our lives are-- though we are in different professions, we travel for our job, doing something we feel called to by God. And something we pray & hope will make a big difference in the world. We also got to eat at Chili's on Sunday-- yahoo! -- "like no place else" it was a delicious taste of my other "home."
Here are friends Elisa, Anne, Annette & Daniel in my kitchen! Yesterday our Bible study made Mexican taco salad together (a new dish to most Germans) & we had a games night at my apartment (our study, aka our "small group" ... that names itself "Stockwerk 5," meaning "5th floor" in German, which is the floor of Conny's apartment where we meet each week).
We had a fun time of fellowship, laughter & messing around (they loved the chili I made to top the taco salad!), despite the fact that because of final exams coming up some couldn't come. Saran, Susi and Anne are getting ready for the next round of Phase 10 or Uno!