Observations

Remember the RV

2013-08-09 01.57.5518 months ago our family did a whirlwind trip through the US.  We had been planning it for a year and wanted to see as many supporters of ours as we could, plus it had been four years since our family had been back.  We put the word out that we were coming and were honestly shocked at how many responded!  REALLY?  THAT many people were willing to host our family of 9???

Wow.  It was exciting to see God orchestrate our journey and everything come together.  Three weeks before Todd left, almost everything was in place.   He was going to take a few counseling classes first before the family joined him.  I wrote the rental agency where we had reserved a van 10 months previously to ask how Todd should pick up our van.  It had been a LOT of work to find a vehicle large enough that we could take all over the US that was also in our budget, but this was the very first item that I had  done.

I was stunned when I got the reply, “We no longer have that van available.  It has been out of service for 4 months.”  I remained calm while I asked about a replacement and what they were going to do to help us out.  After all, we had purchased our international tickets to and from Philadelphia counting on this van.

“We have nothing else.  You will have to look for something.”

“WHAT???”  I was stunned.  They had known for four months, not contacted us and now told us they could not help us out.

I really lost it.  I could not believe that the days of planning and organizing were now for naught and we no longer had a vehicle.   Todd was flying in 2 weeks and we were supposed to start our trip in 4 weeks.   I really felt that God had forgotten about our family.  I also did not have the faith that God could provide something for us in 2 weeks. . . What were we going to do?

The emails, letters, Facebook pleas, calls all brought about no leads.  We did not have the money for a vehicle purchase.   I felt desperate and scared and angry.  Suddenly, I remembered that I was part of a forum for large families and put our request out there as well–at least I knew these families had larger cars!

Unexpectedly we got an email from a family in Georgia who had an RV (Yup, an RV.  Exactly what we had wanted for our family to travel in, not a van).  They had seven kids as well and felt the Lord nudging them to loan it to us.  Hmmm, but the RV was in Georgia.  How were we going to pick it up?  Once again, God worked out the details.  The father of the RV drove it up to us in PA and flew up at the end of the summer and picked it up.  He did not know us, but God moved his heart to help.

The RV was an amazing reminder to us the entire summer of God’s provision, above and beyond what we had expected.  It made our trip much easier and gave a kids a place to sleep and hang out so as not to overwhelm our guests with all 9 of us.

As we look ahead to transitioning to Thailand, I am again fearful, not trusting, not seeing how God can work out all of these details.  We need to sign up our kids for German school and pay a large registration fee per child (5,000 dollars per child for tuition).  We do not have this right now.  I panicked last night, unsure as to how this is going to work, not trusting.

But then I remembered the RV, my panic and fear and lack of trust . . . and looked back and saw how God provided just at the right time.

Please pray for our family to remember what God has done and how he has provided for us the last 21 years and that we will simply trust Him to provide for us today.

Why Europe? The most reached and the least evangelical continent.

Occasionally we get questions about why we are serving in Germany.   “They already have the gospel,” say some.  Others say,”Wow, it’s like being on vacation year round.”  Although we enjoy the richness of history and beauty we live in, we aren’t here for that.  In fact, living only 20 minutes from Switzerland and France, we have been so busy (or sick) that we have seen very little of the typical attractions in our area.

cow mountains

We are here because God led us here.

We are here because we already had learned German.

We are here to build bridges between the Germans and N. Americans in our area.

We are here to establish relationships and friendships with those around us showing love and grace in all we do.

Click on this link to get a well-informed article on the importance of missions work in Europe.

Europe is the hardest country to raise support for as many do not see it is a legitimate mission field.

In fact,  few months ago, we found out that we were losing one of our supporters due to the location of our ministry.  We were no longer in alignment with the vision this supporter had of reaching the unreached.  In other words, we were not living and working within the 10/40 window.  For those who do not know, the 10/40 window refers to a geographical location where the majority of the unreached people live in the world.  Missionaries going to these locations (that are exotic and often challenging places to live) usually have a fairly easy time to raise support.  In fact, a friend of ours serving in the 10/40 window  (whose support budget was double ours) said that they never struggled in support raising and usually had a surplus in their budget.

500px-40_Window_world_map

The history of Christianity is evidenced by the steeples that tower over the houses in most villages.  The church is everywhere, do people here really need missionaries?

Although Europe may be the “least unreached,” Europe is the “least evangelical.”  The following chart shows the percentage of evangelicals in different continents in the world.

Europe                       4% evangelical

Asia                             6% evangelical

North America           13% evangelical

South America           27% evangelical

Africa                          25% evangelical

(taken from Olson–US, OW–Rest).

Here’s some more information about why missionaries are so important in Europe and some disturbing trends that are occurring.

The following information was taken from a longer article called:
“Why Invest in Europe?”

God used John Wesley 270 years ago to start a spiritual awakening. The Great Awakening in England, from 1740 to 1850, provides an uncanny historical parallel for the Developing World‟s evangelicalism from 1900 to 2000, and it also helps us to understand Europe‟s current condition.

Wesley did not prepare the church for the intellectual challenges that eventually destroyed it. His focus was on popular evangelism, spiritual growth for believers, and cultural change.  But he neglected to prepare the English church for three devastating intellectual earthquakes:

  1. Enlightenment philosophy
  2. Skeptical biblical criticism
  3. Darwinian naturalism

The basic worldview convictions of evangelicals who were being educated in these academic centers of Enlightenment thought were undermined. This process subtly pushes believers toward the untenable position of having one foot on their Christian worldview with the other foot on the Enlightenment worldview – with the two slowly being pulled apart. In this situation believers felt a cognitive dissonance and as a result were tempted to accept one of these alternatives:

a)      Convert to agnosticism.

b)      Adopt much of the Enlightenment‟s worldview, but seek to retain Christian terminology in what came to be called „liberal    theology‟.

c)      Retreat into a fidelism, or privatized faith, and reject the idea that Christians are called to persuasively communicate why the Gospel is true.

All three of these occurred. Many Christians became agnostics, others became liberals seeking to keep the Christian language, but without its historic content, and those who remained orthodox often withdrew from the world in pietistic huddles in their attempts to remain faithful. As a result, all the English church denominations have been declining over the last 150 years.

In short, the English evangelical church failed in these critical areas:

  • Doing the difficult work of building intellectual leaders (spiritual oak trees) to protect the evangelical laity (spiritual ivy) from the storm of unbelief.
  • Developing an adequate apologetic response to the intellectual challenges.
  • Loving God by mentoring the most academically gifted younger believers to develop their callings as faithful Christian researchers, teachers and writers.

 Europe is a critical mission field because of the following:

  1. Europe is the intellectual center of the world.
  2. Europe is the leading educator of the rest of the world.
  3. The fastest-growing religion in the world (Unbelief) comes from Europe.
  4. Europe is the place where the global battle for the Gospel is being fought.

The growth of unbelief (atheism and agnosticism) is the fastest-growing religion in the 20th century. In 1900, atheism had approximately 225,000 adherents worldwide, and 90 percent of them lived in Europe. By 2000 this small group had grown to more than 150 million worldwide – but only 18 percent of these unbelievers live in Europe. What started as a European intellectual movement has become a worldwide tidal wave.

Leaders of the church in Europe and around the world, need to pray for and work to raise up the next generation of European evangelical leaders who will confidently live their faith, communicate the Gospel with power and conviction, faithfully lead evangelical churches, schools, denominations and organizations, and give their very lives for the Gospel. This European movement is desperately needed for Europe and for the world.

Doing the ‘D’

 One of my favorite pictures of me and my 7 kids!  We did 4 museums and much more in a day in DC. 

The expressions and comments as I have told people I am working on my doctorate have been astounding.  Some place me on the pillar of ultra-super-Mom (the maternal equivalent of a triathalon finisher).  Others shake their head in disbelief simply confounded that anyone would WANT to study this long for another degree.  And then others have been outright critical, “How can you ever leave your children?”  “It is wrong of you to put Todd under this pressure.”  In other words. . . you are a bad mother and wife if you pursue this.

Few stop to engage me and to find out my story–how God opened the door and keeps nudging me through.  It started with a chapel message I gave at the AWM–Akademie fuer Weltmission.  Afterwards, a staff member approached me and challenged me to consider joining their new doctoral program–a Doctor of Education in International Theological Education.  I told them it was crazy while I was rocking my 6th child, a 6 week old newborn.  But, Todd and I prayed and God answered.  I applied for a grant from Sweden and very surprisingly got it.  Todd took vacation for my first class and everything went very well.  Then a few months later, we moved to Germany, now only a train ride rather than a flight from my home.  And best of all, our new mission changed their name and focus right after we joined them–to education.  Suddenly, I had not only support from Todd, but also from our mission.  They were excited that I was doing this degree and even allowed Todd the freedom to be at home when I was gone studying.  My grant ran out in August 2012, but I just news that Sweden is still going to give me the grant–possibly through the rest of my courses.

I will start my dissertation this January.  I am hoping to be done by June 2015, but am also holding this lightly.  I don’t know what will come or happen.  This degree is done out of obedience and I will keep pursuing it as long as God keeps the door open.  Here are some thoughts that I have had as I look to writing my dissertation.

As I approach this stage of my studies with my dissertation, I am torn. Part of me wants to be able to justify the crazy amount of time that I will spend on this—to know that the hours I missed out of life were worth it and that my dissertation will be meaningful and be read again. It really isn’t so much about being known or published, but making what I do worth the time and sacrifice. I have been privileged to be able to use most of my papers and projects to address specific needs that our mission had. I would love for my dissertation to meet a need, address an issue, solve a problem, or at least raise awareness of a critical situation. I don’t want to get it bound only to gather dust.

Yet, the other side of me is paralyzed by the fear of getting in over my head. “Make it doable.” “Get the ‘D’ as soon as you can so that you can get on with life.” “The ‘D’ will open doors for you for so many things, but only if you finish it.” “Do NOT make the ‘D’ your lifework.” The pragmatic side of me who is already overwhelmed with being a pastor’s wife, mom of 7 living in a foreign country wants to walk the easy road guilt-free. Rather than looking for what I want or am interested in, I want to ask, “What’s the easiest form of research?” “How can I finish as soon as possible?” I just want to say to my committee, “What is the least I can do to get this degree done?” I have real work and important things for our mission to do. Global kingdom work that is postponed each day that I spend on my ‘D’.

In the end it is all about balance. Doing my best in the time I have while maintaining the other tasks God has given me with joy. (Since the time I have is limited, this won’t become my life’s work, although I want to do well!). It is also about taking a few minutes a day to think, reflect and write. Like title of one of Eugene Peterson’s books doing the ‘D’ is a Long Obedience in the Same Direction. If I take a step each day, it will get done. If I lay aside MY desire to make this the most-read thought-provoking dissertation ever, I will finish. At the end of the day, I want to hit send. And move on with life. And use the ‘D’ for God’s work—to open doors to share the gospel, to gain admittance to places I wouldn’t be invited without it.

“If we don’t criticize you, we have praised you.”

“Nicht gemeckert ist genug gelobt.”  This is one of our greatest challenges living in Germany.  The culture is highly critical and uses shame and criticism as a way of achieving quality which is evidenced everywhere in German workmanship–Mercedes Benz, BMW, Bosch, Porsche, Braun, just to name a few of brands that are synonymous with good workmanship.

Coming from a generally quick-to-praise culture, moving to Germany was equivalent to a dip in frigid water on New Year’s Day with the Polar Bear’s Club.  Our first three years in Germany, Todd and I despaired of doing anything right.  We were quickly told everything we had done wrong–from mopping, to dusting, to making beds, to speaking German.  Our self-confidence had plunged into the negative category.  In fact, several times when Todd spoke, a lady would approach him from the back of the church and hand him a bundle of papers–“I wrote down all of your grammatical errors from your sermon.”

When we announced that we were leaving Germany to move to Sweden, we thought everyone would be thrilled.  After all, we really hadn’t heard anything we had done well.  “They are going to be so happy we are leaving,” we thought.  Yet, the opposite was true.  People were genuinely sad to see us go and for the first time we heard about what they liked about us.

It is often that we can live and work for the affirmation and encouragement of others which is unhealthy.  Yet, too much criticism without any acknowledgment of what has gone well, is also dangerous.  I have seen my children who were confident and secure in Sweden begin to wilt and despair after the constant critique here in Germany.  They were never good enough, nor could they ever be.  As a Mom, I begin to despair of my own parenting when every meeting with another teacher was only an long list of things I should be doing with my children to stimulate their German.

I don’t want Todd or I to forget the inherent nature of German culture.  I don’t want us to get discouraged when all the critique comes and remember that “this is the way things are here.”  I also don’t want to go to extremes and revert to superficial overdone praise.  What I want to do is to catch my kids doing right as often as I can.  When things are done well, I want to point this out so that they can be encouraged to continue on and be proud of a job well done.

Click here to read an interesting article (in German) talking about how the Germans view praise and critique in the workplace.  

 

“Your son is too nice . . .

he needs to learn to be more assertive and speak his mind.”  Gulp.  This was one of the kindergarten teachers during our yearly meeting.  Forthrightness, critique and boldness are valued attributes here in Germany.  In Sweden, children are taught almost from birth that they have a voice and the right to decide over their environment and life.

In America, children who are not heard are often more valued than those who speak out.  Defending oneself or arguing are seen negatively and usually equated with rudeness.  Often in the States, children use the teacher to be their voice and fight their battles for them.  But here, children are highly encouraged to resolve their issues themselves.  A child that cannot do so will have a hard time here.  For my children to not only survive but thrive here, our parenting has had to adjust to our culture.   Children who do not speak up or defend themselves are more likely to be preyed upon.

This resulted in us sending our German schooled kids to a self-defense class last fall.  I wanted them to hear from a German the culturally acceptable way to protect themselves in an unfamiliar culture.  Our children learned to say, “No!” to inappropriate things, how to defend themselves and how to use force appropriately (for defense).

Teaching our kids to be assertive and to defend themselves makes me feel more confident letting them go to school in a different culture and language.

The difficulty  that we face is this, “What do we do when we go to the States next summer and our kids are not responding appropriately for American culture?”  Will people understand when we tell them that we have adjusted our parenting so that our children have the tools they need to manage cultural differences?”

I love seeing my kids interact in different languages with different cultures.  I loved seeing my kids slip back into their “Swedish ways” when we were in Sweden this summer.  They were more gentle in how they expressed their opinions and more careful to not be critical.

But being multi-cultural and multi-lingual also has its price. . . playing by the rules of one culture while being in a different culture can lead to judgment or rejection. . . I pray that my kids can find the balance in all of this.

Here are two blog entries that were refreshing for me to read:

I don’t want to raise a good child. 

First-time obedience, really??