I listened to a very helpful sermon this morning while exercising. Maybe it will help you too.
On the drive to Italy, we were supposed to spend our time practicing Italian.
We had trouble concentrating, though. I heard a rumor that some people were listening to Pavarotti, too.
When we arrived at our host church in Fontannafredda, we felt very welcome. Why? Well, there was a welcome sign.
There was a nice comfy seating area, and wifi.
Some people talk about how they love to get away from their computers. They shut down their e-mail. They voluntarily turn off their computers on the weekend.
We are not those people.
I wish I had pictures of the wonderful American military families that met us at the church and served us American food for supper. Instead, you’ll have to be content with a picture of the bookshelf.
The bookshelf had English books for sale. Some of us spent half our souvenir money on English books there, because we had already read all the books we brought with us. And some of us bought books from that shelf and still haven’t finished reading them because we read our friends’ books instead.
It’s a good thing we studied our Italian in the car, because we definitely weren’t studying now.
Some of us were singing, though. The birthday crew used the wifi connection to sing the birthday song to Megan McCauley. Then the rest of us lost our connections because Dr. Mom’s video chat used up the whole bandwidth. At least we were amused by the birthday crew.
After the amazing American supper, it was time to do what we came to do–proclaim God’s love through song and word. The pastor, Rob Krause, had arranged for us to give a concert in the nearby town of Sacile.
Those are our posters on the doors of the concert hall. The concert was advertised as a free evening of music, a gift to bless the community. We were thrilled that we could give them more than music. We gave them the truth of God’s love. Afterward, we got to meet lots of people, and Rob had some great conversations with people who wanted to know more about what they had heard. It was a wonderful evening.
The next day, Rob showed us around town. He told us the Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of the history of the area, and an old Italian man in a striped shirt made sure that Rob told us how the American helicopter placed the angel on top of the tower.
The angel spins when the wind blows.
A friend of Rob’s wanted to give us all pizza for lunch. We didn’t complain.
After lunch, we walked around another neat, old Italian town, and in the evening, we had another concert in a different town. The next day, we had to leave, but fortunately, we weren’t leaving Italy yet.
It’s been a while, I know. But now, we return to our irregularly scheduled mission team reports. At the rate I’m going, I’ll have to hurry to finish these before the mission team goes out again (without me this time, though).
After two days in very rural Slovakia, we headed to Vienna, Austria.
Thoughts about Vienna:
- Vienna is spelled “Wien” in German.
- In 2008, we did a service in Vienna, but didn’t have time to see anything in the city. That was distracting.
- Vienna is very different from rural Slovakia. I saw no goats in Vienna.
- The music majors on the team were incredible happy to be in Vienna.
- Finally, we were thrilled to hear German. After two days of hearing Slovakian, German sounded wonderful. Compared to Slovakian, German seemed like our native language.
Happenings in Vienna:
We arrived at our host church in Vienna, unloaded a bunch of stuff, checked e-mail, grabbed our concert clothes, and headed off to a nearby town (I think it was called Krems) for supper and a service at a Romanian Baptist Church. The church people took us out for genuine Wiener schnitzel before the service. The schnitzel were amazing–they tasted wonderful, and they were huge. So we stuffed ourselves on wonderful schnitzel, and then we went back to the church for dessert. Really. I think there was lots of left-over dessert.
The people at the Romanian church were friendly and fun to talk with. Their building was new, and they were really trying to reach out into their community. They especially wanted the local German speakers to know that they were welcome (i.e., the church isn’t just for Romanians). Hopefully our service helped with that. We certainly didn’t sing in Romanian!
Kai and Missy Soltau were our main hosts in Vienna, and both of them had just lost a parent. They were kind and encouraging to us, even though they were hurting. They were a walking testimony of God’s grace while we were there, and I hope that we were able to encourage them in some small way.
The next day we had a whirlwind tour through Vienna. There was no way that we could visit everything, so first we drove around, and Kai pointed out the important buildings. We all went to St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stefansdom), and we got permission to sing a few songs inside! This was particularly cool, because Haydn and Mozart both performed there. We always try to sing inside cathedrals, but sometimes it doesn’t work out, especially in the bigger ones. This was definitely a big cathedral, but we got permission to sing, and a crowd gathered. We were able to testify about God’s love, and several people asked questions afterward.
After Stefansdom, we got gelato, and visited as many buildings as we could. Then, we went back to the church for supper and did a service at Kai’s church.
Our time in Slovakia could hardly have been more different from Prague. We went to work with a little mission in the village of Sus. Our hosts there are missionaries sent out by Swiss Faith Mission, so they speak German (and some English, fortunately!). The people in Sus are all farmers, so the missionaries farm too. I think our time in Sus would have been quite shocking if we hadn’t been to Guetli already. Sus is kind of like Guetli, but more primitive.
Saturday evening we sang at a church in a nearby village. I gave my camera to one of the girls from Sus, so I have lots of photos of that service (for a change). We were a little nervous about that service since it was our first time singing in Slovak, but the people were very kind (and said that they could understand us!).
Saturday was July 4th, and on the way back from our concert, we had a private celebration in our van. Amy Corey brought glow sticks, and we turned up the patriotic music. Strangely, I think it was the best July 4th celebration I’ve ever experienced. I guess being in rural Slovakia helped me see how much I should be thankful for my country.
We had our own service at the mission Sunday morning, and then Sunday afternoon we helped with the mission open house. Normally, they invite all of the village people to come over for a Bible study and have refreshments afterward. Since we were there, we sang, and then someone from the mission preached, and then we had refreshments. It was an exciting day, because lots of the village people came! Unfortunately, we didn’t get to stay to talk to people afterward because we had to be in Bratislava that evening. I think most of them probably didn’t speak English, so we couldn’t have talked much anyway.
Sunday evening we sang at a church in Bratislava, the capitol. We gave a concert after the evening service, and not everyone stayed. At first, I felt a little disappointed, but I remembered that God can work no matter what the size of the audience. We sang “It is Well” that night, and several of the audience members seemed especially moved by that song. Actually, it seemed to be a favorite all summer, in all languages.
After Kirchberg, we had to drive to Slovakia. It’s a long way to Slovakia, so we spent the night in Prague. It was a terrible trial, and we suffered greatly, I assure you. We especially suffered during the several hours when we went sight-seeing in Prague.
I love sight-seeing in Prague, but I can’t say that I love Prague as a whole. There’s a lot of dirt in Prague, and a lot of scary people. And it took three different keys for me to get into my hostel room. Three keys! I can’t decide whether that makes me feel very safe (No one’s breaking into my room!) or freaked out (Why on earth do we need three different keys??).
But still, it’s Prague. It has lots of shopping and old buildings, which make me happy. I wish I had a good picture of the market where we did most of our shopping, but I was too busy shopping to take pictures. Funny how that works . . .
I do have obligatory pictures of the astronomical clock, the St. Charles bridge, and a church. There’s also a picture of the cafe where we had pizza for supper. It was a nice day.
We spent several days in Kirchberg, singing there and at other churches in the area. Unfortunately, my computer ate my pictures from those days. Since my pictures are gone, my memories are a little fuzzy, too.
In Kirchberg, we sang across the street from the market, and then went into the market to pass out invitations. There were several vendors who were unhappy about our presence, so I was very excited when the bakery stand lady stopped me and said, “If you will give me a stack of the invitations, I’ll give them to my customers.”
We had several good concerts in the Kirchberg area, but I don’t remember much about them. I met an interesting lady who teaches handicapped children. We sang in a town square and a shirtless man who acted drunk sat on the fountain in front of us and kept clapping and talking to us.
We had Bradley’s birthday celebration (not during a concert). It was so funny that I cried.
Oh, and food. I do have lots of Kirchberg memories centered around food. First, there are the sandwiches.
I’m sure our hosts from the previous stop gave us sandwiches to eat on the way. When we arrived at Kirchberg, they said that we were going to have kaffee and kuchen, but it turned out to be kaffee and sandwiches. That was ok, but for some reason, the team seemed to have reached our sandwich limit. So we didn’t eat very many sandwiches. But, the church people kindly left them at the church so we could have them for a snack later.
That evening, we were singing at a church in another town, and having supper there. When we arrived, there were lots of bottles of Fanta and beautifully arranged platters of sandwiches. It would have been funny, except that I think the church ladies must have made 7 sandwiches for each of us, and we were only able to eat about 1.745692 sandwiches apiece.
It’s not that we have anything against sandwiches, especially the beautiful ones that the German ladies make. And really, we were ever so grateful for their hospitality. It’s just that American young people can only eat so many open face salami (or cheese or egg or smoked salmon or bologna) sandwiches with a bit of butter and an artful slice of pepper or cucumber.
We also had sandwiches at a different church, and hot dogs at another. I thought we did a great job of eating the hot dogs, but one of the serving ladies didn’t. I think she cried when she saw how many were left over. I felt sad for her, but really, they didn’t need to make approximately 87 hot dogs for us. I think they got confused and thought they were feeding starving children from Africa. That, or a basketball team. At any rate, they expected us to eat ten times more than we actually can, and to eat it 30 minutes before we were supposed to sing an hour-long concert.
We were all staying at the church in Kirchberg (not in host homes), so when other churches weren’t feeding us, we cooked for ourselves. That was fun! We had pizza one day, and schnitzel another. Oh, and Dr. Dad made scrambled eggs for breakfast. Germans don’t generally make scrambled eggs, so this was the only time all summer that most people on the team had non-boiled eggs. And yes, we did eat those like we were starving. I think Dr. Dad made 100 eggs for the team. It was something ridiculous like that, anyway, and I think we ate them all! We did skip lunch that day, though.
Finally, there was an actual kaffee and kuchen (this one included coffee, and cake, and no sandwiches at all). There’s a very sweet couple in the church in Kirchberg that hosted me and Tim last year. This year, we stayed at the church with the rest of the team, but they invited us and Heather Davis and the Drs. Parents over for kaffee and kuchen.
Dr. Mom wasn’t able to go, because she wasn’t feeling well. So, there were just 6 of us at the table. But for the 6 of us, there were 3 kinds of ice cream, and a huge strawberry cheese shortcake and pastries and bread with butter and probably other things that I’m forgetting. We were expected to eat the entire strawberry creation, along with huge quantities of icecream and pastry. These people are so sweet, but I’m glad that they aren’t my grandparents. If they fed me on a regular basis, I think I would be dead. Oh, and on the way out, the lady gave me and Heather a box of chocolates!
Some people cry when they visit the concentration camp, but I didn’t. I felt stunned and a little sick. I’ve heard people say before that something left a bad taste in their mouths. Just thinking about the things I saw at Sachsenhausen makes me want to spit.
We visited on a sunny day. It didn’t seem right that the sun was shining and flowers were growing on ground where innocent people were tortured. Our bodies protest the injustice. Shouldn’t the ground protest too?
It was chilling to see buildings, guard towers, and barbed wire. What I remember most was an exhibit that documented person after person. It told a little bit about their families and profession, and then what we know about how and when they died. Person after person. Doctors. Shopkeepers. Innocent people who one day disappeared, and the next day were murdered by rifle or by gas.
In a way, I hated visiting Sachsenhausen. I don’t want to think about such terrible things. Yet, I think it’s good to visit. It’s good to remember the people who died there.
As we left Sachsenhausen, I thought about how it’s important for us to remember the Holocaust, to remind ourselves about how terrible it was, and to keep anyone from repeating it. Really, how could anyone do things like that to another human being? And why did people have anything against the Jews, anyway? They weren’t hurting anyone.
The Holocaust seems unimaginable, but is it? Don’t we look down on other groups of people who are different from us? Don’t we get frustrated with people who get in our way? I’ve never considered murder, but I have despised other people. But God’s standard is for us to love others as ourselves. That standard applies to everyone, whether they are like us or not.
So now, when I think of the Holocaust, I remember Sachsenhausen, and the terrible things that happened there. I pray that nothing like it will ever happen again, and I pray that God will give me grace to love the people around me.
On Saturday (during our stay at Oranienburg), we went to Berlin! Saturday evening we gave a concert at a church on the outskirts of Berlin, but during the day, we had time to see the Pergamon Museum, Checkpoint Charlie, and the Brandenburg Gate.
Our visit to Berlin began on a disturbing note when we were accosted by a gypsy woman. By this point in the summer, we had seen lots of beggars. Usually, they sit quietly on the sidewalk with their cups. This woman wasn’t quiet. We weren’t even out of the van when she came up and started asking for money. When we politely refused, she became more insistent. She actually blocked the doorway so that we couldn’t get out, and stared into the van as we gathered our bags. We finally had to firmly tell her to go away, and then we had to leave someone to guard our vans. We didn’t have much stuff in them for her to steal, but we didn’t want to risk a broken window.
After we dealt with the gypsy lady, Tim and I took a group to the Pergamon Museum. That museum has two exhibits that are right out of Bible history. The first is the Pergamon altar, which gives the museum its name. This altar is from the city of Pergamum, which is mentioned in Revelation 2. The second is the Ishtar gate from ancient Babylon. I don’t think the gate is specifically mentioned in the Bible, but Daniel probably walked through it when Nebuchadnezzer brought him to Babylon. German archeologists unearthed the ruins in Iraq, and then rebuilt the gate inside the museum using as many original bricks as possible. For me, it’s absolutely amazing to stand beside that gate and think, “Daniel saw these blue bricks and animals. I’m seeing what Daniel saw.”
At Checkpoint Charlie (the entrance to the American sector in Berlin during communist times), it was hard to process my thoughts. I’m just old enough to have vague memories of the wall coming down. I remember seeing the footage on tv of people standing on the wall, cheering, breaking it down. In some ways, I don’t understand it any better than I did back in 1989, when I was 6. When I walked down the sidewalk and read the sign that says, “You are leaving the American sector,” it was hard to imagine that people couldn’t always walk there. It’s hard to imagine the barricades and the guns. Twenty years haven’t taught me why some people would want to build a wall that would separate families and ruin lives.
Finally, we had a few minutes to see the Brandenburg Gate. I studied Kennedy and Reagan’s speeches in my rhetoric classes, so I was really excited that I finally got to stand there and see the place for myself. It’s ironic, but I have the least to say about my favorite place. I wanted to see it so badly, and then, when I did, I just walked around, trying to absorb everything, and that was all. Well, except that I wish I could go back. I did go back later in the summer (after team left, when Tim and his parents and I went sight-seeing for a bit). Then I got to see the gate at dusk!
The most special thing about our Berlin trip happened after all of the sight-seeing. We had to rush back to the vans after seeing the Brandenburg Gate, but when we got there, I didn’t see the team. We started unlocking the van, and then someone came up and said, “Quick, get your music. We’re going to sing!” We were puzzled, but we did what we were told. On MMT, you must always be ready to sing.
It turns out, that while we were sight-seeing, the McCauleys went to a cafe for some schnitzel or something. As they were sitting there, they saw a group go by with some instruments, so Dr. Mom ran out and asked what they were doing. They said that were going to sing and pass out tracts, and they gave her some of their literature. They were from some churches outside of Berlin. Later, when the team started converging at the vans, they heard some music and found out that the other group was singing on a square right by our vans! After the McCauleys talked with them some more, they invited us to sing, and then asked if we had a preacher. So, Tim got to preach a short gospel message. It was really neat that God brought our two groups together. I should also mentioned that it wasn’t anything like the street protests and street preaching that you hear in America. We sang (and Tim preached) just like we normally would. Maybe the gypsy woman heard that God loves her.
So, our Berlin trip had a disturbing beginning but encouraging end. And in the middle, we saw 3 gates–the Ishtar gate, Checkpoint Charlie, and the Brandenburg Gate. It was a good day.
The team has visited Oranienburg many times, including last year. On Friday we had several informal times of fellowship with church people, and we met some adorable bunnies. I’ll tell you about Saturday later.
Sunday morning, we shared in the church’s Lord’s Supper service (during what we would consider the Sunday School hour), and then we had the morning service. The church people had invited lots of visitors to that morning service, and it was packed. They had to put folding chairs in the lobby for overflow. We enjoy singing for church people, but it was exciting to know that visitors were hearing the gospel, too.
After church, we had a huge dinner outside with everyone. Tim and I met several girls near our age who all seemed to be involved in the medical field. I think one was a dental hygienist, and another worked at a pharmacy.
Sunday evening we went to a park with a bunch of church people (because they don’t have Sunday evening services), and played volleyball. Well, I didn’t play volleyball, but many team members did. I played a card game with some of the non-athletic teenagers.
Tim and I really enjoyed getting to know our hosts, the Schulz family. Sunday evening we had dinner on their balcony, watched Charlotte ride her unicycle, and learned about life under Communism. We’re especially grateful to Richard for fixing breakfast for us Monday morning when his mom was busy.
Disclaimer: Tim took all of these pictures. Thank you, Tim!
In Halberstadt, we were reunited with Rebecca Kelly Goernandt (a former team member). Some of us already knew her, and those who didn’t felt like they did. We used her story in one of our presentations, so even the new members already knew that she had traveled two summers with the team, then dated and married a man from Germany (while he was studying at BJ). Rebecca and her husband Christian attend a small church in Halberstadt, and we were thrilled that we could help publicize their ministry.
The first place we went in Halberstadt was a hospital. We were supposed to sing outside, but just after we started singing, someone came along and told us that we could sing inside. We were allowed to sing only a few songs, but hopefully even that little bit of music gave hope to the people there.
After lunch and some frisbee-playing in a park, we went downtown for a little street singing and passing out tracts. It rained on our mini-concert, though, so we visited the church and nearby mall. Soon it was supper time, and then concert time. We sang in a lecture hall at a university. I’m not sure how many seats were there, but most of them were full! We had some nice conversations with the audience members, and the church was able to make some good contacts.
That night, Tim and I stayed with a couple and their little daughters. The amazing thing is that they didn’t just keep us. They also kept 8 other guys! They borrowed cots and bedding from their friends, and set up beds for the guys in the living room (Tim and I were in the office). The living room was amazing. It looked like an infirmary.
Every time I think about Halberstadt I think of how much work (and money) that couple put into housing and feeding us just for one night. There must have been so much setting up, and laundry afterward. I helped just a little bit with preparing breakfast, and even that was a huge undertaking. If I had that many people in my house, we would definitely be eating cold cereal out of disposable bowls. But no, they gave us a full German breakfast, complete with fresh rolls, salami, cheese, vegetables, jelly, nutella, tea, yogurt, and eggs. They were amazing.
Rebecca was amazing, too. She kept people at her house and cooked tons of food even though she was expecting a baby soon (she was due the next week, I think). She made my day by bringing chocolate chip cookies for lunch.
We spent one night in the Magdeburg area with the Matthias, McKenzie, and King families (all GFA missionaries). When we all crashed at the McKenzies’ house, it was pretty crowded! If I were Mrs. McKenzie, I’m pretty sure I would have run screaming out the back door.
It wasn’t possible for us to all help with supper, so a bunch of us took a walk. It was just like those times when I was little and my parents were doing some complicated project, and I asked if I could help, and they told me that the most helpful thing I could do would be to go away and play quietly. The mission team isn’t very good at playing quietly, so we went on a walk instead.
Anyway, the coolest thing about our walk was that we got to see a windmill up close! I was surprised at how tall it was, how long the blades were, and how loud the blades were. They made swishing noises as they went around.
After the walk and supper, we had a concert at the church. These missionaries have been working in this area for a long time, and people are not very open to their message. They have a small congregation, and it is hard for them to meet new people. In preparation for the service, they had distributed 10,000 invitations.
Our team always meets 30 minutes before the concerts to pray, and this evening we were especially burdened to pray that God would bring people in. We were in the back room, so we didn’t know who was coming. When we finished and lined up for the concert, one of the missionaries came in with some exciting news.
After passing out the 10,000 invitations, he had been praying for 2 visitors. One of his kids asked him why he didn’t have more faith. Why didn’t he pray for 3 or 4 visitors? So, he prayed for 4.
As he stood outside to greet people, a group of 4 visitors came in. He thanked God that his prayers had been answered. But there was still more time. As he waited, more visitors came. Pretty soon, there were more visitors than church members! God blessed these missionaries’ prayers and efforts in a big way.
It was exciting to sing that evening (and for Tim to preach), knowing that we might be introducing these people to Christ for the very first time. Now we need to pray that the missionaries will be able to share Christ with these people again.
On our way to Magdeburg, Germany, we stopped in a village that still has a section of the East/West wall. We walked along in the no-man’s-land, taking pictures of the guard tower. It was hard to imagine that not so long ago we would have been shot (no questions asked!) for standing there.
Freedom is beautiful.