Archive for September, 2009

Ever been “pickpocketed”?    I had not, until recently.   When I was, a big overblown show took place before I ever knew something was going on – something involving me.

The scene was an outdoor cafe in Vienna.    One of my colleagues and I were having lunch with a mission team member in Vienna, discussing the city, real estate, the Church, and the mind and hearts of Europeans.    The day was beautiful, the setting was ideal, and the feeling of everyone around was comfort and safety.

Suddenly, there was instant pandemonium.    Men were screaming, and 2 men jumped up from tables surrounding ours and took off running.    Our waiter took off running after one of the men, running at full speed and shouting at him, I can only assume saying “stop” or “come back”.    I don’t know for sure, as it was in German, and maybe another language or two.     When the waiter returned, he pointed to me and began asking questions.    The mission team member, astounded, finally understood and translated for me: “they took something from your pocket”.    I was bewildered, astounded, and frightened.    After a few harrowing seconds that felt like an eternity, I finally realized that I still had my passport, my cell phone, and other important things.    What did the thief actually get?    A mass transit pass with about 3 days of value remaining.     But, he also took some of my confidence.    For much of the rest of the day, I was paranoid, fearful, watching my back.

It was all so subtle.    Two men selected tables close to ours.    They were dressed like many others.   They seemed to belong.    And they slowly, methodically, and boldly worked their way into our space, until finally they were close enough to take things that did not belong to them, to create chaos at the appropriate moment, and to escape with their “prize”.

Was I harmed?    Not really, but in a way, yes.      But this made me think: “isn’t this much like the way Satan attacks us?”.      Comfortable settings, acting like he belongs, slowly working his way in.    And then, it’s too late.   The damage has been done.    We were comfortable, and we never saw the attack coming?    Were we complacent?    Maybe.    Were we deceived?    Absolutely.     Kind of reminds you of the story of Adam and Eve, and the Serpent, huh?

Scripture tells us that “the devil prowls as a lion, seeking whom he may devour”.      I have sat in my front yard and, with amazement, watched our cat at work.    Stalking, prowling, seeking her prey, preparing to pounce, preparing for the kill.     And a killer she is.    I am amazed how she gets birds to hold still long enough to get them, but she’s close to a 10 bird killer: a double ace, at least.      The scriptural analogy is amazing to ponder.

So we watch.    Is the loss of confidence a bad thing?    Maybe not.    It hurts, but it also helps us keep guard.    And this is not our home, anyway.     Not losing your passport is a big thing.      God calls us to protect our spiritual passport: our ticket to eternity – our heart – our soul.     “Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life”.     Proverbs 4:23.
Hang on to your passport.    The country we are travelling toward is a promising destination.     “Surrounded by your glory; what will my heart feel?    Will I dance for you, Jesus, or in awe of you be still?    Will I stand in Your presence, or to my knees will I fall?     Will I sing “Hallelujah”?    Will I be able to speak at all?     I can only imagine; I can only imagine.” (MercyMe).
Mit Gott – “With God”.

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Whether foreign land, or neighbors, everyone’s the same. Searching for the answers, that lie within Your name. I wanna proclaim the love of Jesus, in all I do and say. Unashamed? Oh, yeh. These lyrics to a Mercy Me tune have been running thru my head this week, along with a thousand other things.

One of my newly inherited job responsibilities at OC this past year has been assisting in our facilities planning for our Vienna Studies program at OC, and, you guessed it, I have been blessed to go to Vienna, once last year, and right now, where I’m typing this from tonight. There’s the explanatory background for you.

Lots of new or renewed experiences this week. Because of the very low airfares (yes, I do try to save money), my colleague from OC and I traveled this week thru Munich instead of directly to Vienna. That required we get a car, and, you guessed it, that we had to drive on the Autobahn. Tough deal. More on that later.

This also provided opportunity for me to revisit a family I have not seen in 21 years; “meine Deustche famile” (my Germany family) from a church campaign over 20 years ago. They live in a town just outside of Munich (Augsburg), and I had opportunity to meet them for dinner Saturday night and worship with the Augsburg church before heading to Vienna later that day. It was wonderful. Everyone was so gracious. I got more hugs in a church building than I’ve had in years. They knew I was coming that day. One man had looked me up in Google and knew I had something to do with “borrowing some money to build something” (great legacy), and another approached me and said “you are the American boy!”.

I was asked to speak to the church at the end of the service, and while I said a few things to them “auf Deustch”, they had an interpreter both during the sermon, for my benefit, and to tell the church what I had to say. It was an amazing experience. I am not one to often admit to or claim to have had “Holy Spirit moments” but I felt them this past Sunday. I have often wondered about the meaning of a word, “Botschaft”, that I heard often 20 years ago in prayers during that campaign. The few German speakers I have inquired of could not define it for me. As class began on Sunday, I was switching back and forth on the iPhone Bible between German and English for the topic of the day, and there it was in verse 1 of Obadja (Obadiah) 1:1. It means tidings or message from God. I went all the way back to Germany to finally get the answer I had wondered about for two decades. Then the sermon: Not being disappointed or disillusioned when life delivers setbacks, financial, health, and otherwise. The preacher this Sunday was the retired long time preacher, and a man I knew when I was here before. He only preaches 6 or so times a year due to his health. He called me up before it started and shared an outline with me in English, and he had someone sit with me and translate. It was wonderful, and it was a message I very much needed to be reminded about. I needed this “botschaft”. Sherry could not make this trip, partly for duty to the kids, but in large part due to heath concerns. The financial world continues to make life difficult, for families, for Universities, for churches, for businesses. We need to see that life is so much more, and these trials are temporary.

As we drove on to Vienna later Sunday, I watched the view thru the Alps and the green countryside, and remembered scenes from CS Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” and the imagery of the pain of working our way toward Heaven and what we need to let go of on the journey. I thought about if Heaven looks like southern Bavaria and the Alpine mountains. Beautiful land; beautiful people. Of course, all people are, especially in God’s eyes. But not too many decades ago, our people fought each other to bitter ends. Noble purpose dually noted and aside, fighting is an evil thing that brings out the worst in almost all men. And here we were on Sunday, generations from that era and generations since, worshipping God side by side in two languages, showing love for each other, and longing for a day without pain and sorrow.
What things do we disagree and fight about today? As families? As friends? As coworkers? Noble purposes dually noted and aside, does the fighting take control and end up causing collateral damage? I need to think about that; we all do.
Life comes at you fast. What does that mean? It’s a phrase from a popular commercial for an insurance company right now. Driving on the Autobahn, briefly (very briefly, but you can’t say I would not want to try once), let’s just say I got to the triple digits for MPH. It was fun, but it did not feel that fast, until I glanced to the side and saw how fast everything was going by. I was missing things moving past, and there was inherent danger in the speed.
Which leads to my final line of thought, then I’ve got to go to bed. 1:22+ am here in Wien, and I have meetings starting at 8:00 am and running all day. My colleague and I have talked this week about the feeling of culture shock: everything is so different from our home. But, is it more “culture overload”, or “culture compression”? My days are going by just as quickly as at home, but the minutes feel long. Each experience is soaking in: the images, the sounds, the ideas and thoughts. Expressions on people’s faces; what a place looks, sounds, and smells like. Conversations in other languages, some of which I can understand and most I cannot. It is all being compressed and processed actively by my brain, and it makes the 4 days so far feel like 4 year’s worth of experiences. The culture is being compressed in my brain. It took weeks to move beyond the feeling last year, and I suspect it may again.
And a sense of loneliness unlike you usually feel. Others are around; some can speak English; my colleague and I are spending significant hours together visiting as we work. But it is different. I miss “home” and the feeling of familiarity: of what I “know”. My hope and prayer is that, in returning to that soon, I won’t be going 108 miles an hour (oops, meant to not reveal that; OK, I did) and that I will still soak in facial expressions, conversations, and cultural moments with those I miss the most.
From the other side of the world. Guten nacht, meine freunden!

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