Afterthought(s)

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The last supper (and yes that is non-alcoholic beer)

Hello there. I know it’s been a long time since I wrote, but some stuff happened. I got sick, and then I was caught up in the final days of my time in Germany. I’m back in the States now, having returned early for a family member’s wedding. But now that the wedding’s over and the jet lag is wearing off, I find myself with the time to write one more time.

In our pre-departure training, they talk to you about “reverse culture shock,” but I assumed that it wouldn’t be a problem for me. Normally, I am happy to come home, back to a familiar place. But I feel like I left before I had the chance to understand why I was there, and that emotional baggage finally made its way across the Atlantic ocean. I also just miss being in Europe, living independently in a foreign place. Gone are the long bike rides and produce markets and endless trains. Family members have been kind and tried to avoid bombarding me with too many questions, but I know I will be expected to talk soon. What did I learn? What were my favorite things about being there? How did the ministry work go? Perhaps I can try beginning to formulate an answer to some of these questions here.

During my last week, several things happened that left their mark on me. One of these was a discipleship-mentoring training given by Danny and Fran. We spent the day at Fran’s apartment, looking at Scriptures and trying to understand our call to make disciples. One thing we did was actually practice sharing the Gospel, something I am relatively unfamiliar with. Even though I didn’t get the chance to put my training into practice while in Germany, I feel more equipped now to seek future opportunities to do so. The other event that sticks out from my final days was a conversation I had at our English conversation group. Usually, I’m not the one leading the conversation by any means, happy to just sit back and let others talk. But for whatever reason, I ended up at a table with three young university students, my team mate Emily, and two Arab men. The conversation of church came up because they were wondering what I was doing in Germany. Before I knew it, the conversation became a full fledged inquiry into the complexities of the Christian faith. One of the men offered his opinion, saying that while he admired religious piety, he himself was faithless. “F*** the rules,” he said. “That’s my life philosophy.” The conversation was all over the place, but it was an interesting window into the life of someone incredibly different from me. Perhaps I take for granted my faith, a somewhat comfortable thing that I’ve had the chance to grow in almost my entire life. Either that, or I’ve bought into the lie of a “comfortable” Jesus because no such person exists. He doesn’t promise that this will be an easy life.

I can say with certainty that one of the biggest relational highlights of the trip for me was with my team mates. Upon arriving, it instantly became clear just how radically different we are. While I may not have chosen them as my comrades, the Lord did. From that came a summer of learning how to relate to other people, through conflict and differences. We had to be real with each other, in all of our frustrated, messy-haired glory. They were my greatest reminders of Christ over the past months, and I miss them greatly.

There are a myriad of other things I could talk about, but that seems like enough for now. If you’re reading this, I’m charging you to ask me as many questions as you like. Like any life experience, not everything makes sense, and that’s ok. Right now I’m genuinely grateful for the opportunity and the experiences. With this, I’m officially handing the metaphorical torch to Emily, Sophia, and Anna. You should be hearing from them soon. Thanks for reading.

All my love,

Jess

 

Guest Post: Emily’s POV

Listen to this:

“…there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” (1 Corinthians 8:6)

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These days, this is all I can still claim to know – and hallelujah, amen! Every other reality, every system of believing is too small now. The world is wide, and how my heart must stretch wide and grow strong in imitation of Christ’s love for all people.

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In interacting with so many of Koln’s international population, I keep arriving at how different they are. Could I say anything more self evident? But it’s beautiful, and bewildering. How does God love the whole world? How does he do it? I believe it to be true, for I have glimpsed his common grace revealed in blue eyes and brown hands; in German engineering and Persian hospitality. God is in it all, and these lives cry “Glory! Glory!”

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How do we, “those American interns,” fit in? Let me explain:

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The diversity of work here is difficult to summarize – certainly impossible to quantify, because it is a ministry of relationships.

The work of this Greater Europe Mission team consists of developing friendships with those they meet in the grocery store, at an English conversation group, during a board game night, a book club meet-up, a street evangelism follow-up, or after handing someone a cup of hot coffee, “umsonst.”

 

 

Initially, this is simple enough to join. Everyone needs friends, and everyone can be a friend. The international representation here is endlessly fascinating, and there are many stories to be told.

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Segways into the story of Jesus – as it has impacted our own lives, but also every aspect of our surroundings – pop up in the most unexpected places during a conversation. These occurences remind me of Paul’s words to his apprentice-evangelist Timothy that, in season and out of season, he must “…always be sober minded…doing the work of an evangelist, fulfilling [his] ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:5)

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This work, however, is also perplexing. Many of the refugee communities we hoped to work with in our preparation are completely inaccessible to us, both because we were denied the government clearance to visit them in the heims, and because when they travel out of the heims, they speak dialects of Arabic that we cannot understand (some also speak beginning German).

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As a team of women, we want to make connections with the Muslim women that are taking refuge in the city of Koln. However, for many reasons (familiar cultural rhythms, traumatic experiences in fleeing their homes, etc.), they rarely leave their assigned rooms, or meet us outside of the heims. This is deeply discouraging. In our prayers, we lift these situations up to a God who loved them enough to die for them.

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In German contexts, conversation is often shut down immediately upon entering into topics of Christianity, the church, or religion. It is a truly creative work to speak the truth of God’s word in vocabulary that will be received by this post-Christian culture. Thus far, Germans do not hesitate to tell you what they think, which is helpful for living with them, but incredibly difficult when trying to communicate a new consideration of an old, old story.

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We recognize that, since our time here is short, we cannot dive into a full-time missionary’s portion, zealous though we might be. Rather, we are finding ways to do little things with great love. Often, this simply means washing dishes, or dancing and reading with a GEM member’s kiddos. Always, it means staying flexible, and praying without ceasing.

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It means traveling with a deaf Muslim woman through the maze of Köln’s trains to make sure she finds her German language class safely. It means cleaning and organizing a pastor potter’s studio. It means writing out the truth of God’s love 100 times in five different languages and tying it to bottles of shampoo to deliver to every door in one of Europe’s largest brothels – a legal business in Germany.

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It means sitting across a rickety café table from someone who wants to learn English and correcting their grammar while asking them questions about their life. It means walking and walking and walking through each of Koln’s nine districts, asking God that his kingdom might come in every situation we encounter on these streets.

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It means rising early to seek God’s face, questioning endlessly and hopefully what all of it might mean, and listening faithfully for what he shows us. It’s nothing dramatic, but I believe it to be water and sunlight on a garden of eternal proportions:

“In the garden of our Savior,

no flower grows unseen

His kindness rains like water

on every humble seed.

No simple act of mercy

escapes His watchful eye

For there is One who loves me

His hand is over mine.”

[Porter’s Gate, Little Things with Great Love]

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If you are reading this, it is because you care about us and about God’s name being known in all the earth. This city is truly an intersection of every nation of the world. In light of that, please pray with us:

  • Pray for God’s kingdom to come in this city. Pray for healing, pray for justice, pray for the truth to prevail in overwhelmingly evil circumstances. Pray that hearts would be opened and lives would be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Pray that our team and the GEM team we work with here would grow in a knowledge of God’s love and in an understanding of what it means to fear and obey the Lord.
  • Pray that God would continue to, even in this last week, give us opportunities to share the story of Jesus, and successfully bring our own relationships into contact with the GEM team who will be here when we depart.

Thank you.

Because of Christ Jesus,

Emily

 

 

All who are weary

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The heat is sweltering. When it’s ninety degrees and there isn’t air conditioning anywhere, everything just exudes sweat. Sitting on the steps outside of the Dom praying with the rest of my team, I feel restless. Something’s been bothering me, but I’m not exactly sure what. I decide to take refuge inside the cool stone walls of the cathedral behind me.

I’m fascinated by how people respond when they walk into the Dom. It’s a jaw dropping experience, to take in the grandeur and size of it all. Everyone automatically switches to a hushed tone, so it remains surprisingly quiet despite being full of people. Some like to kneel in the pews, saying a quick prayer before moving on. Others drop euros in the collection bins to fund the never-ending restoration of the cathedral. I slip into a pew and pull out my journal. I’ve only written a few lines when I notice a small crowd sitting across from me. It looks like a tour as a guide whispers into a microphone and her audience listens through headsets. For a place that has such a rich, longstanding history, I wonder what it means for its non-religious visitors.

This is where the problem lies for so many people here in Europe. Church is an ancient institution that has historically abused its power and influence. The Dom was left standing during World War II because it was a landmark for pilots, not just because it was deemed a holy place. Now, the Dom continues its land marking duties, serving as the meeting place for tourist groups and weary travelers. Just fifteen minutes ago, I sat and watched as not one but two bachelor parties yelled and drank beer on its steps. They toss aside their empty bottles for beggars, who can recycle them for an euro. Every hour, a group starts a flash mob to the Cupid Shuffle, concluding their performance with a short Gospel presentation. It’s an assault on the senses.

Back to the pew where I’m sitting, and my mind is racing. It’s been a fast paced week, and I’m still processing. But I hate that word, “processing.” My mind isn’t a piece of machinery. Nevertheless, I pick up my pen and write. However the world chooses to see this place, the truth is that it’s a place where God wants to make himself known. At the same time, church was never meant to be tied solely to a place but to God’s people. And as the Spirit dwells in me, I am part of the church. That’s why here, halfway across the world in this physical church, I know that the Lord promises to listen as he reveals himself to me. When I leave half an hour later, there’s a little less of a load on my chest.

-Jess

An ode to public transportation

Enjoying Amsterdam

This past weekend, Sophia and I made a trip to Amsterdam to meet up with her mom to do some sightseeing. We boarded an international train and were on our way, until there was an “emergency” and we had to switch trains three times. At one station, security guards kept swarms of people away from the platforms for a solid fifteen minutes, telling us that there was another “emergency.” We never figured out what caused all of the disruption. Our way home wasn’t any better. The train that was supposed to take us back to Cologne was cancelled, so we ended up waiting in a train station for two and a half hours. Eight hours later, we finally made it back to our apartment.

From these stories, it may look like I hate public transportation, but I’m really in love with it. The world has never been so easily accessible for me, a young woman without a car. My team mates and I live in the outskirts of Cologne but getting around the city couldn’t be simpler. Trains, buses, and trams are just part of our every day.

One of my favorite things about public transportation is the space it provides for reflection. I love when we are headed home, and I can listen to music or laugh about the day’s events with my team. Sometimes, we hop out at stops and race to the front of the train, one car at a time. It’s also a perfect place for people watching. We even see certain people regularly, from the Greek woman that we had the same conversation with five times in a row because she can’t remember us to the group of young guys who play football (also known as soccer) every Tuesday night. There’s a rhythm to riding the trains, a comfort in knowing that they’re always running, always carrying people somewhere.

This is part of what I love about European culture, that there’s space for pausing even amidst the business of everyday life. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that none of the missionaries we’ve met here have a car. There’s a certain ministry to embracing the differences of another place, of riding the train alongside everyone else. It isn’t a perfect system, but it’s got plenty going for it.

Happy travels,

Jess

International conversation

As a young girl, I was the definition of a home bodied person. The idea of spending an extended amount of time in a foreign place full of unknowns was the stuff of my nightmares. But at some point, I had to start making the choice between my dreams and my comfort level. It was from there that I ended up at Wheaton, nearly a thousand miles from home. These days, home is a more nuanced concept, mostly full of people and experiences rather than just one place. Germany is overflowing with unfamiliarity, but I wouldn’t want to be anyplace else. There’s too much to learn.

One of the most obvious cultural differences has of course been the language. It affects everything, from getting groceries to taking the bus. But it’s also part of being here, of experiencing as much as we can. To make matters more complex, we are also doing a lot of work with refugees, who may or may not even speak German. It’s no coincidence that so much of our work is internationally oriented.

Monday evenings, Sophia and I help out with a refugee theater production. The show is about their own experiences, choreographed and written by young refugees themselves. At rehearsal, they speak a mixture of Farsi, Arabic, and German. There is one other volunteer who can speak enough English to translate for us, but she is often busy with other things. This means we are often left on our own to try and keep up with what’s happening. The director of the show can speak French, so she gives me instructions for running the light board in the only other language I understand. It’s a bit chaotic, but it works. If anything, you learn to pick up on the things that aren’t bound to the confines of language.

Another one of our weekly ministry appointments is to go to an international coffeehouse every Thursday afternoon at a local church. They make cake and coffee and leave their door open for whoever wants to come in. Sometimes, few people show up, so we spend the two hours chatting together in English. Last week, a few local Germans came in, who kindly attempted to help us with our limited German as we marveled at their “bad” English. There’s another volunteer from the church who immigrated here from Madagascar, so I am able to talk to him in French as well. It isn’t uncommon to hear three or four languages being spoken at once around the small room.

The other language oriented event we are a part of is an English conversation group. Started by the Kings and Fran, it is a weekly group that meets in a coffee shop to practice speaking English together. Most of the people who come can speak three or four languages and have the desire to learn more. The general vibe of the group varies drastically, but conversation flows easily. When you know that a person has actively sought you out to talk in a language that is not their native tongue, you generally have an unspoken appreciation for them and a level of familiarity is achieved rather quickly.

As we near the one month mark of our time here, it’s hard to believe all of the things we have been a part of. The Lord is working in ways we weren’t expecting and challenging us all. There’s no doubt in my mind that I made the right decision to spend my time here this summer. In all of the international conversations and experiences, I feel privileged to be a part of God’s kingdom, as vast and diverse as it is. I’m looking forward to a lifetime of getting to know it.

With much love,

Jess

An introduction to Frances Gregory

 

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Fran graciously cutting fruit for us before Bible study

Hello there! If you’ve been reading my previous posts at all, then you may have noticed that I’ve mentioned a GEM missionary named Fran several times. I wanted to take a moment to introduce you to her so you could get a glimpse of the passion she has for this city and for God’s kingdom. We are all continually grateful for her heart of gold and willingness to share her wisdom (and incredible culinary talents) with us.

Originally from the Atlanta area, Fran answered God’s calling to come to Cologne in 2014. She has a sixteen year old daughter named Jessica, who is already fluent in German and looking forward to going to a German college in a couple of years. Since moving here, Fran has been involved in a range of ministries, from working with the German Red Cross to mentoring young adults from her church. Her apartment has become a home away from home for us, and she frequently has us over for bible study or to watch movies and eat home-cooked goodies. She has also taken the time to speak personally into my life, which I can tell you has already become one of the highlights of my summer.

I asked Fran to answer a few questions for this post so you could hear from her yourself! As a journalist, I have to disclose that the following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

JS: How did you end up in Cologne with GEM?

FG: That could potentially be a very long story! I clearly got a call to come to Germany, but I didn’t know that my home church [Fellowship Bible Church] had a thing going on with GEM. It wasn’t until after I said yes to God’s call in my heart that I learned they were sending short term teams to Cologne to partner with GEM people. I went on one of those week long trips, and it totally confirmed that this is where I needed to be. When I get back, my home church decided that they didn’t really know how to be a sending church, so they suggested I come through GEM. There’s a lot of details in between of all of that!

JS: What were some of your first reactions to receiving the call to become a missionary?

FG: Noooooooooooo! Honestly! I had been working in IT for thirty years, I was making six figures, my daughter was in the best schools Georgia could offer, and I was near my extended family. I had no idea what missions would be like. I had never even been on a mission trip before! I’m certainly not a theologian either! I argued with God. Then, my daughter also began seeing the signs of what God was telling us to do. We discussed it as a family of two whether we wanted to be like Jonah and avoid the call or be like Mary and say yes. So as scary as it was, we decided together to say yes.

JS: What are some of the things that have surprised you about being here in Cologne?

FG: One of the biggest things that surprises me is how much God really does provide for you, and how he makes it clear what you should be doing. He provides the people, he provides the means, if it really is meant to be. I’ve never really truly surrendered everything before until now. It surprises me that once you actually start doing that, how right it feels. Culturally, what surprises me most is just how different it really is here. You think it’s all just Western culture, but it surprises me how different it is from home. It’s the little things you miss.

JS: Do you have any prayer requests you’d like to share?

FG: I always ask for clear discernment on where God wants me spending my time because there is so much need here, and my deepest prayer is that I’m doing what will bear the most fruit for God’s kingdom and not just doing busy work. It’s very easy to get caught up in doing busy work. The other prayer is that we can be fully funded so we can continue to serve without worry. And for Jessica, please pray for protection over her. It is a dark place here, and there’s a lot of cultural gray areas. That’s difficult when you’re in your own formative years of your spiritual journey. Lastly, I need to be abiding in the Lord for me to speak his truth clearly. Please pray that I would be able to do that well, which includes taking the time to rest and listen to his voice. I’m not very good at resting!

And that’s just a snippet of her story! If you’d like to learn more about Fran and her work, you can request access to her own blog at onelifeatatime316.com.

Peace be with you.

-Jess

It’s all about connections

Fresh off the train and on the hunt for waffles in Brussels!

It’s a common joke at Wheaton that as a member of the community, you can make a connection to anyone who ever lived. With the long list of international students and missionaries, there’s a pretty good chance of finding a link. I was reminded of this on Thursday when I met another GEM contact who went to Wheaton. It turns out he taught in the Atlanta area and is good friends with one of my teachers from high school! I suppose it is a small world after all.

Now that we are starting to get into the rhythm of things here, one of our main focuses has been making connections of our own. Some of this is with the missionary community here in Cologne, and I have loved the opportunity to see how they live out their calling. There’s been a lot of talk about “business as missions” (or BAM as I call it), a concept that I only really knew about in theory. Essentially, it’s a form of missionary work that includes working where you feel called as a way to reach people. As I consider my own calling, I find myself attracted to this type of intentional living.

On Friday, we spent most of the day at Fran’s apartment with her “inner circle” group. She takes time to mentor two students she met through her church, one of which is getting ready to come to the states for an internship! We sat in the kitchen for hours, praying, worshipping, and just talking about life. It was nice to meet some people who are closer to our own age and hear about how they live out their faith here. On Sunday, we visited the church of one of these students. Her church is the fastest growing congregation in all of Germany, with about 600 attendees a weekend. It is held in a large movie theater and is comparable to a contemporary nondenominational church in the States. Worship was a blend of German and English, something that we all enjoyed. It’s much easier to sing in German than speak it!

Closer to home, we have enjoyed getting to know the Syrian family who we share our apartment with. I can’t go into much detail, but it has been an interesting time as they openly share with us about their own experiences as refugees. We have even had a few opportunities to talk about our faith, which is foreign to them. Please pray as we continue to speak into their lives and continue living together.

On a separate note, we had a nice little day trip to Brussels on Saturday. The waffles and chocolate were excellent as expected, but the real surprise was the mayonnaise with fries! We were all repulsed by the idea, but it isn’t bad! I got to practice my French and even found a little bookstore where I was able to purchase some titles in French.

In closing, I would like to continue to ask for prayer in a couple of ways. Firstly, please pray that as we get into more of a regular schedule, that we would be aware of the Spirit as we make plans for what we want to do here. We all desire for the Spirit to lead as we form relationships and make connections during the short time we are here. I also ask for continued prayer for the relationships amongst our team. We are all being uniquely challenged in this time.

With love,

Jess