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,