Monday, September 29, 2008

back to basel

Tomorrow I will be going on the road with a group effort blog this next week. I am going to Barcelona and then Madrid to participate in one of the Upstream Collective's Jet Set tours that we do with people from the states who are interested in coming to Europe to connect in ministry. Take some time to check our JET SET starting Thursday, October 2.

I mentioned last week that I try to have some things in mind as I go out into the city.
One of those items would be to actually talk to people. I am relatively out going but I am not one of these people that can talk to a brick wall. I usually need a reason to talk.

I think breaking the ice in conversations can be a daunting task for some of us. When you put on top of that the inability to excel in that language or even say much beyond "Guten Tag" then you can really find yourself having a hard time connecting. I try to remember my ipoc thing that I have in my head. I pray, I observe and I connect but following a formula does not ensure success.

I have made a couple of observations this time around. I have thought of these before but this time i actually made a note of it. You may find the same thing. If so I would be interested in hearing your take on this or your story.

I take the train into the city. In theory it is an easy thing to do. I go the station, buy a ticket and get on the train. It is step two here in Germany that for some reason causes me problems. Each time I have gone downtown since starting this plunge to the city I have had a problem with simply buying a ticket. If it were a person that I had to speak to then I could make it happen. I could point and grunt and try to pronounce the words enough to get the ticket. But Germany is automated in many ways and you have to actually be able to buy your ticket at a ticket kiosk which is a machine. Again, simple in theory but you need for the machine to actually work. From my experience there is usually only one of the machines that work at any given station. There is one machine on each side of the tracks. I have so far chosen the wrong machine three times.

However, I have had the opportunity to have three conversations each time from some fellow strugglers who also have had problems getting a ticket from the machine. Each time the frustration of not being able to get a ticket when you want it led to a conversation with some one. As I thought about that I wonder if it has anything to do with common experience. If a group of people who do not know each other a thrown together say in an elevator then it is quite normal for no conversations to take place except if the elevator became stuck. Then conversations would take place due to this common crisis. There has to be a sociological term for this. I found this crisis point quite helpful in trying to get a ticket at the railstation.

On this morning there was a young lady who was travelling to the city as well. I could not get a ticket from the right side of the track so I did the proper thing of walking around to the cross walk and walking across the tracks to the other side and was able to purchase my ticket. This young woman who was on the other side of the tracks still trying to convince the machine to work saw that I had a ticket in hand so she decided she did not have time to walk to the crossing so she just jumped down and walked across the tracks. (The picture I am painting is not that unsafe, we are in a small town at this point I was just trying to be culturally approriate). She comes over to my side of the trackes and tries to by a ticket. She is able to buy her ticket. I walk around to the crosswalk and come back to the platform. She of course beats me there because she simply walks across the tracks. I see some sign that vaguely resembles "high voltage" and felt walking was a better option.

After we both had our tickets in hand we decided we would try to talk. We were bonded by this experience. We started in German and she knew that was not going to get her far. I reluctantly tried spanish but she could not understand me completely. She was Romanian. So we settled on English. She begins to tell me all about her German classes, getting a visa here to live, always having problems on this train, etc.... I was thinking of letting her know it would actually be better to use the cross walk but I decided against it. We talked for a while before the train arrived at the station and thus parted ways.

The very next time I went to the same station and tried to buy a ticket. This time I was in a hurry trying to catch the train. I went up to the kiosk and tried to buy my ticket. It was not working or I was not reading German correctly and then I was bailed out by a business man who lives in that area but commutes to Basel each morning. He told me that I need correct change which I did not have and which he had. I think I paid a little more for my ticket that morning. He was a shrewd businessman. Once we got on the train we were able to ride in together. He had an appointment. I did not get a phone number or business card but we had a good conversation and he gave me some cultural pointers like always carry change to buy your ticket. smile

My point in these stories is that often a crisis (in these cases extremely minor) can often generate a great opportunity for a conversation. You never know how the Lord can orchestrate such conversations. I am learning more and more to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as God gives me situations to deal with.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

House Church in Italy - Photo of the Week

I was trying not to bring up my recent trip to Lake Como Italy again but I just downloaded these pictures from our camera. I had to have a shot of this and of course my face is extra but it is free.

I have been studying house churches for some time and this has to be the prettiest house church in the world. I rarely take pictures of house churches but I could not resist. I discovered it in Bellagio, Italy. This overlooks Lake Como so the fellowship hall / gathering times out on the balcony have to be nice. The Media Center / Study area is out of this world.

But Seriously, this is a house and not a church but it could be a house church in the most literal of ways. I looked at it intently. It is a private residence but I am thinking it must be someone who wants to have a house church or a house that looks like a church. I consider ringing the bell but i could not tell when the services started. Maybe next time

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Preparing to go

As you may recall (though I have taken a week or to sabbatical from writing on this topic) is that I am trying out some things that I am learning now from my teammate’s teaching portion of the About Europe tour and some things that I have done in the past in other locations. Please remember that I am on this journey from the tangible aspect of ministry to a more intangible one.

One part of my intangible mission plunge into Basel each week is preparation. Are there some things that I can do that will help me as I go?Obviously I am assuming the role of prayer. Unfortunately I too often forget that we are promised the Holy Spirit. I also know that the Holy Spirit gives power, strategic direction, boldness and more as we go (Matthew 28, Acts 1:8)

In addition to prayer I can spend some valuable time preparing for my day or my parachute into the city. Here are some random thoughts on this. These are not sequential nor is it a prescription of what will work. Mostly it is some things that I have found myself doing in PREPARATION. It may have more to do about how I am wired up. It may not work for you. Sorry. I cannot offer guarantees. Smile.

· I always pick up brochures, local newspapers and read those after my trip and then write out what I should look into or follow up on for the next time. You can often find some good festivals, exhibits, concerts of local interest.

· I try to always take my moleskine and take notes. I might find a place of interest or find a place with a website to check out later. I did this with a place in Basel that does language exchange. It has taken me a couple of times to find this place but I finally did and was able from brochures that told me of something of great interest to me.

· I ALWAYS have a cup of coffee somewhere interesting (not always Starbucks for those who know me) and write some in my journal, I mean moleskine.

· Google is a very good friend of mine. I normally make some attempts a day or two before I go to try to find our something about the city, to find if there are certain places to eat, drink or gathering places. I will make a note of that and put down the address to go check it out.

· Connecting with people with knowledge. To me this one is critical. I believe that there are certain people whom God just gives connections to and enables them to connect you with other key people. This past week I had a coffee with a man who lives relatively close to my house here in Germany. We were talking about my journey into Basel. He has lived in this area for years and knows the people, history, culture and even movements of the church. After our coffee he sent me several people’s names that I could make a connection with later on. Hopefully on my next journey this week I will be able to follow up on this and give some insights on these connections but also describe a little better the direction that I think the Lord is leading me in with a people group here.

· Language Exchanges - In Spain it is quite popular to have language exchanges where a you talk talk 30 minutes in English and then you talk 30 minutes in Spanish. It is a great way to meet people and get to practice your language and learn about the city. It helps both people learn the language. There are even websites that can help you do this where you can set up the parameters for your language exchange search and then set up an account and meet people to practice Spanish. I have tried this in Switzerland and have not been able to find a person to practice with. I found one man who said he was interested in learning English but have not heard back. I guess he figured out that I did not do so well in English in High School and College. I also went to several language schools but came up empty in regards to trying to meet people interested in doing this type of language exchange. I have several options here. Since I know Spanish but could always improve it I can look for a Spanish speaking person. I also need to learn German so I can look for someone interested in that as well. I finally ran across an Advance Conversational Spanish class in Basel that I am currently checking out to see if that is a possibility.

· Writing out my path but in pencil. I try to map out where I want to go. I am a TOP FIVE type of guy and try to figure out what are the top five things I want to accomplish. I do this with almost everything. I usually have 1000 things to do in a day but what are the top five things that I HAVE to do. I do the same as I go in. I just pencil in my journal what I hope to accomplish. It really should be a top four list since having a good cup of cafĂ© is always on that list. I write it in pencil for I do not know that I will accomplish it all and it may change as I go. Part of my journey is really trying to let the Holy Spirit lead in this endeavor. The Holy Spirit may have some other directions for me so I try to be sensitive to this. This list is not that profound it looks like this: find a good map of the city, go back to the church where I visited the first time, find such and such language school, etc…

Essentially I am mapping out portions of the city one day at a time. One of my professors who was guest lecturer at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School was a man by the name of Roger Greenway. He was a professor at Calvin Seminary for years and an urban missiologist. Greenway said something that has always stuck with me on this very topic. “The two pieces of leather that you need to wear out while learning about the city are your shoes and your bible”.
What are some things that you do that you have found helpful in preparation?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

the photo of the month

Sometimes you just need to get away. If so, I would highly recommend Lake Como, Italy. The challenge is having to return.

My wife and I just took a quick weekend getaway there. It is about a four hour car drive from our house.

How can one country have so much?

Great Coffee

Unbelievable Ice Cream

Really cool views

and pasta out of this world.
We enjoyed all four. Go Italy!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

What really counts?

As I was sitting yesterday enjoying a rainy and cold Saturday morning in Southwest Germany (okay my picture is on a sunny day. Who really wants to see a rainy landscape photo?). I read the book of Galatians in the New Testament. I really like this book. It is relatively short so I can read it in one setting.

The Apostle Paul wrote it and says some pretty cool things in there. I love how once Paul says “you foolish Galatians”.
Why did he do that?
I think one issue that he was addressing was that they were becoming caught up in the wrong things. They were listening to people who were complicating the gospel.

This struck me in Galatians 6:15 NLT as Paul was winding down his letter. He says “what counts is whether we really have been changed into new and different people.

I think sometimes my bottom line may not be that. I will at times lean towards efficiency, competency or just downright pragmatism. I can become too caught up in the other stuff and forget that my life has been radically changed / transformed by Christ.

Life change is what it is about!

Paul says this in Romans 12 - Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

This is what really counts.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Basel Experience

I live about 30 minutes outside of Basel, Switzerland. Basel is a beautiful city on the Rhine River, bordering Germany and France.

My ministry these takes me to places all over Europe and in the United States, but I am trying this fall to go into Basel once a week to spend a day there exploring the city and seeing what happens.

Let me give you some context as to what this is all about:

First, I choose not to drive to the city, but rather I drive to the train station and there take a train to Basel’s main station.

I do not know anyone in the city … yet. (I’m thinking positively.)

I do not know the city very well, so I walk around a lot, seeking to discover it for myself. I get lost along the way.

As I walk around, I pray, I observe the people and I try to find ways to connect with them.

Did I mention that I really do not know anyone there?

Our kids do not go to school in the city.

We do not live in the city, so it’s kind of like I am parachuting in one day a week.

This is a learning opportunity for me. In some ways, I feel like a volunteer on a mission trip. I’m basically starting at zero, trying to get to know a city and its people. I figured that would be an interesting missional experience to blog about and maybe others could relate to if they’re starting out in a new city or have been a volunteer mission trip leader before.

Speaking of volunteer mission trips, keep in mind that I am not specifically going into Basel to paint a building, dig a well or work in an orphanage. I am not going to the tangible, but the intangible.

I am entering into that culture for a limited time, but I am seeking out how God would have me make an impact on the city for Him, whether that means prayerwalking, helping a lady with her groceries or striking up a conversation at a coffeeshop. Coffee will always be part of the experience.

The question I am asking myself each time I go into Basel is, of what value can I be when I go into this city?

How would you go about doing this?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

the list continues: intentionality

How do you intentionally engage the culture in which you have been placed?

As I wrote this down, I was asking myself why this is on the list. It seems so … obvious. But I’ll try to explain why it made the list.

In the film “Chariots of Fire,” Eric Liddell has a line that says something like, “Wherever you are, be all there.” To me, this is an essential characteristic of a person seeking to live missionally.

So many times, we are everywhere but where we are. We are dreaming about where we want to live or do ministry. Or we are back in Egypt, Spain or fill in the blank. We think about how it was in yesteryear. What happens is that we tend to cheat on our investment in the place where we are.

What if you are only in a place for six months, 12 months or three years? Does that affect the way you live your life? Some people would say yes. You may think that since you will be moving on shortly, there’s little point in investing in someone. Instead, what if you made the most of every opportunity where you are planted today?

I think it is about making intentional choices to engage in the community and not just in the Christian (or American) sub-culture of that community (if there is one). My wife gave a terrific example of this while we were living in Spain. Shortly after we moved to Madrid in 2001, Susan was at an event at our children’s school one morning, sitting with a group of Spanish mothers who also had kids at the school. She did not know a lot of Spanish, but she was trying.
One of the mothers asked Susan, “You know that there is an American Women’s Club here in Madrid, don’t you?” My wife said, “Well, no, I did not, but besides – this is my community, and you all are my friends. I want to have Spanish friends.”

Susan was an instant hit. She had access to the community. She made an intentional choice to engage in the community.

There is nothing wrong with the American Women’s Club. They have some awesome events there in Madrid, as we later found out, but the point is that it was not Susan’s default setting. Her default setting was to intentionally engage in the culture.

It is sometimes so easy to go to the familiar. I know in the South, where I am from, the Christian sub-culture is so strong. When you move into a community, it’s usually easy to find a really cool church of whatever style or flavor you want, and you can start developing community with the people in that church … and never meet anyone in your own neighborhood. It does not have to be that way, but it is that easy.

We make choices to engage or disengage every day. One of my mentors who has helped me in my missional thinking over the years is a guy by the name of Lonnie Reynolds.

Lonnie and I are both on the leadership side of our organization, and so we could sit in front of the computer all day long and never interact with anyone else. Lonnie was telling me the other day that he likes to do his administration stuff in the morning so that in the afternoon he can go into his community and hang out with people.

I am doing my own experiment with this right now. I live about 25 minutes (if the wind is at my back) from Basel, Switzerland. I am going into the city and trying to put some of my thoughts to practice in regards to this very topic. I love the urban setting, and I have missed it since I moved from Madrid. I do not know what my engagement in the city of Basel will look like, but each time I am walking around town, I pray, I observe the people, and then I look for ways to connect with them.

Perhaps on another post I will write down what I am learning along the way. However, the last thing I want to do is prescribe a certain method or program. About the time a formula starts working, circumstances change anyway – not to mention that my culture here will look different from where you live.

I have to intentionally choose to leave the computer and get out of my house if I am going to be missional.

Think about the intentional choices or opportunities that you have when you go to a new place.

Where do you live?
If you have children, where do they go to school?
What clubs are there to join?
What hobbies do you have? Are they individual hobbies, or do they allow you to be in community with others?
Where do you shop?
Do you do online banking, or do you go inside the bank so you can have a conversation?
Where you go for your neighborhood coffee or tea?
Where do people hang out?

Of course, this list is not exhaustive, but you get the idea. I think we make choices in how we engage in the community where we live.

Will we be givers to the community or takers from the community?