Photo Credit: Mitch Martinez
I just stopped to think recently, it was when I was 17 years old that I sensed the overwhelming identification to the German culture. And that in spite of the fact that...
- I had never been to Germany.
- I was raised in the heat of a desert.
- I did not speak one word of German (unless you count the words: Gesundheit, Kindergarten, Sauerkraut, ja and nein.)
- I had no clue how to cross-culturally communicate the good news of the Gospel. (The principles of relational relevance and authenticity in communication were yet for me to be discovered.)
It was then that I met an attractive redhead who did not have any better options available (she thought) and being a missionary appealed to her, so we were wed 16 months later. And now we have actually been here in Germany 32, soon to be 33 years - married 38 years. Two of our three children were born here. All three have remained here and our granddaughter, now three, carries a German passport and can only be an American Citizen if she applies to immigrate and would be granted a visa - good luck with that, Emily.
Just for your enjoyment - passport photos since 1980. Before you laugh too hard, remember: time marches on for everyone; you are looking at your future. There was no photo enhancement in Photoshop, just raw scans straight from cancelled passports. They span the years 1980 (22 years old) to 2014 (56 years old). Passports were granted for 5 years when I first acquired a passport, then they went to 10 year passports, so the last four photos are ten years apart - the second photo then being 26 years old.
The time lapse photos now begin looking more like bad police mug shots of some drunken bum arrested on a DUI and a screenshot was taken on TMZ.
I would dedicate my life again and again to see Jesus work in the lives of those that do not yet know him.
Looking back, I would redo many things differently, but one thing is certain - I would dedicate my life again and again to see Jesus work in the lives of those that do not yet know him. My greatest joy has been to see eyes light up having met the One who gave his life out of love for their soul - that never gets old and I never tire of hearing their testimonies of God's grace.
The old hymn rings in my ears:
Great is thy faithfulness, Great is the faithfulness,
Morning by morning, His mercies I see.
All that I have thy hand hath provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.
Israel set up monuments to commemorate God's faithfulness, stone pillars to remind future generations that He is not only able, but also willing. We don't do that anymore, but like the apostle Paul stated, our reminders are people - 2 Cor 3:2, Philippians 4:1. Churches have been established, growing bodies of missionary-sending churches that baptize regularly. Every time I enter the water of our baptismal pool, or wade into the Main river, another memorial has been inscribed: Great is thy faithfulness, God unto me.
Exit strategy? Missionary strategy begins with end in mind, so when asked, most missionaries in Europe plan long-term to see something established. Many times the formulation of their exit strategy is this: rapture or death. I do not have a formulated exit strategy, but have formulated it far enough to foresee finishing my race in Europe - my grave plot is already ready and waiting. With a sense of sadness, we have a family grave plot, secured when our first grandchild did not live long following his birth.
My one desire is to finish my race with joy - Acts 20:24. I do not want to stumble and bring reproach to His name - causing injury or harm to any fellow believers. A lifetime establishing trust can be wiped out in twenty minutes of sinful, stupid decisions. We have all witnessed it time and time again. Hardly a month passes without some sort of sordid apology coming from the same man who was mightily used to declare truth. It happens.
During the first nine months of this year I said my goodbyes to seven church-planting colleagues here in Europe. It hurts every time. And they won't be the last to pack up and leave. So we continue to encourage others - He is faithful.
My identity is indelibly linked with this culture, that I have learned to love and admire. As tough as it is to carve out a NT church, it has been good for my soul and shaped my love for the Bible and the Lord.
40 years and counting...