A Reluctant Charismatic in Bavaria

Why was I reluctant to become a Charismatic? I was already a Christian. I had been a believer since about 1981, though I had done some regrettable flirtation with the „historical-critical school“ of Bible scholarship in late undergraduate and early graduate school. The details of the story are extensive and had their turning point in of all place Flensburg on the German-Danish border in spring 1995. The short version is that I had been raised Baptist and taught a strict „cessationist“ theology of miracles. While on graduate school exchange program in 1994-95, I fell in with a lively and international group of Charismatics and Pentecostals in Kiel, Germany. They did not buy into „cessationism“, not one iota. I found this confusing and at time even troubling. Our disagreement on this point of faith led to some…tense… discussions. Nevertheless, it was with some members of this group that I attended a „Lobpreis- und Gebetskonferenz“/ „Praise and Worship Conference“ in Flensburg that spring. During worship time on… a Friday evening, if memory serves, people around me, including my friends, started speaking in tongues and I was freaked right out. When my friend Torsten asked me what I thought of the service so far, I said „Dies ist ein heidnischer Ekstasekult mit christlicher Oberfläche. Ich bin hier weg!“/ „This is a heathen ecstasy cult with a Christian veneer. I’m outta here!“

Only I wasn’t. At the base of the stairs, on the way out of the building, the Holy Spirit spoke to me, audibly, as HE had only one other occasion prior to that night.

„Turn around right now. These are my people and I am not letting them be deceived.“

I felt a powerful wave of conviction, turned around, went back to my seat beside Torsten, and sat there in something of a baffled state for the rest of the night. The conversation on the way home I do not recall in word-for-word detail, but I do recall that I told everyone in the car what the Holy Spirit had told me when I set out to leave the building and that I was in the uncomfortable position of needing to revise my entire understanding of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit- real 1st Corinthians 12 and 14 stuff.

Twenty years later…at an international Christian gathering called the MEHR, organized and hosted by the Gebetshaus Augsburg (Augsburg House of Prayer), I was ministering as a translator, having come all the way from Texas just to translate for them.

The blonde-haired blue-eyed woman sitting next to me in the simultaneous interpreter’s booth looked genuinely startled at what I had just told her in the break. The LCD computer monitors showing the stage allowed us to watch the worship band from the Gebetshaus Augsburg and the accompanying lightshow (it was dazzling). There was no need to interpret during worship, and so we had time to converse. Her name was Susie, she was from the north of Germany. She told me something of her life story while we were waiting on the next speaker to start and listening to the worship band play: She had moved to England after her time as a missionary in Asian, specifically Tibet, and had gotten married to a Bolivian man she had met through her church. We had both taken our headsets off and set them down on the table next to the control box for our audio feed.

“Do you really mean that? I’ve never heard an American say that before!”

So, I repeated what I had said (auf perfektes Deutsch selbstverständlich): “God loves your people and His history with you did not end with the rise of Hitler and the monstrous evils of the Nazi regime. The Lord wants to restore you, to heal you, to use you to bless other nations. Like with all peoples of the Earth.” 

I’d said variations of this to other Germans I had met and worked with over the years, and there had been many. I was by education one of a dying breed called “Germanic Philologists”- survivors of teenage Tolkien poisoning who had gotten fascinated with Old Dead Germanic Languages and not gotten the memo that the job market for that academic profession had died about 1985. But Susie, the fellow interpreter at the MEHR 2015 Conference in Augsburg, Germany, she had never heard my prepared remarks before. Don’t mistake “prepared” for insincerity, friend. I prepared these remarks about my love and God’s love for the German-speaking peoples of Europe precisely out of a sincere love.

“You mean, you, an American, you see something to love in us, Germans? What?”

I held up my hand and began to count off on my fingers. “Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Goethe, Schiller, Klopstock, Heine, Storm, Fontane, Mann, Doppler, Herz, Mach- can I name a few more Germans whose names have become units of measure in the physical sciences? Like Fahrenheit, perhaps? There’s a lot you can and should be proud of in your history.”

 The clear expression of incredulity on her face only grew clearer. “And you think these all matter in spite of the Holocaust?”

“The Holocaust is not the totality of your history. For a long time, being a Jew in Europe meant being German- well, you know, the 200 plus different states that became what is now Germany. There were periods of persecution long before the Nazis but there were also long periods where ethnic Germans and ethnic Jews lived in a peaceful sort of symbiosis. Where did the first pogrom in Western Europe take place and when?”

“In the First Crusade, here. In the Rhineland.”

“Nope. Spain. In 1066 in Granada. It was instigated by Muslims. 1,500 Jewish families were wiped out over night practically. And who stopped the Crusade pogroms in 1096? The U.N.?”

 She smiled. “Germans stopped Germans from killing Jews, I know. But it should not have happened in the first place.”

“No, it shouldn’t have. But time and again when waves of anti-Jewish violence broke out in German-speaking lands the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, it was Germans that started them and it was other Germans that stopped them.”

Susie shook her head. “To me, this is incredible. I’ve never heard anyone talk about us like that, about Germans like you do.”

“No one?”

“Well, no. Sure, I’ve heard Americans thank us for our part in the Cold War, but there’s always the Nazi ghost in the background. We’re always just one question away from ‘What did your grandparents do during the War?’ ‘Oh, they gassed Jews at Auschwitz, of course.’”

“Or they tried to start a student revolt against their own government,” I added.

“It wasn’t enough. Not the military resistance, either.”

“They weren’t nothing. They didn’t come out of nowhere. They were more German than that shrieking Austrian maniac, for sure.”

She shook her head. “No, you don’t get the depth of this. We are taught that the Nazis are really who we are and who we want to be. We are taught to hate ourselves for being German, my generation.”

“But you had nothing to do with it, and God knows that. I don’t believe in collective guilt in perpetuity.”

“No, not guilt forever, but for how long?”, she asked. “Some people said after the war that Germans would bear the guilt of the Holocaust for a hundred years. And that sounds right to me. What else do we do with the guilt of our parents and grandparents?”

“Glaubst Du an die Kraft der stellvertretenden Buße?”, I asked. “Und glaubst Du, dass Gott einem ganzen Volk vergeben kann und will, wenn seine Heiligen um Vergebung beten und Buße tun?”

Which means, I asked essentially if she believed in the power of vicarious repentance and if she believed that God could and would forgive a people if the believers among them ask for forgiveness and repent.

“What do you mean, vicarious repentance?”

“The idea that a person who is right before God can intercede for the sins of his nation. Like the prophet Daniel. He wasn’t even born when the nation of Israel was conquered by the Babylonians in judgement for their sins, yet he comes before God and says ‘forgive us’ as if he had been part of it all. That’s our main ministry here, really, vicarious repentance.”

To be continued….

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An Anxious Autumn Reminder: This World is Not Your Home

Photo by Kadri Vosumae on Pexels.com

We’ve been back in the Federal Republic now for most of a month, and the anxious mood of the country seems to have gotten worse. Before the headlines here were taken over by news of Queen Elizabeth’s death and of the startling Ukrainian successes in the Russo-Ukrainian war (update  as of September 12th, here), the newspaper headlines were filled with stories about the impending wave of price increase for everything from foodstuffs to soaps to clothing, all driven  by the continuing price increases in the energy sector. The war and the energy prices are of course related, and those who laughed when Donald Trump warned Europeans against relying on the regime of Vladimir Putin for their supplies of natural gas are finding out now just how appalling crow really tastes when it is served up cold. It tastes like the fear of pensioners who quite legitimately think that their government is going to force them to choose between food and heat this winter.

Thankfully, there are some promising developments in the war right now, and German Chancellor Scholz has wisely ceased on the moment to put what pressure he can on the Russian President to withdraw his forces from Ukraine. For that matter, some members of the Russian Duma and Russian military leaders are calling the war already lost. Pray that these pressures bring an end to the war sooner rather than later.

Here I could spend a few lines railing against the German “Energiewende”, so I will. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it refers to a German decision to force the use of “green energy” and only “green energy” (which is no such thing, if we’re honest about it) instead of fossil fuels or nuclear power to supply electricity for transportation, household use, municipal facilities, streetlights, etc. Described most accurately, the “Energiewende”  is a short-sighted mess of energy policy imbecility whose main architects- including the CDU and not just the Greens or the SPD- are adhering to it with a stubbornness easily and in most cases rightly understood as a kind of fact-proofed ideological fanaticism. Green Party leader Robert Habeck defending the policy debacle against material and economic reality, even as that reality is already giving impetus to mass protests, such as those seen in Leipzig last week.

Photo by Philip Ackermann on Pexels.com

 The German press, is warning already that continued pursuit of the unrealistic policies of the “Energiewende” without more reasonable concession to the financial strain on the populace will likely to lead to even greater unrest in winter (German link).  Professor Werner Patzelt, speaking in an interview in Die Welt online, rightly pointed out that the press and the government are not going to be able to blame either the far-left or far-right for such protests. When absolutely everyone sees the results of the decisions made in Berlin on their utility bills, no one will be able to tell them some populist is just making it all up (link to German interview here).Or when the blackouts, which the head of the German Association of Municipalities and Communities, Gerd Landsberg, just called a „given“ in a newspaper interview, do happen. Germany has gas, oil, coal and nuclear power plants it could keep online for a few years longer, but…that wouldn’t suit the “green” ideological aims of the current government. It’s easier, for them anyway, to approve new short-term relief packages for industries and taxpayers than to alter course long-term by adopting an energy policy that embraces an “all of the above” approach and gives technology time to catch up with Germany’s dreams of a greener future. In short, they’re buying people off to buy themselves time to find a better solution.

Photo by Ingo Joseph on Pexels.com

Pray they do, and soon.

Which means that it is a difficult time to be living here. Certainly, living here now is more difficult, the atmosphere more anxiety-ridden, than any other time I’ve lived in Europe, and I’ve been living here for periods ranging in length from six months to now over seven years since 1990. And that includes the end of the Cold War, the entire Balkan War and the early days of the Global War on Terror. But, not for this life and this world do we have our hope in Christ Jesus. If we take Jesus, Paul, the Prophets and for that matter the whole Bible, Torah to Revelation, seriously, we cannot expect our lives here to be trouble-free afternoons in the park- endless steak, beer and funnel cake. We in the west have certainly gotten used to peace and plenty, but we in the Kingdom of God on earth, while being thankful for the long period of relatively irenic geopolitics and material well-being, must not panic when things move back in the direction of the historical norms of war and privation. We should instead let these times stir up our longing for Christ’s return and our compassion for our neighbors in the months to come.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As for the government in Berlin, pray for them to make better decisions in the near future, and pray that all of us here receive greater patience and wisdom.

As for us, please pray for the new school year, for work with both Reasons to Believe and for Toward Jerusalem Council II as we head into the High Holy Days on the Jewish calendar. We also have our usual shifts in the Gebetshaus this week, so pray that those be guided by the Holy Spirit more than by any prayer leader.

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Please do keep Germany and us in your prayers. If you are able to support us with a contribution here, we’d be grateful. It would help keep the lights on, for one.


A Long-Overdue Visit Home

Prior to August 4th, 2022, I had not heard or seen this fellow for three years

Before this August, we had not been to the U.S. for three years. Yeah. Three years of not seeing family, close friends and associates from the homeland in person. And as much as I would like to blame all of it on the panicked and irrational overreactions of international governments to the COVID-19 wave (and they were a factor), money also played a role. With international travel and tourism industries all but shut down globally and the global economy forced into a contraction from which it still might not recover any time soon, demand for translation services dropped off a cliff. And even with the recovery the industry has seen in 2021-22 (so far), travel would not have been possible without the help of our supporting churches in Indiana (Grace Community of Montpelier) and Texas (Hope Chapel of Austin). So, with enormous gratitude, here are some images from and reflections on our trip.

I. Getting out of Munich

Munich whose Franz Josef Stauß Airport is our point of departure

This was difficult, believe it or not. Some of the difficulty because of road construction in the Bavarian capital, but much more because of security. We went through security– including the outbound passport check – a total of four times. In part this was due to Munich’s airport authority having drastically underestimated the speed with which post-COVID-19-apocalypse travel would return to pre-Covid-19-apocalypse travel volume. They had the security gates shut down for two whole concourses. And then there’s the little added difficulty that American-bound planes, due to anti-terrorism measures, are boarded on tarmac in a nice little waiting area all their own, to which passengers must be bussed from the main terminal. We had allotted 3 hours’ time to deal with security and we nevertheless barely made our flight.

At least we dodged the strikes. Those had looked like they could impact us a week earlier.

On arrival in Detroit, it was a bit…odd dealing with security. Hint: Never travel with an emergency passport. You get questioned. It slows you down. Why did I have an emergency passport? The old one was going to expire and we weren’t sure I’d get it back in time to travel, so the kind folks at the U.S. Consulate issued me one of those thin, sort of Pepto-Bismol-Meets-Tanned-Barney-the-Dinosaur-Hide-colored ones. And…I had to explain why I had it to every single security agent from Munich to Detroit.

II. Arrival in Detroit

We arrived there early, to our delighted surprise. The flight to Detroit Wayne County touched down in the mid-afternoon and we found my sister and brother-in-law quickly. And this was the greeting we found waiting for us in their minivan:

The drive through southern Michigan to their home in rural northeast Indiana took longer than expected (road construction is an international constant in summer). Our time in the mostly flat Hoosier state, my lovely home state, was mostly spent with family. We attended two birthday parties, and on the first Sunday of our visit, I spoke about our mission in Germany at Grace Community Church in Montpelier, the very church where I came to faith in Jesus about 42 years ago. That was the first time in three years that I have spoken publicly, and, Felicia tells me, I had forgotten how to use a microphone properly… but it seems I was loud enough to be heard clearly.

Patch of Indiana wildflowers between cornfields

We also went to the Gene Stratton Porter historic site in Geneva, Indiana, and to the Loblolly Marsh, where Stratton-Porter did a lot of her field work in botany and ornithology. It looked like this:

Loblolly Marsh not too far off of State Road 218 near Geneva, Indiana. Looking to the northwest.

If you are not from Indiana, you may not have heard of GSP. In that case, here are two sites that can give you something of a Stratton-Porter primer:

Gene Stratton-Porter, Author, Photographer, and Naturalist (literaryladiesguide.com)

Gene Stratton-Porter (indianahistory.org)

She was a very popular and successful writer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (she died in 1924) and one of those writers who wrote both fiction and academic non-fiction, specifically in the field of naturalism.

While we were the Berne/Geneva area, we also collected some proof that German as a language is not entirely dead in Indiana:

Deutsch lebt!

We also got to have the best pie in Decatur, Indiana. It was at the West End Diner. It looked like this:

Well, this is the best peach pie, anyway. The apple-caramel was the best of its kind, too.

We also found out that Adams County, Indiana, is even more Amish than it was when I was in high school, so we saw a fseveral signs like these along the road.

A caution sign to auto drivers to be on the lookout for Amish horses and buggies. Original image from Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress collection. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel. by Carol M Highsmith is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

III. Texas- Austin/Elgin/Bastrop

We had quite been looking forward to returning to Texas. Thomas Cogdell, a friend from Austin House of Prayer, Hope Chapel and Wittenberg 2017, picked us up and, again, we got there not just on-time but early.

[Note: About the latter, the archive and the book on the initiative, written by Thomas and Amy Cogdell, can be found here: Home (wittenberg2017.us) . Read the archive and order the book for a better understanding of the call to reconciliation between the major streams of the body of Christ on Earth.]

And minutes after our arrival in Austin, we saw the brand-new Tesla plant, which is in the running for largest-area building in the history of the world. It, along with the still-under-construction headquarters of the Boring Company. Both were on the routes to Christ the Reconciler, the community ministry we belong to, and to the Help for All Nations Texas Mission Base where we stayed. Neither of these places was in the heart of Elon Musk territory when we left Texas for Germany in 2015 or even during our last visit in 2019. Oh, what a difference 1,095 days make…

The time in Texas was lamentably brief and also, as a by-product of that brevity, filled with appointments and visits. We had to take one day to visit Felicia’s real home town of Round Rock, where she wanted to see the public library and the Star Café again. They had been favorite places of ours when she was little and it meant a lot to see them again, even if the Star was now called the Lamppost and had run out of sandwich ingredients when we arrived that day. The most important part were the meetings with Hope Chapel and with our community at Christ the Reconciler, where the people who sent us out prayed for us. You could do the same, by the way. Pray especially for the ministry and work we are doing with the Gebetshaus Augsburg, Reasons to Believe, the Koinonia Community and Toward Jerusalem Council II.

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Against the Spirit of Angst

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

Angst is one of those lovely German words that has made it into the English LexiCon. Like FLAK, Weltschmerz, EKG, Schadenfreude and Bratwurst. It is generally translated as „fear“ or „anxiety“, but in my not at all humble opinion as professional translator and holder of a Doctorate in Germanic Languages and Literatures, it would be better translated as „enduring, persistent anxiety“. Furcht? That’s the real German word for „fear“ and, jawohl, there is some overlap with Angst, but it seems to be less of a lasting mental condition. Then, there is Schrecken is „terror“, and also seems by nature temporary.  No, Angst, per se et per definitionem, is constant. It’s not a jump-scare-feeling nor a life-just-flashed-before-my-eyes moment induced by a near-death experience you had while merging on the Autobahn (these are common). Angst is a predator that gnaws you and worries you when it gets its fangs in. And right now, has it ever got its fangs into the collective German psyche.

And it has a wide variety of forms. There’s Zukunftsangst (future-anxiety), Klimaangst (climate-anxiety), Abstiegssangst (anxiety about loss of socio-economic status)and Kriegsangst (war-anxiety). At least, these are the main varieties being mongered by the German Media Angst Industry. The last of the four is the most easily understandable. Kiev is only 748 miles from Berlin, and the German government has been – with significant foot-dragging and internal argument—supporting Ukraine against Russia, which leads directly to the other three fears. That anxiety about losing socio-economic status, basically a fear of immiseration and impoverishment, is the immediate offspring of the fears arising from Russia’s use of its gas exports to keep Germany from intervening too effectively in its war of conquest against its neighbor to the west. And the reason this natural gas blackmail from Czar Vladimir the Vicious and Short-Sighted is working so very well, that is the immediate offspring of that climate anxiety, which in the last decade or so, has driven the fanatical cultists of the First Church of Anthropogenic Global Warming in the German government to make increasingly irrational and dangerous decisions about the country’s energy policy. Unless those steering that ship of fools in the German capital decide to reverse course soon, there is every prospect that the Germans will be going broke while starving in the dark and freezing in the winter of 2023. The fear of the future? It flows naturally from the others: if one thinks the future only holds war, poverty and misery, then the future is not a destination one is eager to reach. The future is a constant source of anxiety and trepidation. Thinking about the future might even be something that keeps you from feeling or even seeking peace.  It might even tempt you in the direction of despair.

Protest by alan fairweather is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

What this means for spirit-filled Christians in the middle of Europe is that we have a gift that we need to guard in our own hearts and share with others. The verse that most immediately comes to mind for most Christians who frequent bookstores that cater to our co-religionists is almost certainly 1 Tim 1:7, that verse about God not having given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. There are other passages, as well, warning us against giving into fear or worry, not the least important one being the words Jesus himself spoke in Matthew 7:25 to 34. When our neighbors are being pursued by the spiritual forces of anxiety, we need to be bulwarks of faith, drawing on the Holy Spirit to keep us out of the jaws of those same anxieties. And the motivation has to come from the love: We don’t join our neighbors in fretting, in meditations on our anxieties and their sources. The love of God in us drives our fear, right? Or, as another John said it about 2,000 years ago (in German for clarity’s sake):

Wo die Liebe regiert, hat die Angst keinen Platz; Gottes vollkommene Liebe vertreibt jede Angst.

Where love reigns, Angst has no place; God’s perfect love drives out Angst.

Love, power and a sound mind. We dearly need to keep these facts about our spiritual reality near the forefronts of our minds in the days and weeks to come, while keeping the geo-political developments and results of international struggles in sight. We do not hide from or pretend it is not influencing our world. We must stand on love and wisdom, while not getting carried away by the spirit of Angst abroad in the land.

And about our summer plans….

We will be travelling to the U.S. next week visiting our family in Indiana and our sending ministry in Texas. More information is available only on a need to know basis. Send me a message and I’ll decide if you need to know… In the mean time keep Germany and Ukraine in your prayers. Praying for us and our ministries with Toward Jerusalem Council II Germany and Reasons to Believe. I am still looking for a German publisher for translations of Hugh Ross’s books and making plans to start a Chapter of RTB in Germany.

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Christians, Science and Reconciliation

Photo by Philippe Donn on Pexels.com

If you have a lively interest in the intersection of the Christian faith and the natural sciences, you should, if you have not already, familiarize yourself with the ministry Reasons to Believe. Founded by astrophysicist Hugh Ross in 1986, the ministry aims to fulfil a part of the Great Commission by demonstrating the harmony between the book of scripture and the book of nature. The scholars at RTB have produced a solid body of research, scholarly papers and books in their fields, and the ministry itself regularly produces video presentations on new discoveries and their implications for the field of Christian apologetics. One such video came to my attention recently for an unexpected reason.

The presenter is astrophysicist Sarah Salviander, whose testimony you can read on her page. The point she made that got my attention comes at about the 55:00 mark of her presentation to the University of Texas (Austin) Chapter of RTB, uploaded to YouTube on July 7th:

Do watch or listen to the whole presentation, but the key point she makes in those two minutes or so is that Christians in particular must not wage rhetorical wars against each other over questions about the interaction between the Book of Nature and the Books of Scripture, particularly in the area of origins of the universe and origins of life. Loosely stated, there are three main camps among Christians (as well as Jews and Muslims to some degree): The young-Earth /young-universe creationist camp (YEC), the theistic evolution camp (TE), the old-earth creationist (OEC) camp and the intelligent design (ID) camp. And does the vitriol ever fly between these groups at times. It’s not that there is no reasoned and polite dialogue between advocates of ID and TE  or believers who adhere to OEC or TE accounts of origins  or even or between both of those groups and representatives of a denominiation generally known as YEC. Yet, over time, I have seen that the most intense conflict is (perhaps unsurprisingly) between the young-Earth creationists and…anyone else.

I wish I were kidding. For that matter, I wish Dr. Salviander had been kidding when she noted that the most painful attacks on her faith when she began speaking publicly as an apologist came not from the Devouts of the First Church of Richard Dawkins, but from fellow Christians who take belief in a literal six-day creation as the indispensable foundation of any biblical faith. It isn’t. At all. Ask St. Augustine  about that one. But this fact has not and does not keep some YECs from appointing themselves the Heresy Police Special TEOECID Division. And Dr. Salviander is quite right in pointing out that this conflict between believers is a true hindrance to our witness to the unbelieving world around us. Instead of attacking each other for holding different views of the relation between the Book of Nature and the Books of Scripture, we ought instead affirm the essential, shared elements of our faith, best embodied in the Nicean Creed, and let debatable matters (like how God created the cosmos, not that He did) remain open to research, debate and discussion.

Later I will post an update about our ministry and plans for the next weeks. Hint: We’re visiting the U.S. in August. Details available by request only.

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Three Holy Trees and a Stump

A Mighty Bavarian Oak

My friend has a problem. It is a contemplative problem and a landscaping problem at the same time. She has been given a plot of land with which she can do as she likes—planting a garden or building a rustic seat—but in the middle of the plot there is a large stump. She is philosophical about it. She tells me that she has sown compost materials in the middle of the stump, and that she will wait until winter, to see how far they have taken effect. She will give to the stump her “winter thoughts.” I picture her with feet propped on the grate, drinking peppermint tea, and thinking about her stump and how far it has gotten with the process of rotting. Snow will fall outside, drift over the whole plot until only the lantern pole is showing above it. Then finally it will be spring, and my friend will plant her garden.

A Linden Stump

The stump is that of a Linden tree, one of three trees planted together on the little hillock above the main building. It is the custom in Bavaria to plant a Beech tree, a Linden and an Oak on the same bit of land together. They are meant to stand as a visual diagram of the Trinity. The trees grow together and their branches bend this way and that in the wind. The leaning of the Linden is distinct from the uprightness of the Oak, and the Beech sheds its shade in dappled shadow that is like neither the Oak or the Linden.

Two of the original trinity trees were blown down in Cyclone Kyrill that hit southern Germany in 2007. Of the three only the Oak still stands, a great tower of light and color in summer, a black cathedral scaffolding in winter.

Right now, it is summer in Germany. Days are hot, and we spend an hour or two on Sunday evening sitting together under the Oak tree, and talk about the great storm and the day the trees blew down. A black cloud came from the fir forest—we point vaguely to the mountain looming north of the building, and a great wind came up. The Linden tree and the Beech tree fell on each other and in their fall took down a third tree, blocking the entire driveway and street above it.

Abraham met three beautiful strangers in the heat of the day under the Oak trees at Mamre. I can imagine how struck he must have been with their beauty as he stood there staring up into the oak leaves moving and murmuring like silhouetted faces, in and out of sunlight. He begged them not to leave until he had a chance to serve them what refreshment he had from his house.

Encountering the three men under the tree must have been the ultimate “friendship meeting”, probably unlike any celebration Abraham had ever attended. Perhaps he shared with these three something of his journey away from city life in Ur. He must have gone to bed that night with a smile on his lips, just thinking about how it was being with those three under the huge branches.  

Christian community is about encounter. Casual encounters with old acquaintances, and even disappointing encounters with stumps. As it turns out, the roots of a large tree take some time to become rich loam. My friend’s garden plans will have to take the three old trees into account. It is a German virtue that the Germans know well how to do this. Instead of changing everything at once, you must work with the land you have, and sometimes with the people you have. Community is not divorced from place. Place matters, and its defining features change over time.

The Martin Family continues its mission in Augsburg

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Faith, Healing and Medical Conditions, Past and Present

Medieval stone relief depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd, Volkenroda Abbey

Back in 2019, I broke my left leg. It was a vertical fracture of the tibia. The fun part? This happened about fifty hours before we were to fly to Indiana and Texas on a „U.S. Tour“. The subsequent immobililty the broken leg imposed on me caused a deep vein thrombosis to form, a very pronounced one. I was alreaday taking blood thinner, Heparin, prophylatically. So, something else was up. Treating the DVT back then led to having blood work done, and that led discovery that I am a mutant.

No. Really. I have a gene mutation that causes my blood to coagulate more readily than it should. We call this „thrombophylia“. So, I tend to form thromboses if I am immobile too long…like, say, when writing. Which I do for a living. Yes, this can be treated with blood thinners, but they have their own risks. And my doctor has been willing to work with me to find out if I can live without them.

The answer, based on today’s medical finding is a very clear „NEIN“. Right now, I’ve got a four-level thrombosis with the blockage points starting in the hip, femoral artery, back of my knee and middle of the left calf. The thrombosis seems not to be as pronounced as the last one insofar as the doctor examining me did not exclaim „Mein Gott! Es kommt kaum Blut durch.“ („My God! Hardly any blood is getting through.“) And I am on blood thinner again. Eliquis this time. 5mg twice daily.

This is not the first time I have had a chronic health condition. As a child and until a few years ago, I had an atrio-ventricular heart defect. I remember praying to be healed from it several times in my childhood, and that prayer was not answered for some years. That event I wrote about here (about 2/3 through the text):

“Do a blog entry about supernatural healing and rationality.”

What I elided for reasons of space in that account was that for the longest swathe of my life, the heart murmur had been something every single doctor I visited remarked on, that my parents and other relatives constantly worried about, often in my presence. Their anxieties about my conditions did cause me some anxiety, more about them than me really. It was just damned annoying. „If you cough any harder, you’ll have a heart attack!“ „Are you sure you should be doing that? Your heart, remember?“ or „Now this might be scary, so remember Johnny’s heart,“ and similar comments muttered when mom, aunt Doris, an older cousin or some teacher thought it had to be said. And these constant reminders went on well into my late teens. Taking the wise medical precautions attendant to that condition was necessary for most of my life. Now, I have a new set of precautions to observe. But, the same God who healed me and preserved me can preserve me again and heal me again. So, please do pray for healing and protection.

I will write more about this in the near future.

Summer 2022, Seven Years in Germany

Under St. Martin’s Gate in Wangen, near the Swiss border

Since it has been over six weeks since I wrote a blog post and ministry update, here are the highlights quickly:

The Ukrainians we took in at Koinonia have adjusted well to life in Germany. They are looking for work, and their children are in school. There has been less casual, daily contact with them of late because, in addition to proving that they can be employed here, which is not the easiest task to accomplish, even with the allowances the German immigration bureaucracy is making for their lamentable situation, they are all enrolled in the German classes offered through the Office for Asylum and Integration. Consequently, they are not around the house much. Please continue to pray for them. They have been here for four months now, and the war shows no sign of stopping this summer.

Since January, I have been working for Reasons to Believe as their German translator. This is an ongoing project, and involves more than translation. The long-term plan is to publish books from the ministry here, and found a German-language chapter here. These tasks demand some time for research and building networks. Pray that I be able to find publishers, make contacts and translate effectively. Pray also that the German-language resources achieve their intended goal of “Helping thinkers to believe and believers to think.”

You can explore the website of Reasons to Believe here: https://reasons.org/ . Warning: The archives are extensive and you can spend days reading through papers or listening to old podcasts. Trust me. I have.

The youth ministry in which Felicia participates, Generation4Christ, has recently begun leading worship one session a week at the Augsburg House of Prayer. We are, of course, thrilled that she is moving into this role in the worship team and joining the 24/7 intercession and worship ministry on her own initiative!

Since spring of this year, I have been busy, with Susan’s help, translating documents for a theological symposium being held at the University of Vienna in July, sponsored and organized by Toward Jerusalem Council II. We’re rapidly approaching the deadline for all of these to be ready for distribution. Please pray for accuracy, eloquence and that I get the work done in time. 

And speaking of Toward Jerusalem Council II: Since last year, I have also been engaged by Toward Jerusalem Council II Germany as their webmaster. We put up the website after a lengthy series of drafts and revisions in May. For those who read German here it is: Toward Jerusalem Council II – Hin zu einem zweiten Jerusalemer Konzil (tjcii.de)

Remember that Office for Asylum and Integration mentioned above? We, the Martins have to deal with them, too. Before the COVID pandemic panic, we had repeatedly gotten our residency permits renewed without any difficulty. Then COVID hit and demand for my services as a translator dropped off a cliff. My income in 2020 and 2021 was less than 1/3 of what it had been before, and only began to recover recently. The Office for A. and I. does no however yet consider that improvement of income to be sufficient to provide a stable economic basis for our family life here, so they have not yet approved a renewal of our residency permits. We have submitted our tax returns and now they are asking for additional documentation showing how we are able to meet our financial obligations. That I have, in spite of the financial difficulties, still managed to fulfil those obligations for two years, does not seem to have left much of an impression.

That being the case, we are looking for support, specifically that the ministries we work with might be able to officially bring us on, so that we can continue ministry with them here. Until now, we have been acting as “tent-maker” missionaries, i.e. the income from my work and from reserves we had accumulated has been the financial basis for our “meeting our basic obligations” required under German immigration law. We now may need to find a ministry organization to support us and apply for some religious worker-type visa or other permit. I will contacting people in the next days about possible solutions. We contacted a lawyer yesterday already. Please pray about our residency permits being renewed and if you can help, please do. Contact me here or through other channels where we regularly communicate if you want or need further information. The timing of this wrinkle in our residency status strikes me as simply diabolical. We were just getting off the ground with RTB and becoming more involved than ever before in the Messianic-Jewish/Christian reconciliation ministry in Germany when… our legal permission to stay here is attacked. This does not seem coincidental to me.

Thanks for reading. Please do pray for a positive resolution of the residency problem as well as the ministry work we mentioned above.

Thank you for your support. We quite covet your prayers.

If you can, please do contriibute to maintaining our ministry here.


Ukrainian Guests, Old and New Missions in Translation

It has now been two months since the Russo-Ukrainian War began. And it has been two months and a piece since refugees from Kiev arrived in our little Christian community outside of Augsburg, Koinonia. There are thirteen of them total: three small families and a single woman in her 40s. One of the family fathers is a plastic surgeon, another a barber, and the children are all under 10. They are settling in relatively well- though they tend to keep to themselves through the week. The children are getting to know and establish relationships with our local children well, and as best I can see, are more outgoing than their parents. Not surprising, this.

Photo by u0410u043bu0435u0441u044c u0423u0441u0446u0456u043du0430u045e on Pexels.com

Keep in mind, though, and keep in prayer, that they had lives not unlike those of other middle-class or even upper-class Europeans prior to February 25th of this year. Then, Russian artillery and bombing shattered their city and blew their homes into rubble, and the advancing Russian armor and infantry forced them to flee. Now these people are in a country they hadn’t even planned to visit…ever… and have no idea how long they will have to stay here. The loss, the trauma and the uncertainty weighing on them is nothing short of tremendous.

There is another wrinkle in that the families who came here, to a Christian eucumenical community, are from a Moslem religious background. Well, most of them are, but they do not seem to be particularly observant. So, with their recent losses and background in mind, please pray that we in the Koinonia community are able to help to our Ukrainian guests effectively. To date, ministry to our Ukrainian guests has mostly involved teaching them a little bit of survival German, providing as much conversation as we can with the language barrier, and helping them find their way around the social and physical environment they now find themselves in, helping with shopping, assisting with German bureaucracy, and other more or less quotidian activities. Anything we can do to help them we will, with the Lord’s help and out of love for him.

Our Personal Ministry

The weeks since the war started have not brought with them any suspension of our day-to-day ministry lives. We had a great TCJII-Deutschland meeting a little over a week ago. There are two events in the near future: A theological conference with the Swiss and Austrian branches of TJCII and a few weeks after that a meeting of TJCII Germany and Switzerland in Rüdlingen in Switzerland. I am also working on updates for the TJCII-Germany website. 

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In another recent development, I am also now working for Reasons to Believe as their German translator. Which is a challenging but very rewarding new direction for my work. The motto of RTB’s radio show back in the day was helping „thinkers to believe and believers to think“, which is a dearly needed mission here and everywhere. If you would, do pray for the efficacy of the translations in the German-speaking world.

If this reads as if there’s a lot for us to do, that impression is correct. There are moments when it feels like I’m juggling a rabbit, a bowling ball and a chainsaw, and if my attention wavers, the rabbit will have a regrettable encounter with the chainsaw. If the „rabbit“ is my family life, this would be very bad, indeed. So, please do pray for my work and our mission life here.

Thank you for your support and your prayers.

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Helping Ukrainians in Augsburg

A stack of humanitarian aid goods being prepared for shipping to Kiev from the Gebetshaus Augsburg

The initial shock of Russia’s attack on Ukraine was still very fresh here when Germans churches, along with Christian charitable institutions both Catholic and Protestant, organised to provide what humanitarian aid they could send themselves to the people fleeing the war and being housed in temporary shelter in western Ukraine and Poland. Here in Augsburg, the Gebetshaus launched a campaign to raise funds and collect humanitarian aid packages on March 4th. The local chapter of the Royal Rangers, Pentecostal boy/girl scouts for those who don’t know, also organised a relief effort in which our Pentecostal church is still participating. And there are multiple other relief efforts and prayer groups that are working to aid those on the run and those still in the country. Juden für Jesus/Jews for Jesus, Chosen People Ministries, Toward Jerusalem Council II, Jean-Luc Trachsel Ministries, Youth with A Mission, and Awakening Europe- in short, every organisation with which we have even tangential contact- is involved in aiding Ukrainians and praying for both Ukraine and Russia.

We have also had groups of refugees arriving. Monday the first group of Ukrainian refugees arrived at Koinonia. It consists of two small families with children under 10 and one grandmother in one of these families, along with a couple which has no children and a middle-aged woman I have not met. One of the family fathers is a barber, the other a plastic surgeon. They likely had rather ordinary middle-class European lives like those of the young professionals here in Augsburg until about 18 days ago. Please pray for them as they adjust to being here and have to cope with the reality of destruction and massive loss of life in their homeland.

Pray also for communication with them. My Russian is better preserved than I thought it might be, and I have been able to use it some to communicate with them- Ukrainian and Russian are similar. Three of them speak some English, and everyone is running around with their Smartphone translation Apps trying to get their meanings across. People in Koinonia are discussing setting up German and English classes for them, but that will take time.

Which raises another point: We have no idea how long our guests are going to be here. I, personally, do not know who’s been shopping for them. I think the parish of Sankt Andreas (our Catholic church just down the road) has been helping Koinonia in some capacity with that, but need to talk to house leadership to learn the specifics. It’s only been a week.

I would also ask people to pray for the spiritual atmosphere among Germans here. We were in the Prayer Room at the Augsburg House of Prayer for our regular shifts last week (we’re „Gebetshausfamilie“, not regular members, before anyone asks), and people seemed to be shocked, fearful, upset, tense, and a generally sombre feeling, a gravity of events weighing on the intercessors. Trust in the Lord is made for times of great loss and greater uncertainty, the spiritual gifts of faith and endurance given for times of great duress, but the gifts do not make the duress or the loss automatically „all better now“. We persevere with intercession because we know God’s hand does move among the nations. We need however your support in prayer, as well. Pray the Holy Spirit strengthen, refresh and guide us in the days, weeks or months ahead.

Pray also against mutual animosity between Russians and Ukrainians here. There are many from both countries here in Bavaria, more in the larger cities. Since Wednesday, various news outlets- Die Süddeutsche Zeitzung, Die Welt, Der Spiegel, just to name three- have been reporting that there have been attacks on Russians and people who simply have Russian-sounding names.

And, if you can and would like to assist Koinonia in meeting the costs involved in housing our unexpected guests, you can donate to a GiveSendGo campaign I started for that purpose: https://www.givesendgo.com/G2WR6

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Thank you for your support!

If you would like to help keep the lights on and the water running around here, we’d appreciate your contribution.


The Sharp Sword of Suffering

How to describe suffering—other people’s, I mean. I am just back from a shopping expedition for emergency food that my family would never eat. Everything must be pre-packaged and ready to eat. German sausages in cans, black rye bread that can also be used for paving streets, bizarre Christmas cookies that won’t go bad until two years from today. I pack all these items—along with toothbrushes, covid masks, and diapers into the biggest box that I can find and hope that it finds its way to the Ukraine. We all hope that these items will reach the people who need them: people living out of their cars, trying desperately to cross the border and get away from a place they never planned to leave.

Even given the strange circumstances of the past two years, it is hard to picture Europe—my Europe—two years from today.  Even last week, we could not have pictured the circumstance Eastern Europe currently finds itself in. A life full of contradictions and mind-numbing suffering.

Not suffering of the beautiful or transcendent kind. No, that was last week, when my daughter along with thirty other beautiful maids and handsome youths sang the poetic strains of Gorki and Brecht’s “Die Mutter”, a prose poem set to music which extols the excellencies of youthful idealism and condemns the horrors of war and inhumanity of work.  They sang in a baroque concert hall built by Jesuits in the sixteenth century. I don’t think there was anyone who was not struck by the irony that Augsburg’s Brecht Festival opened in 2022 on the day after Russia invaded, (yes, old fashioned invasion) the Ukraine.

Der Kleine Goldene Saal in Augsburg

Toward the end of Brecht’s piece, the haunting lament of the working-class mother Pelagea, for her son recalls the strains of the Stabat Mater from the thirteenth century. In the choir they have been rehearsing Die Mutter since October.  That was when my daughter sent me a photo of the sheet music on her phone, asking me what the Latin song had to do with choir practice. This is her first encounter with church music being used to make a political point.  “It’s an Easter song,” I tell her. What happens to Mary of course, is not Pelagea’s story.  A sharp sword pierces Mary’s heart and she participates with Christ in his suffering.  Marxism would have it the other way round.  Human suffering has no transcendence, it can all be reduced to an argument about the price of soup.

After the concert we walked out into the night, heavy with wind even after sunset. Another young choir member joins us at the tram stop. The girls hold on to the tulips that they received at curtain. And then, one a German girl from Turkey and the other  from America, begin to sing to each other snatches from Brecht. Barely heard, the melody drifts off into other noise, but it proves that meaning is not so easily done away with—especially in hardship—as Gorki and Brecht hoped it might be.  The chords Brecht uses are less important than the dynamics. Brecht knows better than many how to elicit empathy from his audience. The song is not so much sung as recited operatically in a strained concentrated style that perfectly conveys the shock of grief.

That is what all my newspapers are saying: Europe is experiencing grief, national grief for the first time in seventy or eighty years. Grief over disunity, grief over fighting. Grief over having to fight and not wanting to.  

Tonight, on Ash Wednesday, the bells of all participating churches will toll for two minutes into darkened streets. We’ve all been told to extinguish our lights as a sign of national grief. At church, about two hours ago, we lit the altar lamps and threw ashes on our heads. We sang hymn number 523, the hymn of the mother, the one standing at the foot of the cross.

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