Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Life is Good

You've seen the little stickers on cars, t-shirts and mugs, I am sure.  Well, I am here to tell you that life really is good for us here in Germany. We absolutely love what we are doing here and love the kids God has sent us to serve. We also love each and everyone of you who make sacrifices to support us financially and love those of you who faithfully lift us up in prayer. Both are so very vital to our daily lives. We definitely need the finances that you provide in order to live and function here in this quite expensive area, and we desperately need the prayers that you offer. Those prayers keep us continually equipped to participate in this ministry. These kids are complex, amazing, precious and have great needs. It is such a privilege to be partnering with their parents in raising them. 

We want you all to know how you are partnering with us in supporting hundreds of works for Christ from all over the globe. Some places we can mention and others we cannot. Mark and I continue to be amazed at where our students come from and what their parents are doing to further the gospel and provide humanitarian relief to some of the most unreached places in the world.  We are learning so much from the kids we serve and are completely humbled by the sacrifices these kids and their families have had to make. 
We thought you might like to know what a typical week is like for us here as we seek to fulfill God's call on our lives at Black Forest Academy.

Monday: The kids go to school and Mark and I start our day with German 1. We take it with the high schoolers. Then I head to the library and Mark to his office. After school, Evan practices with the middle school chapel band, Meredith takes pictures for the yearbook and Ethan has soccer practice. He plays on the local German team.  Then the whole family heads to Storchenblick (Storch for short) dorm in the nearby town of Holzen. It's a girls' dorm. We have dinner with the girls, help them with chores and homework and I (Susan) bake something sweet for them each week. We LOVE Monday evenings!

Storch dorm is pictured above. It is the larger building just left of the church. Most of the dorms at BFA are former inns.
These cuties are two of the 22 girls at Storch. They are both seniors and are amazing young ladies. They are such a joy to be around. One of the girl's parents serve in Africa and the other girl's parents serve in a closed country.

Mark heads to work and the kids to school. After German, I do household jobs, do the shopping, update our blog and write notes to our supporters. Many things here take much longer than in the States. One load of laundry takes almost 2 hours to wash. Then we hang our laundry to save on energy costs. So, keeping house here is a little more time consuming than I am used to, but I am learning so much about how to live more simply and leave a smaller footprint on this planet. Tuesday afternoons, Evan plays intramural sports and Meredith practices volleyball (she actually practices every afternoon except Mondays). Ethan usually has his "posse" teaching him how to play soccer. It is amazing how many high schoolers know Ethan and love hanging out with him. I would imagine that many of the kids that hang with him are missing younger siblings. Even Ethan has a ministry here:)

Wednesday: Once again it's off to school and work for us. I am in the library and Mark in his office. Mark has begun the counseling portion of his job and really loves that aspect of his ministry. On Wednesday afternoons, Ethan takes piano from a dorm student who is a senior. She is quite an accomplished musician. Wednesday evenings, Mark and I both lead small groups of students. He has 7 freshmen guys and I have 6 freshmen girls. We separate for most of the evening, but at the very end of our time, we come together for snacks and fun. Our house gets VERY loud. Hopefully our German neighbors don't mind too much:) We'll post pictures of and more about our small groups later. Meredith and Evan go to small groups in different locations as well. Ethan gets to go hang out at another girls' dorm. He is really getting the "big head" because all the girls talk about how cute he is:)

Thursday: Mark heads to work and the kids to school. After German, I usually go get groceries and begin preparing a meal for a small group of dorm kids. We try to have a few dorm kids over for dinner every Thursday. They really like to get out of the dorm from time to time and so we enjoy opening our home to them. They come over after school and hang out with our family, eat dinner, watch a movie and/or do their homework. Then we take them back to the dorm around bedtime. Ethan also practices soccer again on Thursdays. Here's a picture from one of his games.

Friday: We head off to work and school and are happy that it's Friday! Usually there is no shortage of extracurricular activities to attend at the school. From parties to worship times to sporting events, there's always something going on. Here are some pictures of a few things:
Recently there was a fall party and the theme was "A Black and White Affair".
The Middle School overnight retreat. Mark helped coordinate this event.
"See you at the cross" is our version of "see you at the pole". The students gathered to pray with one another. The flags of all countries represented here can be seen in the background.

Saturdays are filled with soccer, more laundry, sleep, hikes, bike rides, students, sightseeing and more. Sunday is our protected family day. We have breakfast together, hang out and then head to church in the evenings. We attend the Anglican Church in Basel and go to their evening service. It is held in a small chapel within the Munster in Basel, Switzerland. Basel is about 25 minutes away. Here's a picture:


We are so thankful to have found a place to worship that fits who we are and how we are wired to worship Him. It's not St. B's but nothing could be as far as we're concerned. We love our home church and miss it very much. BUT, God is faithful and meets us where we are and fills our void in so many different ways.

As you can see, our weeks are VERY busy and full, but all that we do makes our hearts FULL of love for others and love for Him. Thank you very much for partnering with us, loving us and praying for us. We'll write more soon.

Blessings and peace,


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Some Amazing People

Pictured above with our family are Tom and Bev Mahan. They are part of our support team at St. B's. They are so special to us. They gave of their time and resources in ways that we will never forget. They hosted us in their home for two weeks after we moved out of our home and treated us like family. They really ministered to us and let us take it easy as much as we could. What a gift they are.
The Hall family pictured above (minus Kyrie and Avian) helped us in the early days learn about how to raise our support. Thomas was also very helpful in packing our container. Carmen entertained our kids countless times while Mark and I were raising support. Precious folks.
The sweet, sweet Flynns. Joe and Meredith are also part of our support team and some of our biggest cheerleaders. They are here with their precious boys Jack and Parker.

Dave and Nancy West are also part of our support team. Dave helped out with our mailings and Nancy blessed us with her gifts in fund raising and support letter writing. A talented and beautiful pair!
The Grabbes! This sweet family are our across the street neighbors in the States. They ministered to us in ways we would have never expected, especially since we've only known them a year. Jenny watched our kids, took them places, listened to their problems and loved on them. They also hosted a fundraiser garage sale for us that was really successful. They are here with Ryan and Kaitlyn on Ryan's first birthday.

Last but not least is who our kids are now referring to as "Uncle" Jonathan. We wouldn't be at BFA right now if it weren't for his tireless efforts and dedication to our cause and ministry. Jonathan Merkh gave and continues to give of his resources and time so sacrificially. Our ministry is a personal one for him as he is an MK himself. The way that he has taken us under his wing and ministered to us is amazing. He inspires us to give our best to God in this ministry.
We are entirely blessed by these people and many, many others that God put in our path and used to accomplish His glory. Many thanks and blessings to these people who were willing to be used by Him.
Blessings and peace,

Our Departure, Arrival and Layover

Where in the world do I begin? So much has happened in the four weeks since I last blogged. I feel like we've had a year's worth of experiences and emotions crammed into one month. There is so much I want to share and so many blog entries spinning around in my head.  How do I do each thought justice without getting very far behind in keeping this thing up to date? Well, I really can't, but here it goes anyway. Three words kind of describe our last month: departure, arrival and layover.

On July 18th, we began our official departure from the States by packing our earthly belongings into a 20 ft. container (which upon writing we have YET to receive). We were blessed by some wonderful friends who came and helped us pack. We would have never been able to pack so much without the organizational and spatial skills of Thomas Hall. Many thanks to all who helped us.

The next two weeks were filled with lots of fun times with friends and family and lots of goodbyes.

We were very blessed by our commissioning service at St. B's and all who laid hands on us and sent us off as "St. B's in Germany".

We left the States very hurriedly on August 2nd. On August 1st, we found out that the transatlantic portion of our flights from Nashville to Basel had been cancelled due to a European strike of Lufthansa. We were advised by our mission that the only way to arrive in Kandern on time for training would be to fly out of Atlanta on August 2nd. So, with less than 24 hours notice we began to search for a way to get to Atlanta...not an easy task with a family of five and 13 pieces of luggage! We made several calls and to our delight, Harry and Phyllis Xanthopoulous agreed to drive us. They sacrificially gave up their entire Saturday, endured traffic jams and comforted our tears. I can't think of a more perfect couple to send us off! Harry kept us laughing in only the way Harry could do. We won't soon forget our trip to Atlanta and our forever indebted to them for their generosity. We are also very grateful to St. B's for the use of the van!

In addition, our departure was filled with tears, laughter and love. We were so touched by all who showed up at St. B's (our church) to say goodbye. They, too, had less than 24 hours notice for this change yet they still showed up early Saturday morning and made us all feel very loved and appreciated. God has blessed us and our children with such special friends and amazing families.

In flying out of Atlanta, we were blessed to be able to travel with a fellow Janz Team missionary, Lizzy Schulz. Lizzy is a beautiful girl inside and out. She has become very special to our family and she and our kids bonded during our flights and layovers together. What a special gift from God our relationship with her is. 

Upon arriving in Kandern, we learned very quickly what an amazing community we are now a part of. Our host family, the Careys, had stocked our fridge and pantry, brightened our bare home with fresh cut flowers, and set up beds into which we collapsed that first night after dinner. They have also hosted us for dinner, let us borrow all kinds of things until our container arrives and given of their time to show us "the ropes" around here. 

Our first week (which now feels like a lifetime ago) was filled with German language classes, German culture lessons and plenty of opportunities in which we were forced to practice what we had learned. It is such a humbling experience at times to live in another culture and try and function in a language you do not speak. But, God is faithful and I am learning quickly. God has also blessed me with just enough confidence to put myself out there and try. I do most of the shopping, banking and handling of the family business, so I've got to learn the language. Those in the community seem very grateful that we try. Ethan gets quite a few smiles as he says "Guten Morgen" to passersby and "danke" when he buys his Milka chocolate bars in the store.

For the next couple of weeks, it felt as though we were on an extended vacation. In many ways we still felt very connected to our lives in Tennessee. We missed our friends, our families and especially our church. Many of our everyday experiences were like being on vacation. It was kind of like we were in between destinations as you are when you have a layover.  The kids hadn't met friends and were bored and sad. In addition, not having furniture in our house has made it feel like we are camping. We just don't feel settled yet, but prayerfully our container will arrive on Friday. 
We have been doing lots of sitting and waiting the last few weeks. Waiting for our car to be insured so we could drive it, waiting for our phone and Internet to be connected, waiting for the stores to re-open (they close quite frequently), waiting for a load of laundry to be finished (takes two hours here just to wash), waiting for others to translate the many documents we receive and cannot read, waiting, waiting and more waiting. 
Our training has been very beneficial, but waiting for the students to arrive has also felt a bit like a layover. We have been anxious for them to get here and anxious to get to know them. So, we are very thankful that school has started and the school is full of life and energy. 

This past month has been good and bad, happy and sad but in all of it God has been faithful and shown Himself mighty in so many ways. Thank you all who have been so faithful in lifting us up to the Father. We feel your prayers and are so grateful for your support. Check back soon for some more pictures that give you a window into what has been going on in our corner of the world. 
Blessings, peace and much love,