My vocation as a preacher and teacher of the Bible has afforded me decades of opportunities to present the Word of God in pulpits and seminars not only in my own church but also throughout the States and in many countries. I view my work as both a privilege and an honor. For the past four years, I have had the amazing opportunity to travel to Germany each October to minister in cities around the southwestern part of the nation.
Germany has captured my heart. The first year I arrived, I only knew what I had learned from books. From that point forward, things began to change because I met the people. My hosts shared with me their life journeys, their family histories, and their soul ambitions. They took me on a few sight-seeing excursions and narrated the scenes with their childhood memories and adulthood recollections. German history and German experiences converged. Germany became personalized.
Throughout these years, I have met many more citizens of Deutschland and ministered in many more cities. I have eaten home cooking from home makers in home kitchens. What an amazing chance to be indoctrinated into culture! I’ve sat at the dinner table with moms and dads and their children as the events of the day have been rehearsed. We’ve laughed at life’s ironies and cried over life’s difficulties. German people have become specific individuals.
This past year, I ministered fourteen times in twelve days in five different locations. I rode several planes from St. Louis, through Atlanta, through Amsterdam, and into Stuttgart. There were train rides from Stuttgart to Bingen, from Bingen to Frankfort, from Frankfort to Wurzburg. I traveled hundreds of miles by car on the autobahn at exceptional speeds and on one-lane rural roads at a cautious pace. I lodged next to the Rhine River in Rudersheim and toured the 1,500-year-old city of Rothenburg. The still-life snapshots of Germany found in travel brochures became a moving landscape where real people live real lives.
Then, there was the language difference. I speak English – only. All of my hosts were bilingual – English and German. Most of the time, both dialects were included in every conversation. At times, it would take two listeners to make German sense of one of my English comments. Other times, it would take two sentences in English for me to make sense of one of their German thoughts. Then – there was the preaching. Every thought required translation. The Bible originally written in Hebrew or Greek translated into English and then read and explained in English had to be heard in English and then re-presented in German. If that explanation sounds complicated, then I have clearly communicated the complexity of communication that had to be overcome. In the end, diversity of languages did not hinder us, and the universality of people’s stories and biblical truth was communicated.
Germany is the land of automotive engineering exceptionalism, the home to around 25,000 castles, famous for pretzel breads and wiener schnitzel, remembered for Martin Luther and the birth of the Reformation, and historically tainted from Nazi days during Hitler’s regime. Across the world and for almost all people in our present day, everyone knows something about Germany. As for me, the sterile stories of history have come to life through vibrant lives of my German friends, and the vacuous information about a nation and nationality has been transformed by intimate familiarity. Thanks to all my hosts who gave me more than a trip of a lifetime. Germany has become engraved upon my heart.