Sunday, August 5, 2018

Saint Louis

 On August 1st, we arrived in Saint Louis, France to meet up with our team for the California Dreamin' Camp, which teaches English to students using the Teach Beyond curriculum.
Marigold on the train on the way to Saint Louis.  
She asked for me to take these photos (all self posed, of course!)
For the last five days the team has been busy preparing for the camp, which starts tomorrow.  The team members have been finalizing their lesson plans, preparing activities, and taking part in team building activities. 

Here’s the team together in Basel, Switzerland, which is about a fifteen minute drive from Saint Louis: 

The camp is taking place at a church, La Bonne Nouvelle, in Saint Louis.  Here's the outside of the church: 

See Mark at the door? 
The church is actually situated behind this house.  The occupants of the house are the ones who planted this church years ago.
This is the house situated in front of the church.
You can see the church sign hanging from it.
We went to the Church’s service today, and really enjoyed it. About 70 people attended. It’s been neat experiencing church services throughout the region and expanding our mind on what a local church looks like. 
Church during worship time
During one part of the service, they asked a few of our team members to come up and share a time when God helped them make a decision. Mark shared when God called him from working as a practicing lawyer in Los Angeles to a full-time seminary student. I was a proud wife watching 😍. 
Mark spoke, and another Mark translated into French
After church, the congregation gathered for a potluck.  They brought some great food! There is so much value in the French tradition of gathering around a table, having conversation, and not being rushed. People were hanging out and talking two hours after the service ended.
Even the kids had their own fellowship. Too cute!
Levi and Marigold playing in the church driveway
For the next week, the team will have 12+ hour days—with tasks ranging from leading team devotionals, executing lesson plans and activities with the kids, preparing meals, and mentoring the kids at the camp.  Please pray for the teens' hearts at the camp to be softened, for them to have a desire to learn more about the gospel message, and to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. 

Thursday, August 2, 2018


A couple of days ago, we met with a missionary family (Ryan, Dana, and their six kids) in Versailles, France.  Versailles is about 45 minutes west of Paris, and home of the famous chateau/palace of Versailles, where all the kings of France lived up until the French revolution.  While it's a very beautiful city, it's dead spiritually.

Check out this video to see what Ryan and Dana are doing in this city:

We really enjoyed our time with Ryan, Dana, and their kids.  We were impressed seeing the work that they've accomplished in Versailles over the past eight years, and we learned a lot of valuable ministry lessons from them.  They're very intentional about building relationships and evangelizing everywhere they go, and they've come up with many unique ways to invite others into their home in order to share the gospel and the love of Christ.  Their creative thinking and passion for bringing others to God was exciting to see!

Dana, Ryan, Levi, Mark, Ruslana, Marigold, and Me
(Their 6 kids weren't in the picture but they were there,
much to our kids delight!)
Up next--our final stretch of the trip--teaching English at the California Dreamin' camp in Saint Louis, France! 

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Kandern, Germany

World Venture, the mission organization we are currently doing our trip through, suggested that we take a few days and go down to Kandern, Germany. They wanted us to see what other World Venture missionaries are doing in this area and also to check out a school, Black Forest Academy, to gain a more complete picture of what's going on in this corner of the world for our vision trip.

Kandern housing and shops
The little "downtown" area of Kandern
Beautiful green hills and trees everywhere
The Black Forest
Lots of Sunflowers everywhere, too!
Black Forest Academy (BFA), the school World Venture wanted us to visit, is a Christian school providing an English language education to the children of international Christian workers and international business families for students in grades 5-12.   As the name suggests, it's located in the Black Forest region, which encompasses the southwest corner of Germany, in the picturesque village of Kandern. 

The front of Black Forest Academy
If BFA is looking for a mascot, I know a cutie!
We were able to spend some time with a missionary family who has worked at Black Forest Academy for thirteen years.  We enjoyed learning more about the area, the school, and how they support missionaries and minister to their children.  They told us that missionaries often leave the field because either 1) they are unable to get enough funding support to maintain their ministry abroad or 2) there isn't a good school option for the missionaries' children.  Black Forest Academy has helped provide a solution to the latter problem and, as a result, has been a major blessing for many missionary families serving in the area.  

Our new friends invited us to go to church with them at Black Forest Academy, followed by a typical German lunch. 

Church service (in English) at BFA
Outside of the German Restaurant we went to for lunch
This was taken outside of the German restaurant where
 we had schnitzel and noodles for lunch.
This Sound of Music fan girl is thrilled she
can add schnitzel and noodles to one of her favorite things!
We enjoyed our time in Kandern and seeing how God is working in this tiny town in Germany. 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Levi Turns 5

On Wednesday, July 18, Levi turned FIVE! I can't believe it. 
He woke up in Strasbourg, France: 
Waiting for the Birthday Boy to wake up
He's 5! 
Most handsome 5 year old I've ever seen
Marigold "helping" him open his
tiny "suitcase friendly" presents 
Next up, we had lunch at Burger King.  You're probably thinking....Burger King?! Well, the reason for that is two fold.  First, he had it about a year ago for the first time and went crazy over it. I don't really know why, but he loved it.  Second, it was right next to the train station that we were headed to next.  So I call that a double triumph.
My 15 and 5 year old
After lunch, we made a mad dash to catch our train to Saint Louis, France.  This wasn't our final destination for the day, but this was the most economical way to get to where we needed to go next.
On the train
About an hour and fifteen minutes later, we arrived in Saint Louis, France.  Then we caught a bus to take us to the Basel Airport in Switzerland to get a rental car.  It was only about a mile away, but that means that's country #2 Levi got to hang out in for his 5th birthday.
Marigold and daddy on the bus 
In Basel, Switzerland renting a car
We got a car--a sweet black Fiat stationwagon.  Perhaps not the best car to cram two rented car seats into while having poor Ruslana fit in the middle, but she was a trooper and smooshed right in.
Marigold posing in Switzerland
See. Smooshed. But thankful they had car seats to rent!
We then drove from Basel, Switzerland to our final destination: Kandern, Germany.  The trip took about 30 minutes.  This was the first time we'd ever rented a car in a foreign country. It was a fun adventure. Because we declined all insurance, you can add: don't crash the rental car in a foreign country to that prayer list you've got going 😉(we are renting a car again in a week so just keep that prayer a goin'). The borders between France, Switzerland, and Germany are all so open you could almost miss that you're passing into another country if you aren't paying attention.  There's no passport check and virtually no security checks of any kind.
Excellent foreign country driver, I must add. 
We made it to Kandern, Germany! Country #3 for this birthday boy.  We stayed in an attic apartment owned by a very sweet German lady named Helga.  She had this little muffin with 5 candles in it for Levi's arrival. It was so very thoughtful.
Muffin cake for the 5 year old
After a busy travel day, we dropped our bags in our apartment and headed to the local public swimming pool.  Wow, was this place sweet! It had two large pools, a big waterslide, a playground, little splash area, a snack bar, and ping pong tables.  In other words, it's a kid's paradise. And we got in for free! Germany is cheap, and that's music to a budgeter's ears. 
Look at that slide! All 3 kids loved it.
Birthday boy swimming away
Happy Birthday to our outgoing, fun, kind, and loving five year old.  I know God has special plans for this one and look forward to seeing what they are.

And in case you're wondering what in the world we are doing in the small German town of Kandern, stay tuned for the next blog post! 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Missionaries in Strasbourg

I've been referring to "the missionary team" a lot, but realized I haven't put any names or faces to the team. So without further ado, let me tell you a little bit about the current team.  I wish I took more photos of the team, because the ones I got didn't include everyone! Fine balance of looking cool (if that's even possible) vs. "hey can I look like a tourist dork and take a picture of you guys?" 😂

Left to Right: Arnaud, Justin, Mark, Nadege, Thomas
Arnaud is the french pastor who leads the current Krutenau church and has supported the American missionaries with open arms. He is a great teacher, shepherd, and visionary.  He has a huge heart for reaching unreached people throughout France.

The Dodsons are the family who has hosted us in Strasbourg.  Justin and Jenna were on the video I posted earlier, and they have been our main contact over the past year.  They have a huge heart for migrants (they formally served as missionaries in Africa) and building Christ-centered relationships.  They have three little girls, and one little boy on the way.  We couldn't have had a better time with them.  They warmly welcomed us, had us over for several home cooked meals, took us on tours of the city, watched our kids, prayed with us, included us in their vision of the city, and so much more. We are so grateful for this Godly family.  They even threw Levi a birthday party, with decorations and a home made birthday cake!

The night before this big boy turned 5!
Some of the kids having fun at the party

This little doll wasn't in the group picture above, but she was
having fun too!

They first sang Happy Birthday to Levi in English, 
then sang the song in French. My phone died in the 
middle of the French song, though! So here's just the beginning
of the French version. 

The other members of the team (about 12 in total) are made up of men and women from the U.S., Britain, South Africa, and France, similar in age to me and Mark. They were all very friendly, welcoming, and make up a great team. They all share a vision for reaching the unreached with Christ and using their God given gifts collectively to make that happen.  I'm so excited to see how the team's future unfolds!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Sunday in Strasbourg

Last Sunday, we had the privilege of going to church with the missionaries hosting us in Strasbourg.  As I mentioned before, the church is in the Krutenau neighborhood.  It's an evangelical church, in the charge of a French pastor (remember the video we posted before we left? Arnaud, in the video, is the pastor of this church) and there are about five different men who rotate teaching every week.  The church normally has about 100-120 people attend each week, which is considered a mega church in France. An average sized church in France has about 20-40 people attend each week, with some having as few as three people attending each week.
The church meets through those open doors
The attendance on this particular Sunday was lower than usual due to it meeting earlier in the day than usual and being on the same day as the World Cup (a lot of people go home to watch the game with their families, particularly because France was in the final game), but there was still a pretty good turn out.  We were able to meet more members of their church planting/outreach team and see what a church service in France is like.  We couldn't understand much, as the service was in French, but the members were friendly and welcoming, we recognized the music of some of the songs (which, let's be real, sounded way better in French because it's such a beautiful language to listen to!), and it was nice being in a community of believers.  Something that impressed me about the church (and in their team meetings) is the amount of time they spend in corporate prayer.  Here, prayer isn't rushed, and it isn't just delivered by the pastor, it's open for the whole church community to join in on.

During worship time
Can you see the French flag on the little kids cheeks?
Their Sunday school teacher made sure they were
ready for the big game just an hour away. 
After church, we went to our friends' house and watched the World Cup final match.  Spoiler alert--which shouldn't be too much of a spoiler unless you've been living under a rock for the last week--France won!  France is the world champion! It was so fun being here for it. People were so excited!! Flags flying, horns honking, fireworks shooting, singing and chanting...lots of excitement all day and all night!
We were told this is about the only time
France's patriotism comes out.
But boy did it come out!  
Excitement before the match--everyone walked
around with French flags.
Levi posing in front of our World Cup viewing.
At this point he had a French flag on each of his cheeks
as well as one on each arm!

We have really enjoyed spending time in Strasbourg.  We've gotten a great vision of the city and are praying how we can support the current missionaries and what our future role might be.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Strasbourg Tour

Strasbourg is a beautiful and unique city.  It's full of history, charm, and diversity.   It is made up of fifteen neighborhoods, all with distinct looks and needs.

The center of the city is called Grande Ile, which is translated in English as "big island."  The reason for this name is because--surprise--it is a big island surrounded by the Ill River on one side and the Canal du Faux-Rempart on the other side.  If you think of a picturesque French city, you could easily be imagining Grande Ile, with its many tourists, shops, restaurants, timber-framed buildings, and narrow cobblestone streets.
Kléber Square: Strasbourg's largest square
and an UNESCO world heritage site.
Another view of Kléber Square
Beautiful now, but Kléber square was once was occupied by Nazi forces.
While there, they tore down the statue of J.B. KlĂ©ber, one of Napoleon's greatest generals,
 to signify that French military history was insignificant.
Kids next to the Ill River
So much charm in this area of the city.
The tram--the city's most prominent source of transportation.
It's above ground which was great--we didn't have to
carry our stroller down a bunch of stairs to get to an underground subway! 
Grande Ile contains perhaps Strasbourg's most famous landmark--CathĂ©drale Notre Dame de Strasbourg.  It is easily the most impressive cathedral I've ever seen (sorry Notre Dame de Paris and SacrĂ©-Coeur).  That's because it is 466 feet high, which made it the tallest building in the world for 227 years, up until 1874.  It is still the second tallest cathedral in France and the sixth tallest church in the world.  The cathedral's spire is visible from any part of the city.

View of the Cathedral from our 5th story apartment
Side view of the cathedral
Inside view of the cathedral
I'm not sure which is more impressive--
the cathedral in the back or that we got all three kids
to smile and look at the camera at the same time! 
Our apartment was on the very top left.
It had a beautiful Cathedral view, and provided great exercise
as it was on the fifth floor with no elevator! 
Daddy and Marigold in front of the entrance to our apartment.
Another prominent part of Strasbourg is called Krutenau.  This area has a lot of trendy cafĂ©'s and shops, (more) beautiful timber-framed houses, and young people and college students attending the adjacent University of Strasbourg, which is the second largest university in France with an enrollment of over 46,000.  Krutenau is the hub for the existing evangelical ministry going on in Strasbourg.  I'll tell you more about the current ministry going on in this area in a different blog post.

This area is so beautiful!
Exploring the Krutenau area
The timber on the buildings shows
the German influence on the city.
In front of an old church
Love birds in front of the river
The ministry team we've been interacting with this past week started a cafĂ© in Krutenau a few years ago called the Oh My Goodness Coffee Shop.  The ultimate goal of the cafĂ© is to serve as a bridge between the church and the community, many of whom may not normally set foot in a church, but would happily set foot in a cafĂ©.  No, it isn't a bait and switch type of deal where you go in for a cup of coffee and only get out with a cup of salvation 😂.  The cafĂ© functions as a normal coffee shop, with a big case of books and games that customers can use and incredibly comfy chairs and couches.  However, the space also creates a unique setting for various types of events that enable fellowship, Bible study, and discussion about pertinent issues like current events, philosophy, and religion.  These events at the cafĂ© allow conversations about God, Christianity, the Bible, and the gospel to happen naturally, in a comfortable setting, and among friends.  It's an awesome place!

The Café is right in front of the city's tram line
and is very convenient to get to. 
The front entrance of the café
Not only does the café have books and Bibles, it
has children's games and toys which was great
for keeping our kids quiet while we sat in on a team meeting!
One view of the inside of the café--the decorating is awesome.

Left to Right: Florimond and Andrew.
Florimond is a prominent artist in town and a member of the church planting team. 
Andrew is also on the church planting team and heading up a
new coffee roasting business--keep reading to hear more about that project. 
Another neighborhood of Strasbourg is called Orangerie.  It's where the European Parliament meets and diplomats' houses can be found all over town.  Other than the institutional buildings, it's mainly a residential area filled with wealthy and educated people.  There are literally no evangelical Christian churches here, and the ministry team is looking to plant a church here in the next several months. This is perhaps one of the hardest neighborhoods to pin down a ministry strategy, as it's difficult to know just how to reach a wealthy and self-sufficient group of people who may not understand their need for Christ.  We talked with the team about how to reach people in this area all week, and the team will continue to strategize and experiment with ways to contextualize the gospel in this area for weeks and months to come.

The Palace of Europe where the Council of Europe meets.
Ruslana in front of the building that houses
the Parliament of the European Union
Consulate of Romania
(shoutout to you, Eunice!)
The Orangerie area has a beautiful park, Parc de l'Orangerie.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again, the French know how to do parks.  This park is large, lush, green, and filled with multiple playgrounds, a place to rent old looking cars, a little lake where you can rent canoes, a little zoo, and a bunch of storks walking around (yes, stork as in a baby getting dropped off on your doorstep stork!). 
One of the playgrounds in the park
I spy a stork!
Outside of the historic and downtown areas of Strasbourg, there is an area called the train station area, or, to be official, the Quartier de la Gare.

This area has many migrants from North Africa and the Middle East--most of whom are Muslim.  In fact, there are over 70 nationalities represented in this area of Strasbourg alone!  While France has an open door policy to immigrants, their welcome process isn't exactly streamlined yet.  It can take about ten months for a migrant's paperwork to process once they get here, which means they can't get a visa or a job during that time, often resulting in major hardship for them.  The missionary family hosting us this week lives in this area (along with other members of the team) and they have been working in this area for the last 15 months with the focus of ministering to the migrant and refugee population.  They're doing an awesome job! On a daily basis, they interact with people everywhere, from the local park to the supermarket, and strive to build relationships, help them with their practical needs, share the gospel with them, and, if the desire is there, help them grow in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Construction on this road will take
about 2.5 years total to complete!
Tram line in the middle of the Quartier de la Gare
Birds eye view of multiple neighborhoods converging
You can see the Cathedral from all around the city
The ministry team in train station area has big plans in the works--one of which is to open a community center.  This would house a thrift shop (which would provide material needs as well as jobs for members of the community), an on-site trauma counselor, legal and paperwork assistance, a meeting space for a new church plant, and other much needed resources and services.  They are currently raising money for the community center and touring potential spaces to rent or buy.

Another awesome idea they're starting to implement in this area is creating a coffee roasting business, which would provide another source of jobs for migrants and refugees.  It would not only help them financially, but could also help fill their days with work instead of becoming involved in drugs, alcohol, prostitution, or fights, which sadly occur often here.  Through the creation of jobs and relationships, the potential to share Christ with them increases.

While the train station area has its share of hardships, the toughest parts of the city are on the outskirts--specifically the Cronenbourg Ouest, Hautepierre, and Elsau neighborhoods, which almost exclusively house migrants. 

Most of the other areas of the city have shops, restaurants, and plenty of fun things to do, but this part of town is made up of just large housing projects. While the buildings look ok on the outside, we were told that France only renovates the outside of these types of buildings, making the inside conditions horrendous. This part of the city has a lot of prostitution, drug usage, and crime.  As a result, as of yet, none of the French members of the Strasbourg church community are willing to move to these parts of town to do ministry work.  

The French government gives each unemployed migrant (once paperwork is processed) a certain amount of money each month for living expenses.  We were told that some new members of these communities start working as Uber drivers in order to make money, but then after paying taxes they end up with less money than when they simply receive unemployment benefits, so most just stay home all day, often getting into trouble. This is a really tough area that needs the transformative light of Jesus.

Project Housing in Elsau
More project housing
As you can tell by just a few of the neighborhoods highlighted above, Strasbourg is a very diverse city with diverse needs. Whether it's a wealthy, educated, white French neighborhood, or a poor, migrant neighborhood, everyone needs to hear the gospel and everyone needs a personal, saving relationship with the living God.  The missionary team we've been with this past week has a goal to plant an evangelical church in all fifteen neighborhoods of Strasbourg. The work to be done here can seem overwhelming, but with willing workers and God's power, nothing is impossible.  Let's join together in praying for a revival in the city of Strasbourg.  Perhaps God might even call you to play a part in the ministry here in Strasbourg.  God calls His people to spread His name to all nations, and seeing this city firsthand was a great reminder of all that needs to be done in Strasbourg, in France, and across the world.