Thursday, October 11, 2018

Open Your Eyes

World Venture, the mission organization that sent us to France, just released this video and we found it to be very convicting! Watch it for yourself, it's only 1:33.

Open Your Eyes - WorldVenture from WorldVenture on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

English Camp


After spending several days finishing our prep, the team from Southern California was ready to kickoff the weeklong English camp.  
The California Dreamin' Team.
All prepped and ready to go!
The camp had a total of 17 students, who were each interviewed in order to evaluate their English skills and then placed in one of three classes—beginning, intermediate, or advanced.  I (Mark) was one of the teachers of the advanced class, which consisted of seven students, ranging in age from 13 to 17, who already had impressive English speaking skills. 
 
The students
Each day began at 7:30 a.m., long before the students arrived, with about an hour-long group devotional, led by a different member of the team each day.  The devotional time served as an opportunity for the team to set our minds on the Lord, ask for the Holy Spirit’s enabling, and pray for each other. 

Then, after about 30 minutes of getting organized and drinking as much coffee as possible, the students arrived at 9:00 a.m.  We started each day with a group activity or game that allowed the students to get comfortable and ready to learn and interact. 

At 9:30 a.m., the student went to their respective classes, where they learned English in an informal classroom setting.  But this wasn’t your ordinary language class.  Each day’s class was centered on a particular theme—like relationships, current events, or special days—which made the learning relevant, fun, and interactive.  And rather than lecture for three hours, the teachers of each class prepared a bunch of games, activities, and exercises that allowed the students to learn new vocabulary and concepts while doing most of the talking.  Each morning ended with the students spending 20 minutes writing in a journal.  They were told to write anything about themselves, their background, their experience at the camp, or whatever else they wanted to share.  Then, a specific teacher would be assigned to read and respond (in writing) to a specific student’s journal each day.  This provided an awesome way to get to know the kids on a deeper level and ask them questions about life, God, church, and the gospel.
Class time
Responding to students' journals
At 12:30 p.m. we would break for an hour-long lunch.  This gave the team another chance to get to know the students personally, either while eating or while playing a friendly game of basketball or ping pong in the church parking lot. 

Ping Pong Fun
The littles loved riding on a tractor
during lunch!
After lunch, everyone at the camp would reconvene for a couple afternoon activities.  Naturally, this ended up being everyone’s favorite part of the day.  The students had the opportunity to do things like skits, photography, art, and baseball—all while interacting in English.  They even got to tie dye their own groovy shirts! 


Photography workshop
The team was so great including our kids--here they are
during the art activity.
Tie dye in progress
Levi and Marigold wanted to make a
tie dye shirt and "scarf" too! 
The finished products of the tie dying! 
Learning the Cupid Shuffle is essential to
American cultural learning, right?

Baseball ended up being almost everyone’s favorite part of the week.  We spent two whole afternoons playing baseball at a local park.  On the first day, we taught all of the students how to throw, catch, and hit a baseball.  Remember, these are French and German kids who have never played America’s favorite pastime before.  The kids picked up the game fast, and after just a hour of practice, we were playing a game filled with home runs, wild throws, plays at the plate, and even a couple hit batters!
Practicing throwing and catching
The park we played at was very pretty with lots of
big trees surrounding it.
Great view!
Some of the players after the game.
The team names the students chose were
 "The Leaders" and "The Running Kiwis."
Water balloon fun after the baseball game
At the end of each day, the team would gather to talk about their day, which provided the opportunity to share challenges, encouragements, and new ideas, all while getting feedback and prayer from the rest of the group.  I’m thankful I had the opportunity to serve alongside such dedicated, diligent, and fun people.

We also had the opportunity to host the entire team at our two-bedroom Airbnb apartment for dinner.  We wanted to give our fellow Southern Californians a taste of home, so we found the only Mexican market in nearby Basel, Switzerland, and loaded up on everything we needed for a legitimate fiesta.  Jenny spent the day preparing enchiladas and three pots of homemade beans that we used to make burritos.  We also had chips and salsa and guacamole.  It tasted absolutely amazing!  We also loaded up some party games through Jack Box TV that everyone was able to play through their phone.  All in all we had a great time of fellowship and I’m thankful to Jenny for making it happen.

Coming into the camp, I wondered how well we could minister to the students, particularly considering that the curriculum we used didn’t say anything about God or the Bible.  Would we even have opportunities to talk with the kids about God?  As people with a heart for missions, Jenny and I had a desire to share the gospel with the students at the camp.  So we sought to be intentional about taking every opportunity we got to share God’s love and truth with the kids.

Interestingly, on the first day of the camp, one student in the advanced class, who I will call David (not his real name), shared openly that he didn’t believe in God.  We began praying that God would soften his heart and allow him to be open to the reality that God is living and active and loves him.  I had the opportunity to read David's journal everyday and respond to what he wrote.  I asked about him, his interests, and his background, and he asked about mine.  I was able to share how I used to be a lawyer, but now I’m in seminary preparing to serve God by being a missionary in a different country.  That allowed me to ask him about his experiences at church and the reasons for his disbelief in God.  David and I ended up having a lot in common, so we connected easily and spent a lot of time together throughout the week. I got the sense from him (and many of the other students) that this was the first time they had ever been around a group of committed Christian people and, in doing so, realized for the first time that Christians are normal, fun people who have a unique love for God and other people.

Well, God answered our prayers about David.  On the last day of the camp, we played a game in the advanced class where each person drew a number out of a bag and each number corresponded to a different personal question that the student had to answer.  This allowed the students to share a lot about themselves.  At one point, David drew a number and was asked which person, past or present, he would most like to meet.  His answer was “God.”  Later, David drew another number and was asked what he is most thankful for.  His answer was “God because He created everything.”  I was blown away by his answers.  This was a guy who just a few days earlier had been open and aggressive about the fact that he didn’t believe in God's existence.  Now, he not only acknowledged God's existence, but acknowledged God as the creator of the world!  The Lord had indeed softened David’s heart.  In my last response to David in his journal, I left my contact information so that we can hopefully stay in touch and continue our dialogue.  I'm now praying that the Lord brings Christians into David's life who can continue to sow the seeds of the gospel.

Overall, we had a great time participating in the English camp.  Serving God cross-culturally is such a joy and a privilege. Through the English camp, we were able to get to know, encourage, share the gospel with, and show the love of God to the students we taught. While we were there to teach others, I can’t help but think that I was the one learning the most.  Investing in people and relationships is something that can be done abroad and at home.  And when we, as Christians, are willing to live our lives boldly, in a way that Jesus is the motivation and focus of everything we do, then we will no doubt experience and witness God’s power to change hearts and redeem lives.

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

Versailles

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!