Happy 2019!

Photo: a woodland trail near our home that I frequent. Taken at a warmer time of year.

We may not know what awaits us in the New Year, but we have recently celebrated “God with Us”, and that is enough to keep moving forward with hearts full of anticipation and hope in both good and hard times.

Celebrating 33 Years

Photo: Donna and I outside of the place where we first met in Gablitz (near Vienna in the Wienerwald). We were able to visit Austria this year. It was the first time we’ve been back together since we relocated to the US in 2003. We weren’t sure we would be able to find this house again – but we did!

Although it isn’t until tomorrow, we’re celebrating our 33rd anniversary today by going out for a nice meal together in downtown Minneapolis..

We first met back in the summer of 1982. I was working in a refugee camp in the tiny village of Bad Kreuzen, 100 miles upstream from Vienna on the Danube river.

Donna had come to Austria with the summer missions program of Slavic Gospel Association to smuggle Bibles into what was then known as the “East Bloc” – Communist countries that were under the strong influence of what was then the Soviet Union.

I drove down to Vienna to help the summer workers settle into the former Jaegerhaus in Gablitz.

I still remember when I saw her first – on the back steps of the Haus. Whether you believe in it or not, it was love at first sight.

It took a year or so before we began dating by airmail between Bad Kreuzen and Columbia, Missouri. For years, we feverishly wrote letters back and forth on the thinnest paper known to man.

I finally proposed in 1984 during a Colorado ski trip with my family (they encouraged me to invite Donna). We timed our wedding around plans for me to go to seminary in 1985. We would marry during Christmas break.

Although those seminary plans fell through, our wedding plans did not. We married in Kansas City, took our honeymoon in the Collegiate Peaks of Colorado, and then settled into our first home in the lush rolling hills of the province of Upper Austria, in early 1986.

The rest is history :

Isaiah 58

After assessing a pile of Christmas cards, I made this. I find myself imagining how different the world would be if these words marked our lives. From what the prophet wrote, it is in everybody’s best interest to look out for the needs of those who are most vulnerable.

An unexpected visit

Photo: Bruce and Janet McNicol with Donna and I today sitting on our “Wes and Judy Roberts Memorial Sofa”.

We got an unexpected text last night. Bruce and Janet McNicol were in town and wanted to see if we were free to connect. Indeed we were.

It was really good to reconnect with them in our home this afternoon.

We were first introduced to each other by our friend Wes Roberts sometime between 1995-1996. Bruce was working on some life-changing training with Bill Thrall and John Lynch. They had founded the Leadership Catalyst. Ascent of a Leader, TrueFaced and The Cure are a few of the books they’ve published over the years. The Heart of Man movie 🍿 is a penetrating expression of some of their work (although is wont be easy for you, you MUST see it! – it’s available on Netflix).

Bruce is one of the few men who have left a permanent mark on my life for good. I’m not the same person I was because our lives crossed back then. Thank God.

I hope God has graced your life with a Bruce too.

Canadian Museum of Human Rights

Photo: The long and winding ramps of the Canadian Museum of Human Right take you on an uphill journey through a history of human oppression and crimes against humanity with frequent calls to learn from the past and to treat each other with dignity and respect.

Photo: The museum includes Jesus as a proponent of love and respect for our fellow man.

Walking through the museum felt very up close and personal. I was with a pastor of a local church that is 90% former refugees and a Somali Christian who fled persecution and is hoping to find refuge in Canada. Our Somali friend bought our entry tickets.

It is a walk through darkness and light. It remembers mankind at our worst while calling us to be our best. It is a testimony to our brokenness and exposes our twisted hearts. It awakens hope that we can somehow overcome our bent toward evil.

There are reminders in the daily news that we can still call down darkness and partner with the enemy who is determined to convince us that we no longer bear the image of our Creator.

But we do.

I left with fresh conviction to do what I can to call people into the life-giving kingdom of God within which hearts change and from which darkness flees.

Toilets

Photo: the toilets in the “5 Star” Jungle

Everything about this place works together to strip people of their humanity.

200+ human beings live in this abandoned warehouse. They affectionately call it the “5 Star”. It’s anything but that. The smell of urine is strong upon entry. It’s a health disaster waiting to happen.

Paul Sydnor (IAFR) and the team are praying that portable toilets will be provided for these people ASAP. It’s clearly in everyone’s best interest.

We recognize that we might need to be the ones to provide the sanitation. We have no idea how. Still we pray, “Lord Jesus, please provide these people with sanitation- and if possible, please let us participate in your answer to this prayer.”

So be it.

So far from Eden

Your country destroyed my country.”

I had struck up a conversation with a 50 year old man who was sitting outside of a motel that houses refugees. I asked if he spoke English to which he replied by asking if I was from England. That was his reply when I told him I was from the US.

Photo: the Refugee motel outside of which we met

He speaks English well. He has a BA in economics from a university in Iraq. But he is now “a nobody” seeking refuge in France. I could tell hope is running thin.

It’s never easy hearing someone claim that my homeland destroyed theirs. But I’ve learned to listen and try to understand their point of view. And so I listened this morning.

I heard a middle age man lamenting the loss of his mother, father, brothers and wife to the violence and chaos of post Sadaam Iraq. At some point, he felt compelled to flee even his homeland.

In his words:

I have lost everything.”

And that is the point. I was talking to a man who has been stripped of everything in life. He is now trying to rebuild his life in Europe – but Europe wants him to go back to where he came from. He is presently sheltered in an unfinished motel, sharing a tiny room with 2-3 other people who have also fled their countries of origin.

The past is filled with loss. The future is uncertain. The present is painful.

This wasn’t a time for bandaids or closure. It was a time to listen closely. It was an opportunity to offer presence without judgment.

I came away with a heavy heart. We are so far from Eden.

Disasters

Wild fires are consuming the northwest. Hurricane Florence is plowing into the Carolinas. Typhoon Mangkhut is pummeling the Philippines. And Minnesota is dry, warm and breezy.

It would be easy to think all is well, projecting the peace and beauty around me onto others. But we know that isn’t the case.

Bigger than all these natural disasters is the number of people uprooted by human causes – war, violations of human rights, failed states and persecution.

68.5 Million people were forcibly displaced at the beginning of the year. Another 44,400 people have been forced to flee their homes every day since then. It is an unspeakable tragedy and a rampant evil in the world.

It’s easy to look out my window and think all is well. It is not.