Earlier this week, Marla and I were looking online for a movie to watch. We found “The Shack”, a newer film based on the successful novel by William Paul Young. In case you don’t know, “The Shack” tells the story about a man (Mack) who encounters God near an abandoned shack where his daughter was murdered. Mostly, it deals with how Mack struggles with his grief and anger toward God. And it asks some hard questions about where God is when tragedies in our world occur.
Also during this week, one of our students came to Friedenshaus quite distraught. She approached Marla with a letter from a hospital, explaining that her husband would not be able to leave in the foreseeable future. With limited German, we understood that he was suffering from a brain hemorrhage. We sat with her while some of the other classmates tried to console her in Arabic. One phrase we heard repeated often was “Inshallah”, or God willing. It’s used often by Muslims to reflect their trust that all aspects of our lives are in God’s hands.
This past Sunday, during our last worship service here at the Ludwigshafen Mennonite Church, we prayed about the food crisis that is affecting many countries in Africa. It was hard not to feel hopeless during this time – wondering how to help. Where do you start with a disaster like a drought that affects millions of people? It’s easy to feel helpless – but hopeful?
When we put our trust in God, I believe that hope can conquer helplessness. In our modern world, where many feel they are in charge of their lives, their successes and failures, trying to deal with disasters like war and drought can feel hopeless. How can I help? But when we trust that God is there, hope returns.
Knowing that God is present among the tragedies in our world might sound helpless. If God is almighty, why don’t these problems get solved? The word compassion literally means “to suffer with”. Perhaps the God that seeks relationship wants to be present in all aspects of our lives, the good and the bad, the joyful and the tragic. And maybe that’s a guide for us as well, especially for those of us who want to solve things.
The Farewells Begin
This past weekend was a farewell of sorts. On Saturday, Marla and I celebrated our last Friedenshaus potluck at an outdoor park with a small group of Friedenshaus folks. And on Sunday, we enjoyed our last Sunday morning church service here at Ludwigshafen Mennonite church.
Our monthly potluck meal was a little different this month. As the weather has changed in May, we thought an outdoor event would be fun. So, we had rented a BBQ grill at a local park and invited everyone to bring their own BBQ meal choices to share. We had assumed everyone would bring a small amount of meat. But, when the first kebabs appeared, we realized we were in for a “Fleischfest”. There were a few skewers with veggies, but the meat dominated the event. And, of course, was offered (i.e., placed on our plates) to us in mass quantities. The attendees were mostly families, where the children could run around and play safely without constant supervision. It wasn’t only a child’s paradise, but a parent’s as well! People lingered long after the eating was done to share stories and laughter; a lovely memory to take home with us.
Because of a combination of us travelling and a joint service at another congregation for Pentecost, we realized a while ago that May 21 would be our last Ludwigshafen church service. Therefore, we had prepared a lunch for the congregation after the service as a thank you for our time here. Before you wonder how we could prepare a meal for so many people, remember that this is a small congregation. We planned for approx. 30 people and were almost exactly bang on! Thank yous were expressed by both sides and we enjoyed a good afternoon of conversation around the tables.
This is a bittersweet time for us. It’s hard not to feel sad as we look around at the familiar faces we will no longer see week to week. We will miss our short walk to work, our apartment that has become home and the “Guten Morgens” from our Friedenshaus friends and colleagues. But, as the weeks pass, our thoughts slowly turn toward home – family and friends, and work and home responsibilities looming ahead. As we shared on Sunday, this time here has been (and continues to be) a treasure that we will keep with us for a long time.
German Word of the Week: Gleichberechtigung (equality). This week, my advanced students have been looking into some aspects of the German “Grundgesetz” or constitution. We discussed words like freedom of Religion and other aspects of German laws. When we discussed equality, one of the students explained they have that in Syria too (tongue firmly in cheek). Except the government wants everyone to act and think the same – no other opinions allowed! Not exactly the equality the Germans had in mind.