Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Like A Hungry Man to A French Fry"

When in Europe, why not travel? Why not see it all?

The family and I do most of our sightseeing pretty locally. This is mostly due to financial constraints and ministry commitments. However, it is also somewhat by choice. There are so many amazing things to experience right around the corner from our house. We know others in the Wiesbaden area who are able to do a lot more of what you might call “serious travel,” going to all sorts of distant lands, from Athens to Budapest. Yet we are happily perfecting the so called day trip. It is typically quick, fun, and cheap!

I love seeing castles and ruins, vast forests, and medieval towns. Something strange is happening, however. Something is shifting in the way I experience these sights. More and more I find myself listening for that familiar ring of the English language. At first I gave little thought to the sound of fellow tourists speaking my native tongue. Now, I zero in on it like a hungry man on a french fry!
If I can, if the opportunity seems natural and not forced, I increasingly approach these English chatterers to strike up a little conversation. When I say hello and ask if they are American, the reaction is typically one of shock and joy. This is especially true if they turn out to be someone living and working here in Germany for a long period of time.

Most of these conversations simply cannot last very long. These people are, after all, on tour. Time is precious. Yet it is often just enough of a moment to do a touch of ministry and encouragement. Sometimes I glean a bit of information that I can offer up in prayer latter on. At other moments it seems the real ministry was to merely offer a brief taste of the familiar.

These encounters teach me two powerful lessons. They certainly teach me over and over again why Immanuel Baptist Church, where I serve as pastor, is so vital here in Germany. We do offer English speakers a consistent taste of the familiar. We communicate hope and healing in a language that is understood. We connect with people who may frequently feel adrift in a strange and uncharted sea.

More deeply, I am learning that I can never be just a tourist. This is not true because I am an ordained minister. This is true because I am a follower of Jesus, a minister in the very sense that all believers are ministers. As disciples, there is no off switch for our responsibilities to our fellow human beings. Our ears should be open at all times to the voice of the other, to connect, to heal, to offer hope, and to point the way to God. We need not do this in forced or superficial ways. All of us have had our door bells rung by someone, track or pamphlet in hand, claiming they “want to get to know us better.” It is nauseating! We should, rather, stay alert for those “natural” moments that only the Spirit can create. Then, act in genuine and loving ways to simply reach out.

Whether on vacation or at the mall, whether in the shopping mart or the sports field, we are on call to humanity. We need only look and listen.  

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