Chapter 87 Ministry In Germany
In addition to the economic differences in Germany, there was another difficulty for me with this relocation to Europe: the language. I could speak enough German to buy things, ask basic questions and have an informal chat, but that is not adequate for actually living here.
On a scale of 0 to 5 to measure fluency in German, I was below 1, probably at 0.5! The prospect of starting to learn the nuances of another language at my age of 62 was daunting.
In addition, my minimal German meant I would be severely limited in my ability to minister. However, the Lord had some surprises in store for me.
First, he brought five “disciples” into my life, all of whom spoke adequate-to-excellent English. This meant I was not hampered at all in developing friendships with these men and freely teaching them along the way. What a great outlet that was when all the rest of my relationships hobbled along with my very basic German.
Second, God had placed me in a situation for absorbing this new language in a reasonably painless fashion. Barbara’s motherOmi could speak no English, so it was necessary to have all my interaction with her in German. When Barbara and I were with her, even when we spoke with each other, it had to be in German.
There were some trials in this. Omi could not seem to understand that it was my limited vocabulary that hampered me in grasping what she wanted. She thought I was just not very bright! I would be helping her in the garden and she would give me a command, “Get me the Hacke!” I had no idea what a “Hacke” was, so I would have to ask for an explanation, which just confirmed her suspicions about my IQ!
At 90, Omi struggled herself just to remember the proper names of things, so she was unable come up with any synonyms to help me out. She would impatiently point and repeat the same word again. I, of course, felt like a fool, and struggled to figure out what she was indicating.
Part of my difficulty was that I knew what Omi thought of me. In her generation, people looked at missionaries as those that had failed in everything else in life, and the only job they could find was to go somewhere else and share the gospel. Therefore, even before I failed in a particular task, I was already a total failure in her eyes.
This situation, however, was another gift from God. He was working on my fear of man, my desire to look good, to appear competent, to feel like I had some worth in this new culture. It was a powerful opportunity to remind myself of where my true worth came from: being made in the image of God, being redeemed by the blood of the Lamb; and being adopted into the family of God.
God consistently led me to praise Him for my embarrassing and stressful moments, to let go of wanting to appear competent, and to relax in His love. Then I could think clearly and usually figure out what it was that Omi wanted. He was setting me free from fear of man, helping me to walk in a healthy fear of God.
Another struggle that Omi and I had was with finding things. I often could not locate the item she sent me to get from the cellar or the pantry. I knew what I was looking for, but frequently she had put it in a different container than I expected, or hidden it behind something.
She knew exactly where the desired object was and could not fathom my inability to find it. These situations were, again, chances to let go, hold on and rise above, to walk into the freedom of God-given worth, belonging and competence. It also made me better at searching for things!
In the midst of these struggles, it would have been easy to see Omi as the enemy, but God gave me a great love for her, a warm, positive, caring love. I could easily and whole-heartedly help her in things around the house, letting her negative statements and views roll off me like water off a duck. Indeed, I was covered with the oil of gladness, impermeable to the water of worldly words of dissatisfaction and discontent. This was completely His doing and I praise Him for it.
A third helpful factor in learning German was the plethora of material to learn from. Not being a classroom type of learner, I worked on my German daily by reading the newspaper, listening to some radio and TV, and taking every opportunity for conversation.
The most effective means of language acquisition, however, was while doing my morning Bible reading in the New Testament. Since I knew the passages quite well in English, as I read it in German, I could note grammatical structures and guess at word meanings more easily than in the newspaper.
Later I got hold of a parallel New Testament with German in one column and Turkish in the next. Having the languages side by side made it very easy to compare and learn. By the end of our time in Germany, I was able to comprehend 95% of what I was reading in the German Bible.
Picture: Omi with grandson Josh and his son Maxwell