28 Steps

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, with humility and fear: (1 Peter 3:15 WEB)

“I have a headache.” I said to my wife Beth.

“No!” she responded without looking up from her work.

“I’m tired?” I purported.

“Too bad!” she replied unsympathetically.

“Someone needs to stay home. The boys are sick?” I attempted with a Cheshire grin.

“We are only two doors away! Whatever the excuse it won’t work. You’re going!” she said looking up. Her eyes said it all. The discussion was over. I was going.

It was an annual event. Our neighbors invited us to their Christmas party along with a number of other friends. We knew some of the folks. Others were strangers. All of them spoke German. Only a few of them spoke English. Those who spoke English didn’t do so well.

For me this was part of the issue. I was not excited about several hours mumbling through my poor language skills with strangers. Besides the language, the food was usually strange and often unidentifiable. There was always a lot of fish stuff and I don’t like seafood. I’m a meat and potatoes man. Good southern fried cooking was my preference.

But, regardless of the cuisine, language or additional creative efforts I applied in an effort to stay home, no excuse satisfied Beth to save me from the ordeal. With slouched shoulders I bathed, dressed, curved my lips in a coerced smile and shuffled the long walk to our neighbor’s flat. Step, step, step, I walked down the stairs like a condemned criminal.

You need to understand. I like my neighbors. I like their friends. I like to get together with folks. But, I don’t like crowds and I don’t like being put off balance by not being able to understand most of the conversation. We finally arrived at their door, knocked, smiled, said hello and entered. Beth was thrilled. She likes large parties and busy get together times.

Inside, fighting against my party pooper attitude, the festive air began to cheer my spirits. But, they were quickly dampened as a barrage of unintelligible words were cast in my direction. I’m sure it was some human language but to me it sounded like nonsense. Occasionally, I would capture a single word I understood but too few to construct a complete sentence.

2003_Shoenbrunn_019I found a comfortable chair at the table and settled in for the evening. I would smile, nod my head when someone spoke to me and make it appear I knew what was happening.

Food and drink flowed about the table from hand to mouth as the evening wore on. Locating a couple of recognizable morsels, not from the ocean, I kept my mouth sufficiently occupied to reduce conversation to the six words in my German vocabulary.

Beth, the more adventuresome linguist, was delighted with the short conversations she held. What a marvelous help-mate God provided. I just smiled and nodded my head . . . a lot! I’m sure I imitated one of those dogs in the rear window of a car.

Unexpectedly the view from my rear window on the evening changed. Susan, sitting to my right, turned to me and said, “We know you and trust you. You broadcast religious programs. Tell me the difference between what you teach and believe and what we believe in our church.”

With all the intellectual presence I could muster I stared blankly back at her and said, “Wie bitte?” (Loosely translated “Huh?”) Not suave and polished but an honest reaction to an open window of opportunity God dropped in my lap. This was not what I expected of the evening.

I have a saying which deals with the unexpected. A Christian should be ready to preach, pray or die at a moment’s notice. I have my preferences on which of these three I would like to do and not do, but, I try to be ready, none the less, for all three. God was checking up on me. How would I deal with an obvious opportunity regardless of the language or delicacies present? God has a tendency to test our resolutions in the most unexpected ways. It was time for me to put up or shut up.

We took up the challenge. For the next two hours, together, Beth and I used the opportunity to explain the Gospel, faith, and the grace of God. Stumbling over the pronunciation of some words, mumbling those we weren’t sure about, and working through the gaps in our vocabulary turned an otherwise straightforward conversation into a mental marathon. When we reached the end we were out of words and exhausted. God worked through us to bring His word into their lives.

Struggling back up all twenty-eight stairs, to our flat, we returned home, ready for a good night’s rest. Doors were opened. Opportunities created. Hearts pointed in the right direction including mine. It just goes to prove God can, and will, at times, use us in spite of ourselves.

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