Sixty Years

According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another builds on it. But let each man be careful how he builds on it. (1 Corinthians 3:10 WEB)

It’s a privilege. That’s what I told myself. They’re good friends. We’ve known them since we moved to their country. We’ve watched their children grow up. They helped us understand what was happening in our new land. They translated while we struggled to learn the language. We laughed together, shared, and enjoyed the amicable relationship of neighbors sharing an apartment building and even closer, sharing the same stairwell.

I stood staring at the invitation thinking these thoughts and smiling. I nodded my head, like a rear window manikin, as I considered my reply. Not only were we accepted by the family but we would also meet other friends, colleagues, relatives, if we accepted the invitation. It was a birthday party celebrating sixty years. It would be a big event in a close family and friends setting. The venue: a local Heuriger, the place everyone goes to meet anyone in a comfortable setting. The problem: strangers speaking a language I still felt I wasn’t good at speaking. The solution: I accepted the invitation much to the delight of our friend’s daughter who was standing in our doorway with the invitation list in hand.

That Friday was a busy day at the office. The building was stuffed to overflowing with visitors and board members from around the globe. I scurried about to put things in order so I could leave a little early for the party. There was just enough time to take the bus home, climb the stairs to our apartment and leave my bag before the deadline. We scurried across the street to the restaurant, up the stairs, through the tables to the secluded back room. We were the second couple to arrive.

2005_rax_49My original hope, to sit next to the few folks we knew understood English, was quickly dashed. We met colleagues from his work, where he taught school, neighbors, and family members not versed in the wonders of the English language. My wife, Beth, selected a table in the corner near an outside door. Inconspicuous was her thought. Soon a couple, from our apartment building, slid around the table to join us in the corner.

We offered the appropriate greetings and introductions, although we already knew each other’s names. That’s part of the culture. As more people came in they stepped from table to table offering their hands, names and greetings to everyone who arrived before them. At times it gets rather confusing. The only ones to enter and sit, without proffering greetings were the local Duke and Duchess. Although no one in the country officially holds their titles, everyone knows who is who.

It took an hour for most folks to arrive, greet one another and find a comfortable spot in the room. Between greetings we talked with our neighbors. We discussed everything from their work and family to the sinking foundations of houses built over old mining shafts in the area. Finally the guest of honor was led into the room, blindfolded. We lit our sparklers, stood up, cheered and sang Happy Birthday as the blindfold came off. Interestingly we sang in English. Go figure.

We ate. We talked. It was loud. It was friendly. It was fun. Three young folk decided our table was safe and joined us. I thought it might be fun to talk with them, get a younger local view of things. But, they didn’t talk to anyone. They barely talked to each other. Then I saw them. Those little white ear plugs with the sliver of cable running to their pockets. They used music to drown out the conversation. Maybe I should get one of those. Then people wouldn’t hear my poor language skills, they’d just think I was rude. Then again, maybe not.

The funny thing about talking with our neighbors was that we have known them, vaguely, for over nine years. We walked past their door, on the ground floor, every time we went to or from our apartment. We knew about their new home in the country. We knew which cars they drove. We knew their first names. We knew about their son who lives somewhere else and occasionally comes for a visit. We knew a lot about them. But, we didn’t know them. Not until that evening.

They were most gracious to work through our limited vocabulary and poor grammar skills. We laughed at each other’s jokes, a difficult aspect of cross cultural situations, and shared about our personal lives. It was a chance to get to know them. At one point they invited us to their weekend slash retirement home in the mountains. Granted, it was for some future date but the honor it demonstrated was astounding. Such invitations don’t come often. A relationship was built.

As foreigners all conversations eventually turn to why we are in the country. Explaining this, without endangering our status in the country can be like dancing a fast jig, and I’m a poor dancer. But we talked about it. We talked about following God’s leading. They asked questions. We answered and they began to understand. A deeper relationship was planted. A relationship with a spiritual foundation was laid for future building.

Jesus talked about foundations. Some of His most hard hitting parables discussed foundations. Paul expanded the picture. The apostle knew different people built on other’s foundations. The key was a good foundation. A good foundation is set on the solid rock, and that rock is Jesus Christ.

As we left the party, I was exhausted, I knew others might build on this spiritual foundation with our neighbors. They both work in building construction so they would understand Jesus’ word picture. Maybe the Lord will open more doors for us to share and build on this foundation. We pray it’ll be built into a complete house of salvation in their lives, whether we are the construction workers or someone else.

As Christians we are sanctified construction workers. Sometimes we get to build from the solid rock to the roof top. Sometimes we only lay the foundation while others put up walls and ceilings. But the master builder has His plans and we just follow the blueprints. Maybe we need to rise each morning and ask God, “What will it be today Lord? A foundation, a wall, or a roof?”

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