A moving experience

Once we returned from that working vacation to Austria during spring break, the preparations for our return to the U.S. began in earnest. It was a busy time that had its high and low points. To be honest, getting settled here in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has those extremes, too. Let’s try to keep things on the bright side, shall we?

Katherine and I are thankful that our household belongings in Germany are safe—and only stored in two places. A couple from church generously offered the use of a room in their cellar, at no cost to us! And Wycliffe Europe Area allowed us to store items in unused attic space that they have. Maneuvering things into those spots was often a challenge—especially during rainy days—but we are pretty satisfied with the results. The old apartment was emptied and turned over to new faces.

It took me a while to distribute the nearly 400 pounds of luggage among our eight allowed bags, but I managed it. How does one pack to spend a year ‘away from home’ while ‘at home’? We’re still not sure, but this is what it might look like:

The back of the van that took us to the Frankfurt airport.

Shortly before we left, Caleb celebrated the end of his two-year-long Bible study course, which he completed with other youth his age at the church we attend there. It’s not easy to get all four of us into one picture, but again, we managed it!

After the bible study graduation service.

In fact, we did it a second time a little bit after that. At the outskirts of every city, town, and village in Germany, there are signs indicating the town limits and the distance to the next place along the same road. I thought that you might be interested to know how far we’ve come on our ‘road’ to the U.S.:

Would an arrow have been pointless?

After arriving, we recovered from jet lag and began getting reacquainted with the Lancaster area. It’s now been one month since I collected our stateside things from storage and brought them to where we are now:

Into and out of storage

As for where that is exactly, I have no objection to telling you outright—the address will be in the next newsletter. However, being an aficionado of cartography and ingenuity, I think it would be more fun to do it another way. There are three words that can describe where we live now. Those three words are “erupted”, “dockers”, and “imitations”. Write to me to confirm your guess. If you don’t figure it out, contact me so I can send you information on a fascinating way in which truly remote areas are getting addresses.

How can you pray for us now? Well, moving stinks. Being close to family is great. The differences between the German and U.S. school systems can be challenging and confusing. The good start those strapping young men have at school and in youth group is encouraging and relieving. The distance we have to go yet in settling and getting reconnected with supporters spread across half the country is intimidating. That’s when an excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Romans comes to mind:

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. (Romans 5:3-4)

Our hope of salvation is one of the driving forces behind our ministry with Wycliffe. We’re glad to know that you’re reading, and praying, and helping to keep us moving. Thank you!

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All work and no play …

… could have made working in Austria very dull.

The Wycliffe office in Linz, Austria, needed an update to its network equipment, if you’ll recall. With the boys’ spring break around the corner, Katherine and I planned for the whole family to make the trip together. She found a great place for us to stay in a village about 20 minutes from the city:

The view from our vacation apartment outside of Linz

Just one day later, the view looked like this:

How Gramastetten looked the day after we arrived

The funny thing was that I had put our summer tires on the car just a few days before we left. The day the snow fell was the very day that I drove down to the office in Linz to do my work. I couldn’t be sure how much snow was going to fall in the upper elevations—the village of Gramastetten being  915 feet in elevation above Linz, and I was a bit concerned about my return trip up the windy rural roads. Despite the worry, I got the job done:

New and rearranged equipment, reducing chaos

The installation that I did there in Linz became the first location in which all of the networking gear comes from the UniFi line of products from Ubiquiti Networks. The software in this inexpensive equipment makes it easy to us to monitor and manage it all from one central location. That feature takes a burden off of both local staff and those of us who support them. It’s working great, and everyone is quite satisfied with the improvements.

With that day of productivity done, Katherine, the boys, and I could enjoy the remainder of our time in Linz. We visited a few museums, took a long bike ride along the Danube, and enjoyed the traditional afternoon coffee and cake.

A view across the Danube of the Lentos Art Museum, from the Ars Electronica Center

When we drove to Austria, we arrived there after dark, so we couldn’t enjoy all the scenery along the Danube—though the lights of villages across the water were enchanting. On our return trip, we were treated to a number of small towns tucked into the folds and curves of this beautiful river. And we saw that we weren’t the only ones:

Ships like this one are a common sight along the river

After our return home to Germany, our preparations for our furlough in the U.S. began to accelerate. In late June, we moved out of our apartment and over to the Wycliffe center. As I write this, we are five days away from our departure. Nearly everything that needs to be stored for the next year is in a cellar or attic location, and the last bits of sorting and packing are underway.

In the U.S., we’ll take up residence in a townhouse in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, just minutes from my younger sister and her family. My mother is not much further away. Jonathan and Caleb will be attending Hempfield High School, which we’re all sure will be a vastly different experience from Dietrich Bonhoeffer Gymnasium and the German school system. The next year could be quite the adventure!

When you pray for us right now, thank the Lord our God for keeping us so well here over the past six years. If we get to share with you in person about this time, you’ll understand how much we have cherished it. Ask him also to give us endurance and perseverance as we pack, giving us the wisdom to know what to take and what to leave behind. And may we have patience with one another as our flight home draws nearer, and nearer, and nearer …

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Be careful what you write about …

… you just might get more of it.

Winter must have read what I wrote recently and taken affront at the title. “Discontent? I’ll give you discontent!” The week before last, one crucial element of the network in Austria—a switch that I’m scheduled to replace next month— decided to quit outright. Anything that couldn’t connect over the wireless network was out of luck. Incoming VPN connections? Nope, sorry. But let’s now give Sabine Oetzel, the director of Wycliffe Austria, a round of praise for her willingness to let some IT goon in Germany talk her through the process of re-routing cables so that essential hardware and services could be connected again. The week after Easter, Katherine, the boys, and I will take a working vacation to Linz so that I can install the new equipment.

Maybe it was our planning another working vacation that triggered the next thing. (Or maybe it’s just a little bit fun being mock-superstitious.) The last time we made a trip like that, it was to go to Amsterdam to replace the Bomgar server that enables our IT staff and many other people provide remote support.

Amsterdam, May 2012: Objects in picture are now taller than they appear.

So what happens this week? That replacement appliance decides to get finicky and stops working. With help from the people who run the data center, I managed to access it again and download fresh backups of settings and user accounts. The next day, it went down for good. Argh. Please pray with me that its replacement arrives in time to go with me to the Netherlands at the end of the month. I’ll be going up there anyway to provide support for a large conference.

I promised that I would write more about our upcoming furlough. This summer, we will have been living and working here for nearly six years. Now it’s time for a break. In July, we will come back to the U.S. to spend one year away from Germany and with our family, friends, and supporters. Lord willing, we will return here in July 2018—but not to the exact same work situation.

Over the course of our time here, I have realized a few things about myself. I have felt somewhat unfulfilled in the remote support work that I normally do. It’s not that the work is unnecessary or unworthy of attention—the stories I have related here make that point.

What I realized over much time, thought, and prayer is that—despite being a ‘healthy’ introvert—I have a strong need to work with my clients face-to-face and shoulder-to-shoulder. When I have those faces in front of me every day, I perceive an added dimension to the service I provide and the satisfaction I receive from it. Remote work often feels empty to me.

I approached my team leader, Martijn de Vries, with my dilemma. He approved an idea I had to approach Wycliffe Germany with the suggestion that I work exclusively (or primarily) for them. With the addition of the new Karimu conference center, they have the largest campus in Europe and the greatest need for on-site support.

Courtesy of https://tagungszentrum-karimu.de/internationales-tagungszentrum/tagungszentrum-fotos/
Wycliffe Germany and the Karimu Conference Center (Photo courtesy of www.karimu.de.)

Wycliffe Germany does not have a staff member dedicated to technical matters, and that situation could easily threaten or reduce their ability to host effective meetings and conferences. So I went to them in October and said, “I see your need and would like to help.” In December, their leadership team replied that they would gladly have me there full-time.

So we have a plan for our return: Katherine and I will each be spending our working hours with Wycliffe Germany and Karimu. Our plan for furlough is still developing, but a few things we know: we will be living in vicinity of Lancaster, PA, and we will be visiting the people who have been faithfully praying for us and supporting our ministry with Wycliffe.

When you pray and think of us, please pray for successes in my trip to the Netherlands and our trip to Austria. Pray for wisdom and perseverance as we plan and sort and pack in the coming months. Finally, pray for a satisfying schedule of appointments with folks during our furlough … and for rest. Thank you!

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