I am sitting here in Busingen, Switzerland, which is actually right on top of Germany. (or visa versa). In essence, I am sitting in two worlds: Germany and Switzerland. I am sitting in the downstairs apartment of Doug and Jenn Mann’s house, which has a German and Swiss address. This little town between two cultures, is where the headquarters for the Eurasia Regional offices for the Church of the Nazarene are located. As I sit here taking a few moments after my devotional reading this morning, I am taking some time to reflect on the journey that led us here. All the love and generosity that has led us here and continues to keep us, here, on the other side of the Atlantic, in Switzerland/Germany, or as Jenn says, “Switzermany.” The love and generosity of our Savior Jesus Christ and the body of our Savior Jesus Christ: the church. I have seen it everywhere as we have journeyed in tough places, as if sitting on the edge of a broken and hateful world, while also sitting on the edge of a loving, generous, and righteous one. Living on the border of God’s Kingdom as it comes, and the broken kingdoms of this world as they go.
I just have to take a moment to brag on my wife. She constantly astounds me. On the road consisting of three airplanes, traveling through three countries, and walking across three enormous airports, and all during a pandemic, she was our hero. We met incredibly generous and kind people, incredible crabby and aggravated people, uncaring and uninterested people, and everything in between. At every turn and in every situation my wife would reach into her “Mary-Poppins-Carpet-Bag type backpack” and pull out that extra document, toy, gift, clothing, or other item that is precisely what is needed. My favorite memory of the trip was when we boarded the enormous plane going from Boston to Paris. Now, if you start to feel anxious about a flight like that and you need some perspective, just take a moment and watch the flight attendants at work. I am sure it is quite a production to get hundreds of men, women, and children, across the Atlantic at any point. But now, in a pandemic, I watch as these workers check every mask (they must be surgical, no cloth masks allowed) and offer a clean new one to anybody without one, they hand out sanitizing wipes to each passenger, they check every seatbelt, hand out contact forms for documenting and following up with any person that might have sat next to someone who is later found to have had COVID-19, they bring children blankets and toys, they clean and reclean handles, armrests, and toilet doors, they make sure everybody is properly distanced etc. I was impressed, to say the least, by their accomplishment.
Still, it is a stressful thing and there is always a rookie. There was one lady, in particular, who seemed to be a bit stressed by it all, as she worked to remember everything. She was a younger lady with blond hair, blue eyes, a strong French accent, and a face which warned of coming tears. As she walked quickly by my wife (separated by myself by Jude and Kate) I watched Katie say, “Excuse me ma’am!” The lady stopped immediately and asked, “Yes ma’am, can I get you something.” At that moment my wife reached down into her Mary Poppins back and pulled out a Starbucks gift card, handed it to this young lady, and said, “I just want you to know you are doing a great job and we really appreciate you taking care of us today. This is a gift so you can get some caffeine when it is all over.” The young woman just looked at her in confusion. After she clarified that it was, indeed, a free gift to her, those blue eyes filled with tears and she said, “I cannot believe you give me this gift. I have never received a gift like this before. We do not have Starbucks where I am from, so this is special, and I will use it in America when I fly in.” She wiped her eyes and hurried off with many thanks echoing behind her. Later, she returned with a small personal gift for Katie in response, over a bright smile she handed Katie a little floral themed notepad.
I am always amazed at how a show of grace or love can transform the culture, the world, around you, even if it seems to be a world of aggravation, frustration, anger, or anxiety. Now, of course, Katie did not follow that gift with lots of impatience, frustration, or bad temperament. It was not meant to cover over what she knew would be a terrible experience for that young lady. Rather, it was a tone setter, an introduction, (and now I am bragging on my wife again) to the grace and patience she could expect from a mother of two toddler who was moving between worlds. It reminds me of that passage in 1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, keep absolutely firm in your love for one another, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” That last part is a quote from Proverbs, which has nothing to do with using random acts of kindness as a cover up, an apology, or an excuse to treat others unrighteously. These acts of love are a part of the transformed life, and they function as introduction to the kind of life that others can expect from us. These acts transform our own lives, but they also function as a Spirit enabled contribution to the greater transformation of our world that is taking place as the Kingdom of God renews and replaces the brokenness all around us. This is how N.T. Wright puts it: “the gift of love we are invited to offer one another minute by minute, day by day throughout our lives actually transforms situations, so that the ‘multitude of sins’ which were there before are taken out of the equation.” (Early Christian Letters for Everyone)
My family is sitting here, in “Switzermany”, after a long journey, in no small way because of the transformational love that we have experienced from the hands of God and the hands of the people of God. Every moment we are aware of the body that supports us. So, if you are reading this and you know that you have contributed to the resolute love that has been shown to us then let me say a big, “thank you!” The culture of our lives has been transformed by your love and I think the best way to receive and show gratitude for that is the same as receiving the transforming love of Christ. We want to re-present it to those around us. I wonder if today, in what might be a frustrating, anxious, and sometimes hateful world, you have an opportunity to introduce the love of Christ into a situation, and see it transformed?
Would you pray that we do just that? Help us pray that we re-present love while we are here, but please continue to hold us up, that we might arrive in Bulgaria and see lives transformed by the love that has transformed us! We are happy to be closer, and in a beautiful place, with beautiful people, but we are not home yet. Our hearts yearn for the place of our calling. Grace and peace to you from Switzermany!
P.S. – While I am bragging on her..... Katie did not throw up EVEN ONCE on all of our flights. That is a first for her. God is good! But I also think she was too busy taking care of everybody else to remember to puke a little bit. :)