Starting Fresh

You guys know I love to write, especially about our work and life in Vienna, so I hope you don’t think I’ve forgotten about you or about this particular form of communication. The Vienna Team has been busy, Will and I have been busy, Elliott has been extremely busy which keeps me extremely busy… It’s been a whirlwind of action over here. A hefty amount of that action has consisted of us, the Kooi family, trying to find our footing and rebuild the foundation that we felt had been so shaken when we returned last December. But an equally large amount of that action has consisted of new beginnings, deepened friendships, big dreams, and a fresh view of the future.

A very new beginning for Will and me has been our move from our old apartment in the 2nd district to our new row house in the 22nd district. We absolutely love our neighborhood and neighbors. I don’t think we could have asked for a better landlord, and his wife has taken me under her wing to do yoga with me and Elliott on Wednesday mornings! We’ve been working on the layout of our living room as our goal is to have our house “house-church-ready” by the fall. We’re thrilled to join the house-church rotation and can’t wait to open our home for worship. There’s still some tasks here and there we need to finish before the big day takes place, but we’re nearly there.

We had a wonderful, blessed time with the Jones family – our MRCC >> Vienna country coordinators. It was so good to hug on them and talk about everything under the sun. (At least the girls and I talked a bunch, can’t speak for the guys.) They were able to experience another Gemeinschaftsonntag (Fellowship Sunday) and meet a few new people in our church. Their visit was much too short but we treasured all the time they were able to spend with us.

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In April our family and the Haskew family took a short trip to Budapest. It was there that we really nailed down our new team identity and spent many sessions in discussion and prayer over the work in Vienna. We talked about each other’s spiritual gifts, analyzed current programs, dreamed up new ones, and set goals for the future. When we weren’t working together, we were enjoying each other’s company by the pool or while playing a board game or drinking a coffee. This retreat was huge for us both as a team and as individuals. The retreat seemed to breathe life back into us and we felt the Lord’s presence throughout its entirety. I think we all returned to Vienna with a renewed sense of purpose and a goofy grin on our faces as we thought back to that time when our train hit the emergency breaks while Will was in the bathroom. If for some reason we hadn’t bonded over our work sessions or board games, I’m sure we would’ve bonded over Will’s bathroom story. Hilarious.

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Not too long after our retreat, our interns, Lindsey and Daven arrived to work alongside us for 6 weeks. Lindsey and Daven are former study abroad students so Vienna is a home away from home. The girls jumped right in and helped Will, Jake and Amanda finish out the remaining English Kids Club sessions. The girls even planned the End of the Year Party for us which was a hit. Since EKC is now on its summer pause, the girls have been spending a lot of their time focusing on the church. I think my favorite activity they’ve put together is the teen girls slumber party. Will and Elliott were kind enough to camp out upstairs for an evening so our house could handle teen girl talk (*thumbs up*) and teen girl music (*thumbs down*). Three of our girls from church came and the 6 of us had a blast. We ate pizza, baked cupcakes, watched a movie, decorated pillow cases, and then of course, ended our evening with pillow talk. Lindsey, Daven and I turned in around midnight, but I heard a rumor that the other girls, well, took their time going to sleep. The next morning we all piled around my kitchen table for pancakes and we sent the girls home with new pretty pillows and tired eyes. It was a fantastic time. Sadly, the 6 weeks are nearly over and Lindsey and Daven head back to the States this Saturday. They’ll be missed!

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Can you tell there was a sleepover at my house?

Can you tell there was a sleepover at my house?

Elliott is 8 months old which is crazy talk. He’s so stinkin’ big – he’s wearing clothes for 1 year olds. He crawls everywhere, pulls up on everything, and eats anything and everything within his reach which is surprisingly long. He’s got two bottom teeth on their way and seems to be handling it pretty well. Still not a lot of hair, but I guess I should expect that given both of his grandpas are lacking in that department. The kid’s a ham for the camera and for people. Currently, he loves having Oma Mendy here and can’t wait for Opa Chip to join her. We love our Elliott.

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As for us? We’re good. We’re so good. Sure, the new year rang in more difficulties than triumphs, but we learned from those days and months and we’ve grown stronger because of it. You know that well-known passage in James about having joy in the midst of trials? I think I get that now, at least better than before. I know another trial will come and I’ll raise my eyebrow at this passage in James and learn this same lesson all over again. But for now I can look back at the craziness of December, the uncertainty of January, the heaviness of February… I can look back and be filled with the joy of the Spirit.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

James 1:2-4

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Rolling With The Punches

The ability to be flexible is one of the most important lessons God has taught us over these last two years. It’s not hard to find times when Paul had to be flexible to extreme degrees during his missionary journeys, and though we’re certainly thankful we’ve never been put in prison for our beliefs, or because of our visa issues (!), we’ve learned a great deal about what it means to roll with the punches, as Paul had to do so often.

Overall, we’re doing well. Staying here for 4 months wasn’t the ideal plan, but because we began to imagine this very possibility since before we even left Vienna back in May, settling in and adjusting to Plan B has been much, much easier than we anticipated. The lack of news we’ve received has not been a shock, and the fact that we’re way past my fly date no longer feels devastating. And the more we take a step back and reflect for a moment on the positives of being here versus the positives of our plan, the more we’re able to see that, yet again and as always, God’s plan was better. It is better; and we’re ready to put His plan into action.

Our latest apartment decoration thanks to The Chalet Woodshop.

Our latest apartment decoration thanks to The Chalet Woodshop.

To begin with, we’ve moved out of Will’s parents’ house and into a lovely little apartment on Oklahoma Christian University’s campus. Some of you may know our particular complex as Tealridge Assisted Living which is still home to many precious seniors, and more recently several other young married couples who either work for or attend the university. The apartment came completely unfurnished which at first was a little daunting since we sold all of our own furniture before we even made the move to Vienna 2 years ago. Plus, we spent several weeks in July selling other possessions that we didn’t want to take to Vienna with us like our kitchen utensils and home decor. We sold most everything at our garage sale, which was awesome, but we quickly realized how nice it would’ve been to have those same items back… Ah, the irony. But so many good friends and family came to our aid and provided us with exactly what we needed from shower rings to a couch to a stroller. We feel very at home, and I was even able to create a nice little nursery for Elliott – something I had been waiting to do since the day we found out about him.

Our view from Tealridge. Not too shabby.

Our view from Tealridge. Not too shabby.

After we got ourselves moved into our temporary home, we began looking for ways to work. We recently Skyped with the Haskews and had a fantastic team meeting about things Will and I can be doing from here in order to benefit the work there, as well as unburden the Haskews as much as possible. Our programs in Vienna will slow down a bit, and some will even pause for the fall semester, but these changes, as far as we can see, are in no way harmful to the work, and the Haskews are strong people who are ready to take on the challenge. From here, Will can continue to serve the team by designing advertisements for programs, staying on top of website upkeep, and communicating to supporters through social media and newsletters while I write the curriculum for English Kids Club 2015, blog, serve as a project manager when needed, and moderate OC’s missions involvement with the team. Will has also been working at Memorial Road during the week, specifically on all things fundraising.

We’ve also been looking for ways to get fully plugged into various ministries taking place right here in Edmond. On Sundays we’ll attend MRCC’s International Class and will lead table discussions each time, and on Wednesdays we will read with any international students who are interested in learning English. We also hope to be as involved with any class preparation as possible – providing food, helping with tasks, organizing events, etc. Our first big involvement took place last Sunday as we, along with the current class members, welcomed at least 30 international students who flew in from different parts of the world, such as Burundi, Kenya, Japan, China, and Rwanda to attend Oklahoma Christian University. It was a great event that we all hope blessed the new students immensely. On Sunday evenings, we’ll be QGroup hopping which we began last Sunday as well. We hope to stop by yours!

Setting up for International Class.

Setting up for International Class.

Full room!

Full room!

And last but not least, we’re preparing for Elliott’s arrival. We’ve got less than 5 weeks before he gets here! The time feels like it’s going by so fast yet so slowly at the same time. We’re so excited for him to get here and a little nervous, too. But I think we’ve got all the things we need to make him comfortable, and we’re definitely surrounded by the love of our friends, family and church family. He’s going to be one loved little guy.

Preparing for baby Elliott...

Preparing for baby Elliott…

That pretty much sums up what are hopes are for the fall and what we’re currently working on or toward. As we said in our last post, we’d love to get a meal or coffee with you during our stay, so please don’t hesitate to contact us if that’s something you’d like to do. If you have any questions relating to our work here, the work in Vienna, fundraising, or something else about our ministries, please let us know.

Thank You

Well folks, we’re down to the wire. We either hear something about the permit (positive news, ideally) by Friday and board a plane next week, or we hear nothing and stay here in Oklahoma for the next several months. This “living in limbo” phase we’ve been in for so many weeks now has been challenging and occasionally difficult, but regardless of the outcome, we’re sincerely thankful for each of you. We’re thankful for your support, encouragement, comments, love, and most of all – your prayers. We have absolutely treasured the words “We’re praying for you!” each time they’ve been said to us, always packed with immense love and faith behind them. Those words have lifted our spirits and impacted our own faith. Thank you for checking on us and providing for us, and thank you for loving the city of Vienna!

If we hear something today, tomorrow… or midnight on Friday, you’ll know it. And if not, well then we look forward to spending more time with you, as well as introducing you to baby Elliott in September.

Updates On Baby And Permit

A question I didn’t include in last week’s FAQ post but has been asked probably more times than the others is:

How’s baby Elliott?

I didn’t add it to last week’s list because, though I assumed he was doing well, I wanted to hear those words from a doctor before writing about him. Now I have that answer, and it is – Elliott’s doing great! After over 2 months of waiting for an appointment, I was finally able to see someone this morning over at the new Mercy Clinic (which is very snazzy-looking). This appointment was mainly for me to get my glucose test taken care of – a totally gross, sugary experience – but it was also a chance for Will and me to meet our potential new doctor in the case that we are here to stay to have Elliott. I was admittedly nervous about meeting this doctor in the first place, simply because I didn’t have any time to get recommendations or do much research on doctors in Oklahoma City. Plus, this was my first baby-related appointment in the U.S. and I wasn’t sure what to expect other than I probably wouldn’t get an ultrasound – something that is done at every single appointment in Austria. But I knew God had led us to this clinic and this doctor as soon as we met the staff. We connected right away with the nurse whose daughter has done mission work in Wales and is looking to do more in the Philippines. Then, upon showing the doctor my all-German records, she said she had seen these kinds of records before and recognized and understood most everything as she sees many Austrians who work for Tinker. We’re a perfect match.

The overall experience was wonderful and filled Will and me with great peace. We explained our work permit situation to the doctor who said that if we do have to stay, she’d get us fixed up without any problems. We’ll be able to ease right in as if we were with her practice the whole time. As for me, my blood pressure, which hasn’t been taken since May, is totally fine. My glucose test has been sent off to the lab and we should hear back about that next week. And as for Elliott, he’s been measured and given a thumbs-up. He gave me a pretty good jab in the ribs a few minutes ago, so, he’s letting me know that he’s doing well, and also mad that he had to taste the glucose drink. Blech.

With the doctor’s confirmation that July 30th is the absolute last day I can fly, we did go ahead and schedule our next appointment for 2 weeks from now, ultrasound included. As we were getting that taken care of, the nurse told us the next available slot would be July 30th. Ha, of course. But we figured, if there’s anything that could lift our spirits after not being able to fly back on Austria that day, it’s seeing our baby boy on the ultrasound screen.

We unfortunately don’t have any real updates on the work permit at this time. We did hear from our lawyer a couple of days ago for the first time since May, and he gave us a very small update saying that “they” (those who are processing our permit) need more… [fill in the blank]. We’re not sure what they need other than “more” of something, but now we’re specifically praying that whatever is needed is easy to get and is the last piece of the puzzle. We’ve got 13 days to get this thing.

Thoughts On The Close Of A Chapter

Has it really been 2 years? 

577261_405631219477120_1070214144_nThat question is all I can ask myself as I sit here on my parent’s porch after finally making it to Atlanta. Knowing we were in Vienna two years is a strange thing to comprehend. So much has happened yet it feels as though we’ve only just gotten started. I think back to when we first landed in Vienna on May 17th, 2012. We were excited and completely nervous as we walked through the airport not at all prepared for our special greeting outside the doors. We were greeted by the bright, smiling faces of who we now call our family. Our church family, our Vienna family. They held up a colorful poster with “Willkommen in Wien” (Welcome to Vienna) written in big, bold letters, surrounded by signatures and loving comments from everyone in the congregation. That poster still hangs in our bedroom so we never forget how we were welcomed, and who we came for.

That summer, the summer of 2012, was a mixed bag of emotions. We were thrilled to finally be underway in our mission, but we had no idea how God planned to use us. We were uncertain of a lot of things like where we would live, what our specific ministries would look like, how we’d fall into place with the church, whether or not we’d make any friends, how (or if) we’d learn this crazy German language. We had so many questions, but all were answered in God’s perfect, faithful timing. He provided us with a home, he provided us with work according to our gifts, he opened the church to us and introduced us to so many wonderful friends around the city. And he even gave us the ability to speak German. He provided us with courage and with confidence to move forward in our mission and become part of the city of Vienna.

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Through our HIM Worker experience, we’ve been able to be part of so many good works the Lord has put into motion – a church coming together and supporting one another in a time of transition; the rebuilding and thriving of English Kids Club; the lives and hearts of Oklahoma Christian University and Lipscomb University students transforming before our very eyes; the beginning of a youth group; the naming of a church; new friendships, new Bible studies, new citizens of Heaven. We’ve done some transforming ourselves as we’ve learned and continue to learn how to work with one another, how to live abroad, how to have joy in trials of all kinds, how to make friends in another land, and now most recently, how to celebrate new life in two worlds at once.IMG_3995

On Thursday, May 15th, our chapter as HIM Workers came to a close, but our desire to work for the Lord does not. We are reminded in Ephesians 2:10 that God already has work waiting for us, and it is with that hope that we boarded our plane and headed for home.

A Busy Couple of Koois

This month has been one of the busiest we’ve experienced since we’ve lived here. It’s been absolutely crazy. A good crazy, of course. There have been end of the year parties, service projects, fests, outings, dinners, celebrations… And it’s only mid-June. But through all that has gone on, there are two events of importance that will always stick out in our minds when we think back to June 2013.

IMG_5924Tuesday, June 11th was a momentous day in the life of English Kids Club as we celebrated the last EKC of the 2012-2013 year. It represented endings as well as new beginnings, and we watched God go to work as He always does when we least expect it. Will and I began planning the End of the Year party several months back. Since it was our first time to plan the party we weren’t entirely sure what it was going to look like, but after some idea swapping with Mendy Kooi, we decided to bring the Oklahoma Christian University Study Abroad students on board and before long we had the makings of a carnival. The students paired up and planned various games and challenges for our EKC kids to do on their last day, activities like Sack Races, Candy Walk, Face Painting, and several more. The carnival was supposed to take place outside the office, but we had to scramble and change plans due to the downpour that began before we got started. We were sure our regular kids wouldn’t show up because of the rain, but like I said, God worked in a way we weren’t expecting and all of our regular kids plus a few more came and our carnival was in full swing. God is good.

The kids and the students played together for about an hour while Will, Kim, Josh, Jake, Amanda, and I chatted with the parents. Once we noticed that the majority of the kids had taken an interest in the giant puddles outside instead of the carnival, we brought the carnival to a close and had the kids come inside for their performance. The kids sang “In the Jungle” to the parents as a cute demonstration of what they learned during our “Jungle Week”. After the performance, we graduated 8 kids – 7 boys and 1 girl – and gave them all a graduation certificate and a frisbee (which they later used as buckets for the puddles outside – whoops) as a way to remember their time at EKC. We ended the party on a bit of an emotional note as this was the last English Kids Club for the Hensal family. Kim was the brains behind the program so EKC has always been especially close to her heart. As a way of saying thank you, the kids as well as the rest of the team signed their names on a yellow canvas that reads “We Love You”, and the kids presented it to Kim. It was a tearful yet special moment, and a very sweet end to the EKC year.

IMG_2513Another event Will and I worked on was what we called “Hensal Sunday” which took place yesterday. Hensal Sunday was a time for everyone in both our congregation as well as the congregation across the river to come together and celebrate the good and missional works of the Hensals’ 6 years in Vienna. We began the day singing the Hensals’ favorite worship songs on blankets under the trees in Hirschtettner Badeteich, a park that is especially close to the hearts of those in our church as several baptisms have taken place there. After worship, anyone who wanted to was given the opportunity to share memories and give well-wishes to the Hensal family. During that time, a German Bible for Josh and Kim was passed around for people to sign and highlight favorite scriptures, and a journal for the kids was passed around for note writing. The time of sharing brought forth lots of tears as the church family expressed their deep love for the Hensal family. Once everyone had shared, we brought the Hensals to the middle and prayed over them and their upcoming journey. Then to conclude Hensal Sunday, we picnicked together while the kids took off to the lake for an after-lunch swim. It was a beautiful day.

IMG_6047Since most of our programs and events have ended or are winding down, most of our time this week will be dedicated to helping the Hensals pack. We ask that you be in fervent prayer for our church and especially for the Hensals during these last few weeks of transition.

InterMission Team Visits Vienna

Hofburg Palace showing off for the InterMission Team.

Hofburg Palace showing off for the InterMission Team.

This past week we were blessed by the presence of Memorial Road Church of Christ’s “InterMission Team”. For this trip, the InterMission Team (IMT) consisted of two families: The Harts and the Shorts. The Harts were missionaries in South Africa for 18 years, living through the South African “Struggle” as well as the freeing of Nelson Mandela, the rampant spread of AIDS, and the birth of the “new” South Africa. The Shorts were missionaries in Taiwan for 13 years where they learned Chinese (how amazing is that?) and faced both personal and missional hardships of many kinds, while of course experiencing the sovereignty of the Lord as well. Throughout the many years of work on the mission field, both families encountered the painful experiences of saying goodbye to longtime teammates who made the decision to leave the mission field, saying goodbye to friends as they themselves made the decision to the leave the mission field, and finally, watching their children face the challenges of acclimating to a new culture as a “Third Culture Kid” (TCK).

As many of you know, the Hensals, a family of 6 who have been here in Vienna since the mission began 6 years ago, are in the process of transitioning back to the States, the move taking place at the beginning of July. Knowing all that they do now about healthy transitions, Third Culture Kids, re-entry shock, and all of the emotions in between, the InterMission Team was created, and visited our team simply to be with us and help us all, especially the Hensals, ease into this time of transition as smoothly as possible. The IMT met with each of our families individually in different settings as well as with us all as a group. We talked, we laughed, we cried, and have now gained a little more insight as to what July will bring.

Tobias and his new bird friend (who is filled with Catnip).

Tobias and his new bird friend (who is filled with Catnip).

The IMT met with us on Wednesday and we were together the entire day. While we did talk about our purpose here in Vienna, ways we can best support the ones we’re here to serve, and our role in the team’s transition, we mostly spent the day having tons of fun together. The IMT brought us goodies from the States, including but not limited to peanut butter, Mac N’ Cheese, a Thunder T-shirt, hot wing sauce from Buffalo Wild Wings, and even toys for Tobias. We took the IMT all over Vienna, showing off our favorite sights. We ate lunch at a kebab stand and introduced them to Almdudler, a Viennese soda favorite. We stopped for coffee and cake at Cafe Central, oo-ed and ahh-ed with them beneath the enchanted ceiling of Stephansdom, toured the majesty of the Belvedere Palace, and stuffed ourselves full of schnitzel at an authentic underground Viennese restaurant. We concluded our evening by having one last cup of coffee (decaf) and piece of cake at Cafe Griensteidl. The six of us were completely exhausted in the best way, to say the least.

Bubble-making street performers outside Hofburg Palace.

Bubble-making street performers outside Hofburg Palace.

This week was packed full of blessings and we’re immensely grateful for the time these two families were able to spend with all of us. There is so much involved in leaving a culture and returning to one’s home culture correctly that we often forget or simply don’t think about all the details and possibilities, and for that we are doubly thankful for the gentle spirits and servant-like attitudes of the IMT who not only helped us all to think of all the details and possibilities, but allowed us to work through them with their support as well. It is because of families such as the ones on the IMT who went before us and experienced “a crash landing” and are now able to help and bless other families and teams avoid the crash and instead land softly. Join us in prayer over these next several months as the team, the church, and our individual families transition together.