Our Return to Rothenburg

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The months leading up to November’s retreat week of 2013 were filled with excitement from our teammates and friends. Rothenburg was coming; it was coming and just around the corner. “After you guys experience the Rothenburg retreat, you’ll start counting down the days for the next one”, Tamika told me. “You’ll love it and won’t want to leave.”

Truer words about this place couldn’t have been spoken. When we experienced for the first time the solid goodness of the Rothenburg retreat, we couldn’t wait to go back. We understood everyone’s excitement and eagerness to arrive and return. We told all of our new friends we’d see them again in 2014. But – you know – God’s plans.

When we said “See you in 2014!”, we actually meant 2015. As you know we were a bit preoccupied last fall what with having a baby and being an ocean away from Rothenburg. And had we been able to be in Rothenburg with our infant son, I doubt we would’ve been “with it” due to sleep deprivation. God knew what He was doing when He kept us “home” that year. But last week we finally returned to Rothenburg and it was just as magical, relaxing, inspirational, and impactful as we remembered.

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The retreat couldn’t go wrong with an All-Star cast made up of speakers Mary Nelson (New Zealand), Dr. Dottie Schulz (U.S.), Tony Coffey (Ireland), Patrick Boyns (England), Vittorio Vitalone (Italy), and the ever-spectacular Keith Lancaster as worship leader. The retreat’s theme was “Yes, I Am Still Here!”, a theme so pertinent to the difficulties, frustrations, and even tragedies many of us at the retreat were met with this year. Patrick Boyns and Tony Coffey led us deep into the Word, specifically focusing on the story of Joseph. Oh how I hope someone recorded those lessons for you to hear because they were phenomenal and I will never read about Joseph the same way again. What a man of great faith who certainly had to wonder over and over again if God was in fact still with him.

How to Refuse Temptation:

  1. Be decisive
  2. Be ruthless against sin
  3. Be loyal
  4. Be well-informed
  5. Take precautions
  6. Know God is with you

The breakout sessions were top notch. The first day, Will went to one which focused on the refugees. The setting was more of an open forum than a single person-led discussion. A variety of individuals who serve in churches all over Europe shared what their team and/or church was doing to better aide those coming into their countries. While this discussion went on upstairs, I was downstairs attending Dottie Schulz’s session on behavior and relationships. Friends, I could listen to this woman talk for hours upon hours. Not only is she knowledgeable on all kinds of psychological topics, she knows how these topics – our mental and physical state – coincide with our spiritual state. For example, DID YOU KNOW that when you forgive someone or confess sin that not only do these actions improve your memory (what!!!!), the hormone oxytocin – a good feelings hormone – is released into your body which leaves you feeling giddy for days? Did you know that?? I certainly didn’t, but now this lesson is written in huge-mongous letters in my work journal, and I’m still in awe of this fact.

“Figure out who God is to figure out who you are.”

I want to be Dottie when I grow up.

Will and I were fortunate enough to have my parents with us from Atlanta. Their presence greatly freed us up to attend most worship and breakout sessions without our busy-body toddler. He stayed with Omi and Opi for the good majority of the retreat which I believe suited everyone just fine. His Omi and Opi took him on walks through Rothenburg’s medieval city and played with him in the hotel until he got sleepy. We were so glad to have them with us and think this should perhaps turn into a yearly tradition 🙂

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So here we are again, counting down the days until our feet are back on Rothenburg’s cobblestoned streets. To our supporters, thank you for enabling us to attend this magnificent, soul-filling retreat. Because of you, we are ready to take on the New Year. And join us in Rothenburg sometime. You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

Spiritual Growth Retreat – Crikvenica, Croatia

Crikvenica, Croatia

*Pronounced (tsrek-venitsa)

Will and I were fortunate enough to spend an entire week in Crikvenica, Croatia for the annual Spiritual Growth Retreat. We were supposed to be in Croatia by Monday and leave Friday, but due to a crazy amount of snow that fell on Monday, the retreat was postponed a day. Everyone made it safely to the hotel on Tuesday and all was well through Friday and Saturday. Because so many wonderful things took place throughout the week, we’d like to highlight three of our favorite retreat takeaways:

 

Fellowship with new and old friends: 

Croatia is becoming our second home (in Europe). The moment we saw Mladen, the preaching minister at the Zagreb Church of Christ, he gave us both a hug and exclaimed, “Welcome home!” Wow – we have not one, not two, but three different countries where we can hear and believe the words “Welcome home”. Amazing.

We were reunited with our beloved friends from Zagreb (in a non-panic, non-stressful way!), as well as with our good friends, the Wilguesses, from the States. We rode down to the retreat with new friends from Vienna, and met a former Australian HIM Worker, Barry, who’s from the States and now works for World Bible Institute. We hung out with friends from our church in Donaustadt, and met people in other churches from all over Croatia. We all ate together, worshipped together, prayed together, and enjoyed Crikvenica together. Many long-lasting relationships were made on this retreat.

Small groups:

With Barry from Montana.

With Barry from Montana.

After morning worship came to a close, everyone divided into small groups. Those of use who don’t speak Croatian were put together as the “English-speaking Group”, and would then be led in a discussion over the chosen topic for that day, such as the importance of unity in God’s people, the differences between Godly wisdom and human wisdom, and the content and actions of our lives before and after our faith was found. Nearly everyone in our little group had something to share everyday, allowing us to get to know each other even better. Stories of faith experiences were shared, and some were harder to fathom than others. Mislav, a Croatian who works in the Zagreb church, joined our group the day we talked about unity and told us about his journey as a war veteran in essentially “loving his enemies” after the Yugoslav War. Those he once considered enemies, he now considers brothers. An incredible story, and we were only able to hear a few minutes of that journey. Hearing stories such as Mislav’s as well as others from the group enabled us to see how God has worked in the past and how He is currently working in our group’s lives, and we’re closer now because of it.

Worship: 

One of our favorite moments in worship came Friday night. Quite a few of our number left earlier in the afternoon, and because of the coming preparations for church on Sunday, the projector and translating equipment were packed up and taken back to Zagreb. Those of us who spoke German or English now had no way of joining our Croatian brothers and sisters in song in their language. We attempted to hum to a few unfamiliar tunes until the song “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” began. Suddenly the German and English languages joined alongside Croatian and we all sang to God together in our native tongues. Ja sam odlucio slijediti IsusaIch bin entschieden zu folgen Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus.

IMG_2112If you need one more reason to travel abroad, make it “worship experience”. The intensely moving experience of worshipping with a people who speak and worship in a different language than you while praising the same God as you will change you forever. You’ll flip through a song book and find what appears to be consonants and vowels slapped together with spaces after every 5 or 6 letter groupings, or someone will pray and the only thing you’re able to understand are the fluctuations of their voice and the final “Amen”. You’ll feel a little frustrated and perhaps like you’re missing out on worship. But eventually it’ll dawn on you that God needs no translator.

We loved this retreat. Praying that we’re still here at this time next year, we hope and look forward to going again. And if you should come across the opportunity to attend this retreat yourself, do it! You’ll be blessed, and you’ll be changed.