Abundantly Thankful

In my life, I have never truly celebrated Thanksgiving more than once. My parents’ families live in two different states. We never had to divide our holiday between two different groups of people. So, I find it humorous that I have celebrated Thanksgiving 3 times this year, in Germany of all places.

This series of events began with dorm Thanksgiving, two weeks ago. For one night, the students took a break from the traditional school made food for a nice turkey meal with beautiful, home-made side dishes. The dorm staff dressed up the dining room tables and served a delicious meal to the students and dorm subs, like myself.

DORM THANKSGIVING

Thanksgiving is an interesting holiday at BFA. Everybody celebrates the holiday in their own way, if at all. For Canadians, Thanksgiving was celebrated in October. Koreans celebrate the season even earlier with an autumn holiday called Chuseok. I had not considered how foreign MY culture was until I celebrated this holiday in Storch dorm.

When I first arrived at Storch, I changed into a fall sweater, put my hair up, and did my makeup. It was “Thanksgiving” after all. So, I wanted to look nice. Although, when I looked around, I found myself in the minority. All of the other dorm subs and staff had dressed the part, but most of the students came down stairs in sweats. I couldn’t believe it. I began asking students if they were really going to come to dinner in a hoodie and shorts. A couple of them shrugged and asked why they shouldn’t. I didn’t really have a good answer for them. It wasn’t until I began asking my table about their Thanksgiving traditions that I realized that they didn’t really celebrate Thanksgiving. All but one student at my table was Korean. The only time they had celebrated Thanksgiving was at BFA. One student, from England, had NEVER had a Thanksgiving meal before. This was her first.

Overall, the evening wasn’t about how we were dressed, or even about the food. We didn’t even spend time doing traditional Thanksgiving things. Instead, I listened as the girls told me more about their culture and their families. While we scarfed down our delicious Thanksgiving meal, the girls told me about the sacrifices that their missionary families had made and the special treats they eat on their own holidays. By the end of the night, I found myself praising God for the relationships that I had with each of these girls.

REAL THANKSGIVING

This year, Thanksgiving fell on small group night. Rather than cancel small group, we decided to celebrate the holiday together. Quite honestly, I had never made a Thanksgiving meal before, but I wasn’t afraid of the challenge. I was convinced that I could make this meal work, even if we had to settle for chicken.

So, on Tuesday, I set out for the required ingredients. I found most things pretty easily, but I was met with the typical challenges of being in a country that does not value processed, or ready made, food. Luckily, I was able to find a turkey pretty easily. Fun fact: my turkey was French. Go figure.

On Thursday, I ran home from school as early as I could to get my turkey in the oven and to begin the long process of making everything from scratch. I was soon joined by two of my small group girls, who came over to help with the process. Together we successfully destroyed my kitchen and produced a tasty meal.

One thing that I was certainly thankful for this year was technology and the interent. As my girls arrived, they were able to enjoy a live camera feed of the Macy’s day parade. The sound of their laughter filled my apartment, while I put the finishing touches on dinner. Thankfully, the turkey was a success! Everything was wonderful. We prayed, we ate, we told stories, we ate, we laughed, we ate, and we ate. After dinner, the girls cuddled up to watch Charlie brown Thanksgiving. We wrote cards of thankfulness to our friends and then we ate some more. Altogether, it was a perfect evening.

(Grace and Hannah tried to make a wish, but I don’t think either of their wishes came true. The wishbone was not dry, so it would not break. Ooops!)

THE LAST THANKSGIVING

On Friday night, a large group of single ladies met together to celebrate Thanksgiving one last time. Everyone brought a dish and we shared a meal, family style. After dinner, we each took a turn reading Psalms of praise, which naturally lead into a time of singing. Our hosts had a beautiful arrangement of worship songs prepared. We sang them together and moved into a time of prayer. We thanked God for who He was and what He had done in our lives.

After our time of praise, we returned to the table for desert and conversation. I believe we stayed at that table for two or more hours, laughing and carrying on. My favorite part of the evening, however, was engaging in conversation with a new friend; a German friend. Two girls that I had just begun to get to know this year joined us for dinner. They are German, but they speak english very well. We talked about all sorts of things, but most of our conversation centered on the German perspective of Americans and the American perspective of Germans. It was quite interesting, to say the least. In the end, we did find common ground. We were all followers of Christ and part of one family.

This lovely evening concluded my week of Thanksgiving celebration.

TO SUPPORTERS (in prayer and finance)

Thank you for pouring your time and money into ministry. I may say this too much but, I really could not be here without you. You are part of this ministry too. May God bless you as you have blessed me with your love and support.

CONCLUSION (finally, I know)

Above all else, I am most thankful that God has poured out His love so abundantly upon me. He continues to do so daily. I may not always feel it, but I know it to be true. I stand firm on this passage of scripture, which I have experienced in my life: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7-8a).

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Herbstmesse, a Basketball Tournament, and a Burst of Genius

For the US, Halloween made this past week special. I’m sure a lot of sugar was consumed and teachers across the continent were struggling to keep the concentration of their students. Here, at the Black Forest Academy, our students waited just as anxiously for the bell at the end of the day on Wednesday. I would even make the case that they were MORE anxious.

At the end of our day Wednesday, we all borded buses which left for Basel, Switzerland. There in the great city of Basel was a special celebration of fall that occurs every year. It’s called Herbstmesse. Students spend every penny they have on candy, games, bumper cars, and crazy rides. 

While there are many differences between how we celebrate Halloween in Germany, one of the best differences is the fact that we have the next day off from school. As I understand it, the tradition has been for the school to have a 3 on 3 basketball tournament on that day. The tournament lasts about 6 hours, so this is the best time to accommodate it. 

This year, the yearbook class took the opportunity to run this basketball tournament. The two students in my class, who are in charge of the business aspect of our production, put ALL of the details together. They spent weeks organizing volunteers, gathering equipment, shopping for food supplies for concessions, and putting together the brackets for the competition. Their hard work certainly paid off! 

The event was professional, we made money to go toward the printing of the yearbook, and everybody had a great time! I believe we had about 12 teams of 6 members playing. What may surprise you is who made up the teams. Several students signed up for fun, without having ever touched a basketball previously. Yet, the students all arrived to play as if basketball was their favorite sport. They came in fun outfits with names like “The Burning Lemons,” and “Furious George.” These light hearted teams accepted the amateur nature of the event and had a lot of fun competing. The rest of us enjoyed the show. 

It’s probably not a stretch for you to imagine that I ended up being the DJ for this event. The best part is that I came prepared to manage and make sure the event ran smoothly but did not need to play such a role. My lead business student (who happens to be one of my small group girls) had it all taken care of. She and the rest of the yearbook team had a lot of fun and worked hard to make this event was special for everyone else. 

Needless to say, these two events made it hard to get a lot of serious work done the rest of the week. Students were either lost in anticipation for the events, or in recovery from them. However, I feel that the week was still very productive for both of my classes. In art appreciation, we reviewed the northern renaissance and prepared for our test, which was postponed until next week. I don’t know what I was thinking when I scheduled a test for the friday after Herbstmesse and the 3 on 3 tournament! In yearbook, we spent the week brainstorming how to make our yearbook theme a reality.

In yearbook class, theme has always been a hard thing to nail down. Students can easily generate grand ideas of fun things to do with the yearbook. The problem is that the ideas either have nothing to do with BFA or they are only in regard to elements in the yearbook, rather than theme. I have found it to be extremely challenging to focus them in on an idea that works best for BFA, while still inspiring them to do something different and out of the box. This year, I finally had the magic moment that I had hoped for last year. Some of the main ideas that the students had started to gel together. 

I felt like I was in a movie this week. Something very unexpected, but hoped for, unfolded in my classroom when we began our discussion on theme. I stood in front of my class and presented the ideas they had turned in, through a homework assignment, to each other. There was a lot of argument, as expected. It didn’t seem possible to escape this time of year without hurt feelings and bloodshed. Yet, we were able to get past it and move forward in pulling out the strongest ideas that were on the table. When we got to that point… it happened. The moment I had always hoped for. A student who doesn’t speak up often proposed an idea that the rest of the class LOVED. They erupted with ideas at once, building on the concept proposed by the quieter student. By the end of the class, the whole group was ecstatic with the creative adrenaline that had been summoned. Then, the most magical thing happened… the next class took that idea and ran with it! Finally, the two classes were in agreement. I couldn’t write their ideas on the board fast enough. I finally gave up. I spent an hour after class processing their ideas and recording them in a sequence that makes sense for design. 

So now, I sit in my living room at the end of this long week, contemplating how blessed I am. I’m lost in the joy that I have in serving God here in this community. I’m far more busy than I would have imagined. Yet, I wouldn’t trade a moment of it. Weeks like this make me sure that I’m meant to work with teenagers for the rest of my days.