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Monday, July 28, 2008

A Decade

Ten years ago today, July 28, 1998, we boarded a jet plane and moved to Stockholm, Sweden. I never would've guessed that a decade later I'd still be living at Tegnergatan 4. Our three year adventure turned into a life style and now we like to say that we are definitely staying indefinitely!
What a difference a decade makes! Our first dog, Lucy, had made the trip two months before us because of a four month quarantine the Swedish government required. One of the first Swedish words I learned was was a bummer. Because our move was for a relatively short amount of time, we didn't bring any furniture or things that plugged in! They were tucked away in a storage bin in Minneapolis. When we first arrived to our beautiful apartment, it was not nicely furnished. Over time we made the place our home thanks to about a zillion runs to Ikea! After living here for six years, we decided that that storage bin must go. So we did a major sort, held another garage sale, shipped what we wanted over to Sweden and now everything we own is on this side of the ocean. We lost Lucy three years ago and lived without a dog for four months. Then we got Tanner and the love affair with light colored, happy, energetic, Labrador mix dogs continues! A few years back we renovated the apartment and while we've always felt incredibly lucky to be living in such a lovely place, now we really feel that it is ours, with our touches all around. At this point some of the stuff in the apartment belongs to us, some belongs to church, some has been given to us through the years as people have moved on, some of it needs to be thrown out! But it definitely feels like home and we love it.
In the last 10 years we've learned a new language and adjusted to a new culture. We've gotten a little bit used to the weird rhythm of dark winters and light summers. We still don't enjoy eating fish. Some things never change! We've traveled to just about every country in Western Europe and many in Eastern Europe and have been privileged to go to Egypt twice as well as visit Kenya and Uganda. (Doug's been to Uganda 3 times!) Every member of our families except two brothers and two sisters-in-laws and nieces and nephews have been to see us. We've been on amazing journeys with our parents. We love the World Cup "football" tournament, we enjoy watching curling, we watched Lance Armstrong race in his last Tour de France. We've been to the British Open golf tournament three times. We bought a boat three years ago and have enjoyed the beauty of the Stockholm archipelago while we've adjusted to swimming in freezing cold water. (The boat suffered a major breakdown last Friday. That part of our journey may be ending soon. ):
We live in Europe and we love it. We have watched our church continue to grow and develop into a richly diverse, loving, generous and spirited family of God. We remain challenged by the calling that God continues to extend to us. When we moved here 10 years ago, I was hoping to enjoy Stockholm, get to travel a bit, have a fruitful season in our church, and then move back to the United States where we'd settle down and do real life! Well, life doesn't get any more real than what we are living now! When we got married we both thought we'd live overseas for a season as we had done prior to meeting one another. I could never have anticipated that our life here would be so fruitful, so enriching, so live-enhancing. I am thankful. We definitely miss being closer to the US and wish that traveling there didn't take so long and require so much jet lag. We are grateful for our families who support us and appreciate the life we enjoy here.
It's not all perfect, that's for sure. There are aspects of Swedish culture that still make me a little crazy, but I'll save those stories for another day! Today is a day to be thankful and savor the wonder of the last 10 years. My life has been filled with amazing people, phenomenal experiences and incredible memories that continue to shape and mold me.
One only wonders, what will the next 10 years bring?

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Wonderful Wedding

Uchenna and Ephraim are two young Nigerians who are seeking to make a life for themselves here in Stockholm. They both attended our church and joined our praise team. Unbeknown to us, they had begun a relationship and one day last year they asked to meet with Doug. Doug came home and said, Uche and Ephraim want to get married! We couldn't believe it and after months of preparation the big event took place on Saturday, 19 July, 2008. Their wedding is clearly one of the most wonderful events in my ministry career. We got to experience first hand what is involved when someone says, "It takes a village." In this case, it took our entire congregation, especially those involved in our African Ministry where Uche and Ephraim are also greatly involved. What a thrill it was to see how people stepped forward to volunteer their time, their talents and their treasure to make this a truly memorable day for all involved, but especially the bride and groom. Uche's parents arrived from Nigeria on Friday afternoon, just hours before the rehearsal. Sadly, Ephraim's parents couldn't make the trip so another Nigerian couple from our congregation stepped in to act his parents. The wedding party included children with titles like The Little Bride, the Golden Girl and the Page boy. A ringbearer was also present. After much confusion we established that the little bride and the page boy didn't really do anything except look adorable, which they did, and the Golden girl's function is like the western flower girl. We had our concerns about when the actual events would begin since time is a fluid concept in Nigerian culture. In the end, the rehearsal started only an hour late, and remarkable, the wedding began just a half hour after the scheduled time. The service was beautiful. It was mostly a western type wedding with the bride and groom dressed in western bridal attire. The groomsmen and bridesmaids wore suits and dresses much as you would see in America. The parents were dressed in traditional Nigerian wear. And many of the African guests wore traditional clothing from their homeland. Doug and I wore high occasion clergy wear for the service. We rarely wear this attire and many from our congregation were excited about seeing us in something so different. The service was great and filled with some Nigerian touches. In spite of asking people not to take pictures during the ceremony, photographers abounded. After every amen uttered by us, the congregation echoed the same. When Doug pronounced them husband and wife loud cheers of hallelujah and hurray went up. The recessional music was a classic Nigerian song accompanied only by drums. The couple danced their way out of the church followed by everyone else in the wedding party, also dancing their way down the aisle. The couple could barely get out of the church because the center aisle had filled in with well-wishers and amateur photographers. It was a joyful celebration. The reception was held at church and a large group of volunteers had worked and worked to ensure that the the place looked lovely. One friend made the cake, another arranged for people to bring traditional Nigerian food which is a lot of rice, chicken, fish and other interesting food products. The food team hauled in enough food and drink for close to 400 people! People from our African ministry comprised the band and the music was loud enough to be heard in Nigeria! Doug and I had been asked to wear traditional Nigerian clothing during the reception. At one time the Nigerian ambassador was a member of our church and he had graciously gifted us with such attire. So, we decided, why not. We never get to wear these beautiful things so we went home and changed. When we arrived back to the party dressed like Nigerians, the place went up for grabs! The cameras came out and we basically did a photo shoot for about 5 minutes while everyone marveled at the sight of their pastors dressed the traditional dress of Nigeria. One of the women helped me with the head piece and all in all, we felt very special. Pastors are treated quite well in most African cultures and we really were special guests all day. The reception had many elements that any American wedding would have with just a few twists! Christians in Nigeria are passionate about their faith and often feel a need to include a spiritual aspect to everything they do. So often before anyone spoke, they would simply say, Praise the Lord. And then the whole crowd would answer back, Hallelujah! When the couple cut the cake, 3 observers were chosen to ensure that it was done properly. The crowd spelled out the name of Jesus and on the final "s" the couple carefully sliced the cake together. When the toast was given, as we raised our glasses, the host uttered, "In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." As the couple danced their first dance, people stepped forward and threw dollar bills at them. (I later learned that in Nigeria they use Nigerian currency. Here in Sweden, they used American dollars as the smallest bill in Swedish currency is worth more than $3.00 and so it would've been quite costly to rain 20 crown bills down on the couple.) The parents participate in a special "gift procession" where they lead a train of people bearing gifts toward the couple. And everyone dances and dances and dances to the beat of conga drums. It was such a happy time. Uchenna and Ephraim, surrounded by their beloved family members, and their caring church family, celebrating a day that they had planned for for many, many months. I left content and filled. To experience the community aspect of such a day was so wonderful. The see how the "entire village" pulled together to create such a unique experience for Uche and Ephraim was pure gift. It is also tradition for the couple to attend church the next morning and Uche and Ephraim were there, dressed alike in the most magnificent Nigerian green clothing. The first time as husband and wife, dressed in matching attire. It was splendid seeing them together. We wish them well and look forward to their continuing involvement in the life of our church.

Warsaw, Poland, Part III

We were most curious about wartime Warsaw, in particular the Jewish Ghetto. Sadly, not much remains from this period in history, in part because few Jews returned to Warsaw. What a loss. Warsaw enjoyed a thriving Jewish community, numbering more than half a million people. In fact, after New York, it was the largest Jewish center in the world. Scant remains of the walls that went up to barricade the Jewish people into the ghetto are hard to find. We walked the area of the former ghetto and saw a few monuments pointing to the life that people endured inside the ghetto walls. We were fooled into thinking that the area of the ghetto was actually quite large when at one point we both realized that we were there on a beautiful sunny days, no brick walls hemming us in, and that the area was actually very small when you considered that 400,000 people had to make a life within that space. Most significant to the area is the monument of the Umschlagplatz, the place where thousands of Jews boarded the cattle cars that would take them to their death in the Nazi death camp, Treblinka. Also moving is the monument to the Heroes of the Ghetto Uprising which took place between April 19 and May 12, 1943. Sadly, the movement failed and the Nazis exported almost 100 percent of the inhabitants of the ghetto and completely flattened the area known as the ghetto. It was moving to walk the streets and remember the sad and difficult history that the Polish Jews experienced. We were surprised at how little of the story is told in the city.
One monument in the Old Town is the set of tank tracks tha
t are embedded into the side of the church. I thought that was a pretty amazing monument.
One new museum is dedicated to the Warsaw rising of 1944 when the Poles sought to establish independence from the Nazis during the period 1 August to 2 October 1944. This effort also failed but the end of the war was near. The monument that remembers the efforts of this event is interesting in that it shows soldiers coming up out of the sewers, which were a major transport system during the rising, along with a priest as participants in the effort for independence.
As we were walking away from the area, we stumbled upon a restaurant that had an amazing history. Apparently it was the former haunt of the Soviet Leaders and hence its name, Inn Under the Red Hog. The history of the restaurant is colorful and only partially believable but it was a great stop after wandering the streets of the Jewish Ghetto. I was often reminded of the film, The Pianist, and in the Rising Museum, the actual Pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman, is mentioned. He was one of the few survivors of life in the Ghetto and I am anxious to see the film again. I think I shall view it with a new lens.

Warsaw, Poland, Part II

adjusted to our living situation, we took off on our first morning with great enthusiasm for seeing the city. We were not disappointed. Warsaw is a beautiful city. It's hard to imagine that the entire city was completely demolished in WWII. The Soviets did a grand job of restoring Warsaw to its prewar beauty. It is now a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site. I was mostly impressed with the wide open spaces for sitting and enjoying food and drink. The old town square was a site to behold as the multi-colored buildings surrounded you with a visual feast. The people were lovely as well, most willfully speaking English. So all of the stuff not related to the war or the Jewish ghetto was beautiful and lovely and the architecture reflected a different era, the buildings were in such amazing shape it was easy to see that they are nary 60 years old. Modern Warsaw bustles with busy people, shoppers, and market stalls. Warsaw's economy is thriving and evidence of that abounds. It is a much cheaper city than Stockholm and yet they are no longer the cheap Eastern European date they used to be. Tourism is a thriving industry and they've learned to charge enough to keep themselves in the black.
The Royal Route is a beautiful boulevard that includes the castle and th
e university. The old and new towns are stunning architectural beauties that lend themselves to stopping and taking it in while sitting in one of the many lovely cafes that beckoned us throughout our stay.
Warsaw has some of the most lovely city parks I've ever seen. The biggest, Lazienki, was a true oasis in the middle of the city. At its center is a gorgeous monument to Fredric
Chopin. We enjoyed the lush surroundings on a hot summer day. The other fun fact that I learned is that Marie Curie is polish. Her maiden name if Sklodwska but who knows that?! She won the Nobel prize in both Physics and Chemistry which is really rather remarkable. It was great to learn more about this special Polish woman who has made such an amazing contribution to our society.
We enjoyed our time, but definitely felt two days were enough.
The city itself is small, but lovely. I would say however, that it is likely a "b" list must see city and if given the choice, choose Budapest, Hungary or Prague, Czech Republic over Warsaw. See Part III for my comments on wartime Warsaw.

Warsaw, Poland, Part I

The main reason that we decided to visit Warsaw was because the International Church in Warsaw was offering their pastor's apartment, referred to as the Manse, for low rent during the summer months. The church was between pastors and it would be a good way for the church to acquire some extra income. We thought, great. Bargain accommodations, help the church, see Warsaw. What was there not to like? Plenty.
The ad for the apartment was horribly misleading. 1st: It claimed that "The Manse" was centrally located. In our opinion, it was not. It was located about a half hour bus ride from all the stuff you'd want to be around. So going in and out of the city was not an easy thing to do, hence, once we left in the morning, we spent the entire day in the city. Also, you'll understand why returning to the apartment for a midday break was unappealing after you read point 3 of why the ad was misleading. So staying in the city all day was very tiring and offered no real chance to enjoy the evening in Warsaw. 2nd: The term Manse is defined in two ways. First, the house and land occupied by a minister or parson. Second, the dwelling of a landholder; a mansion. Manse sounds like mansion right? Only in the case of the landholder and not the parson. We were not expecting luxury, but we weren't ready for squalor either. When we first walked in we were both in a state of shock. I knew Doug was thinking, what has Jodi gotten me into this time as I was the one who made all the arrangements and suggested the outing. The bed was clean, as far as we could tell. The floor was not too clean. I wore my Crocs the entire time inside the house. The bathroom was passable but just. I just tried not to think about it too much and did my business as quickly as possible. The kitchen was a disaster. Even if you, like Joey on Friends, don't tend to see or notice dirt it was tough. So for someone like me, who has on numerous occasions been told to stop being so Monicaish, I almost passed out. We quickly decided that we'd be eating breakfast elsewhere.
3rd: The ad completely failed to mention that someone LIVES IN THE APARTMENT! And was sharing the space with us. And he resembled the Unabomber. I'm not kidding. So, we walk in and quickly come to understand that we will not be alone in this rat hole, but instead of just the dirt we also have to tolerate company, and shall we say, colorful company at that! Now, Doug and I are not opposed to meeting new people. In fact, our profession rather demands that. That's in part why when we go on vacation, we like to not have to build relationships with strangers. We like to not have to figure out how to chitchat with someone that we will never see again. Oh, the guy was nice enough, but clearly had fallen on some tough times and clearly was not completely healthy. So we tried to sneak out for a little something to eat before we went to bed and when he asked if could join us, well, what could we say? We were going to be sharing his home for the next three nights! Oj, oj, oj. So off we went to the neighborhood pub where at least the Polish beer was very good and very cheap. We listened to him wax nostalgic about his glory days as a pianist and regale us with tales of great wealth in a former life. We were very happy that we had decided on a three night stay in greater Warsaw instead of the four we had originally planned for. At the end of the day, it always proves to be true: You really do get what you pay for.