[This is a re-posting of a blog that I wrote for the Moore College Mission Blog]
Here’s a random fact: in Australia we refer to the game of table-soccer (little plastic men on rotating sticks) as ‘Foosball’ which is actually a German name (‘fuß/foos’ = foot). But in Germany they refer to the same game as ‘Kicker’ which is an English name. Weird.
Monday night found a few of the guys from the team in the bowels of a Leipzig Foosball Club called ‘Kickers’. It’s around the corner from where I’m staying, in the student quarter of the city. We went along to attend the weekly pub night of the International Students society at the Uni of Leipzig.
Mental picture: a converted cellar in an old European Apartment block; low ceiling, red light; DJ; insanely good German foosball players. A recipe for unmitigated cool. But the coolest bit of all was joining in with a large group of international students who had all just met each other on an orientation course at the Uni. Theology courses are quite common in the Universities here, so when I explained that I was a theology student from Australia in Germany on a practical, they immediately accepted that I belonged in their crew. The biggest barrier was not speaking German but I got into a conversation with an exchange student from Moscow. It didn’t seem to matter that he was speaking simple German and I was speaking simple English, between us we could work out enough words in each sentence to get by reasonably well. And when nothing else worked, there’s always charades! Fortunately, I was with a girl from the Christian students club at the Campus and she was much more effective in inviting people to our Easter Outreach party.
For a number of people on the team (including me), this trip to Germany is our first experience of travelling in a country where we don’t speak the language. At times the language barrier can make you feel pretty useless. I feel that in every conversation I’m trading on the generosity and hardwork of the other person. For the first few days I was so anxious about my lack of language skill that every time I would begin to pronounce the word ‘sorry’, as in ‘Sorry, I can’t speak German’, I would completely fluff it and mix up the syllables. I’m pretty sure I convinced a few people that I’m not merely ignorant but possibly mentally ill.
But mercifully, God uses our weaknesses and strangeness to accomplish his work. People are curious about Australia. I feel like the basic evangelistic technique with the Uni Students has been wheel an Australian into the room and prop it up against the wall. Wait til it draws a crowd, then let the German-speaking Christians do their work. It would probably work better if I was a Koala, but hey, it’s not nothing. It’s good to be humbled by the courage and missionary hearts of the local Christians. As an example, yesterday morning a few of us attended a semi-regular prayer breakfast for students from the Uni. We had 13 people come along, the highest number that had ever attended before was 8. The 13 people included 3 non-Christian friends who I’d met earlier in the week who came along out of curiosity. The Aussies at the breakfast didn’t really do anything (except some cooking), we couldn’t understand 3/4 of the prayers or conversations, but God blessed that time. Our German and our English prayers were all heard because the Eternal Word has been heard and He prays for us. Amen!
The Kids Ministry team has been far more constructive with the language differences. They’ve had several opportunities to go into local schools and run English lessons. Yes, that means all these little German kinder are learning to speak ‘Strine. The classes consist of a basic English lesson and some info about Australia. Cindy Partridge and Jamie Fife have worked hard on the material. I’m sure they’ll be able to explain better what they’ve done. The school visits have included an invitation to the kids to come along to a Easter Holiday Kid’s club that the team is running today (Thurs) through to Saturday. It’s a monster programme: today the kid’s club runs from 8am-4pm, followed by ‘Australia Night’ at the Church tonight, then back to the Kid’s club tomorrow morning followed by an evening Good Friday service at the Church, then kid’s club again on Saturday followed by the LEC Spring Soiree (Bruce is giving a talk on Bach and God’s glory). And then we have all the Easter Sunday services and activities. Some of us who are concentrating on the Uni Ministry are planning to attend an all-night Easter Party on Saturday night followed by a 5:45am Easter Sunday sunrise service (I have to attend because it’s at my house). Just writing out the programme for the next few days is exhausting, please, please pray for us. All that hard work will be undermined if our tiredness leads us to dishonour Jesus and each other.