Campus team in the wine cellar

 

Markus took us into his family's vineyard, first owned by his Grandpa. He started studying to be a wine producer, cellar-meister, ten years ago. Now he runs his family's winery and another larger one nearby. Our campus team was on an outing, and he talked to us about how they prune each vine, leaving one branch growing. The vine itself looks ancient and somehow fragile, with a single branch about the thickness of a finger growing up through the steel lines that support the plant. Then Markus bent the branch down, and we could all hear it cracking as he wound it around the bottom most line. They do this to every plant, he explained. New shoots grow upward from the branch. If they didn't bend and break it, only a couple new shoots would grow. After it's been broken, the whole branch produces new shoots, thus more grapes.

Some of the vines had not one, but two shoots. We asked him why? If, when you're bending the branch down it breaks off, then you have another he explained. Markus attends one of the churches here in Kandern. He referred to John 15 where Jesus says, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." Being in the vineyard and hearing Markus talk brought John 15 to life.

We saw the enormous steel wine press they use. He said the lower the pressure, the better, because it doesn't damage the skins and seeds, making the juice bitter. When you juice red grapes, the juice is white! So where does red wine come from? To make red wine they leave the skins in with the juice as they let it ferment. The red skins all rise to the top while the wine sits below. Then they pump the juice from below and put it back into the top of the tank so it mixes with the skins, giving it its color. It was fascinating.

Markus then took us into a room in the cellar filled with oak barrels. The oak was from France, the U.S., and Germany, medium 'toasted' wood. Their best wine ages in the barrel for two years, bringing out the heavy flavors. In America they let producers put oak chips into a steel barrel and they get their oak flavor much quicker, but it's not allowed in Europe, Markus says. He then showed us some ice wine. It must be precisely -9 degrees in the field when it's harvested, and -7 degrees at the press. When the conditions are just right they start early, three in the morning, working with flood lights to bring in the grapes. Since they're frozen, the juice is much more concentrated and has a higher sugar level. You never know if you'll get iced wine, it's always a gamble. Elsewhere the grapes are harvested then placed in a freezer at a controlled temperature. But that's illegal in Europe. It's unspoiled by progress, as some would say. We can learn a lot about the mindset of a culture observing and asking questions, and also about our own culture!

A signpost saying: "This way, that way, the other way."

 

Impact - what impact will our short lives have? Reach - how far will our partnership with God advance His Kingdom? Are we listening to and obeying He who both commands and empowers? I will be happy if my two boys grow up to walk with God. What will He call them to, and will they listen and obey? I want to set an example, enlarge their view of God, and increase their faith. 

More about our decision...

While in Birmingham I was wrestling with - can I imagine myself living here? The culture there is vastly different. I can truly say that if that is where God wants us I could say yes. The UK ministry is moving, fueled by inspiring faith. The people there are fantastic, and it was so refreshing to have spiritual conversations in English. They would love to have us with them. But do they need us there? In Rennes most of our conversation centered on ministry. The French ministry is not strong. They have very few staff and struggle to gain momentum. They have faith filled hopes and God sized dreams, but they have an uphill battle. They too would love to have us on their team. Do they need us? Incredibly.

Where will we make the most impact for God's Kingdom? Where can we our skills and experience reach the farthest? Where does God want us to move? We believe the answer to these questions is Rennes, France. 

When this move will happen is still in question. On one hand we're enjoying every moment here in the Black Forest. On the other, Silas would benefit by learning French as soon as possible. The relief of making this decision is quickly replaced by other questions and details: housing, visas, transporting our stuff, and timing. But God is guiding us through it all. We really appreciate you lifting us up in prayer through this process. It's a great blessing to have you standing with us!

Efrem at the top of a playground slide

 

"Want to hear what your son did tonight?" is a phrase any parent dreads to hear. Efrem has a classic raggedy andy style doll with thin yarn for hair. May a few evenings ago heard Silas, the informer, warning her that... Efrem was shoving baby's hair up his nose. She pulled a piece of yarn out of his nose. Then another was showing, which she pulled out, and another, and another. She eventually got out the tweezers and dug out 8 strands of yarn from the boy's right nostril! What, oh what was he thinking?! We've been in Getting Things Done mode lately. You know what that's like, when your to-do list has categories, subheadings, and chapters! We attack that list with fervor, but today May and I both realized we're burnt up. We want to just do nothing for a change, but that's plain boring. I wonder what God thinks of us sometimes. Maybe sometimes He says, "What are they thinking?" even though He already knows. We run out of fuel and don't know what we're supposed to put in our tank.

Pictures of our new apartment

 

Madame Hardy met Yannick and me in front of an old church in Rennes. We had no idea where we were going. Casually we strode beside the church to a large glass doorway near the back. It opened into a long hallway. The fairly new looking elevator took us to the 2nd floor (if you count the ground floor as zero), and we walked the long hallway again. I had waded through some very nasty apartments earlier, but this one was surprisingly clean.

This apartment had been remodeled only five years ago. White ceramic tile covered every inch of the floor. The windows looked out into the abbey courtyard. The kitchen was small, with an opening to put a clothes washer. On the far side of the living room a wooden stairway took us to the bedrooms. There were two, but a mezzanine area could possibly serve as an office. The bathroom was small but they managed to put in two sinks. Again I was impressed by how clean it was.

When Madame Hardy started to explain the parking she quickly gave up, thinking it would be best if we saw it ourselves. The parking lies beneath the church, with a ramp that drives underneath, turns, then ends with width enough to park four cars. But there really isn't enough room for a car to turn around, so they installed a turnstile to drive onto. At the touch of a remote it turns the car for you. I think the boys will love it. Then, to double the parking capacity they installed moveable 'shelves' for cars to park on. The two shelves move together, so that either the top or bottom shelf is accessible at a time. With the turn of a key and the press of a button four cars can be raised or lowered. This will be a little annoying, but we'll have to deal with it. It must be worth it to have a parking space in the city.

What's best about this apartment is that it's right beside a large beautiful park, right in the city. We'll be able to explore Rennes and still get in a little 'green time.' Plus, finding a clean apartment in France is rare. We're really blessed to have found this.

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:14-16

Silas' eyes gleamed over his yogurt.

"I'm so glad my classmates get to hear about God."

He was looking at his cahier de vie (life notebook) sitting on the breakfast table. The story started about a week earlier. We were celebrating St. Martin's day with Silas' class, each child carried a hand made lantern on the end of a stick. A candle flickered inside the thin colorful paper. They sang traditional songs in both German and French. "Daddy," Silas said. "I don't think many of the kids at school know about God. I would like to tell them about God in my cahier de vie."

Every Monday morning the students bring in their notebooks and share something about their weekend or life in general. They draw pictures or paste photos and write their thoughts. We translate what Silas says into French so his teacher can share it with his class. Silas was very serious as he worked on his project, drawing a cross under a blue sky. This is what he said,

"I would like to tell you about the Lord God, Jesus Christ. You can read about him in the Bible. I would like to tell you a verse from the Bible. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life - John 3:16. Jesus is the most important thing. If you believe in him and ask him into your heart you will be saved from your sins. Sin means doing wrong."

Sincere care for his classmates and the hope of sharing his faith put an enormous smile on Silas' during breakfast. Later that day, Silas came running up the stairs, his eyes were wet and his voice cracked as he spoke.

"Daddy, we have some bad news. The French government doesn't let people talk about God in school."

It was as I'd feared. Silas' teacher couldn't share his notebook with the class. The director of his school explained to me today that even though that is in Silas' heart, at school we have to leave religion at the door. Secularity is an untouchable pillar of the school system. The spiritual oppression we know all too well in France squeezed me. I wanted to ask him how he thinks it feels to tear your heart out every morning, to be asked to lay aside an integral part of who you are.

Silas cried when his teacher told him she couldn't read his cahier de vie. Maybe he felt left out, but mostly it was because he wanted so badly his classmates to hear about God. I don't remember the last time I shed tears for those who don't know the Lord. Jesus cried out over Jerusalem, "how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." How heavy the weight of eternity can be. Let's make a difference in someone's life!

A spoon of sugar

 

"Daddy, eating sugar does not make you sweet." Silas' voice was serious and determined. Just days before, May had him stop putting sugar in his yogurt. Now I am the only one left who insists on sweetening up my plain breakfast yogurt. Justice won't be served in Silas' mind until I also stop putting sugar in my yogurt.

"Really?" I asked Silas, "What does make you sweet then?"

"Being good makes you sweet," he replied.

Ah, but then I drove the question deeper, "And what makes one good?"

"Not eating sugar."

Well, it was a silly statement in the first place. You're trying to plow through breakfast while being bombarded with questions like, "Why do you put so much sugar on your yogurt. You don't even think they're really listening so you say something clever - oh it makes me sweet. Even when they're young, they don't necessarily forget.

But it's really a theological question: what makes us good?

Jesus asked the rich young ruler, "Why do you call me good, only God is good." It's far too easy to trust in our appearances. Sure it may look like we have our act together, but we are far from good. I have the luxury of having a wife who is an excellent planner. She's been working on Christmas presents for months, and our cards are already in process. Everything runs like a well oiled machine. But I know better. I'm not good, I'm broken. I wrestle with fatigue, am blindsided by pride and struggle with temptation. Every day I need to crawl to God and pray that he fill me with His Spirit, be strong in my weakness, fill my gaps and hold me together.

My hair hasn't been cut in three months. It might be longer than it's ever been. It stands out in a curly sort of way and people comment on it all the time. I say what I feel, that it's just reflecting the stress in my life. The stress of finding apartments, packing, moving, unpacking, settling, learning a new environment, adjusting to a different language is frazzling. BUT, God is graciously holding me together. Thanks God. And thank you for praying for us.