In January, 2013, my husband’s job moved us to Frankfurt, Germany. We had lived for ten years in the Chicago area, where we had been very involved with our local WELS congregation and its Pre-K through 12th-grade school system. Very, very involved. In fact, because we had been living at least a thousand miles from all of our relatives, our congregation was, in a real sense, our family.
We knew (or thought we knew) what we were giving up: the only home and friends our three children could well remember; activities and relationships that gave us joy and a sense of purpose; regular weekly church services (sometimes two or three services in one day, depending on choir, handbells, or praise band commitments).
We didn’t know what we were heading toward—except that there was a WELS European Civilian Chaplaincy and twice-a-month church services close to Frankfurt. We expected unfamiliar surroundings and new experiences. We assumed we would encounter difficulties with adapting to the culture and learning the language in our new surroundings. These were part of the package of the adventure that we wanted. And yet, even when one craves adventure, there is comfort in the idea of being able to return home. We had committed to living in Germany for at least three years, and we might not physically see our home in the United States in all of that time. How wonderful, then, that in the midst of upheaval and uncertainties—including living in a hotel for three months and being without a personal car for four months—we could rely on regular Christian worship and Bible study, familiar hymns and liturgy, and solid biblical preaching of law and gospel. For us, these are some of the greatest comforts of “home.”
When we first arrived in Germany, we did have an automatic community in my husband’s coworkers and their families, and to a lesser extent, in our children’s English-language school. But what we had been spoiled to, and still craved, was the kind of community formed by people with shared beliefs. Certainly, Pastor Martin and the Frankfurt-area congregation made us welcome. Still, it can be hard to get to know people when you only meet twice a month for a couple of hours.
Enter the weekend retreat. I admit that I have a passion for travel. What could be better, then, than an event that combines a beautiful foreign location and time spent with fellow believers? The retreat we attended in September, 2013, near Bath, England, offered time to eat together, play together, and study God’s word together. We had time to meet people from different European congregations and time to get to know them. We enjoyed good food, evening games, and local sightseeing. I even had the chance to sing with a choir again, something I missed like crazy.
Technology can be wonderful, and I am grateful that I am easily able to keep in contact with friends and church-family members in the United States. I can stay informed about, pray for, and even continue to work with ministries of my home congregation. Still, there is no substitute for a sense of physical community, the encouragement of a smile or hug, the pleasure of everyday conversation. We are so blessed to have found these things through the WELS European ministry.
By Jennifer G. Knoblock