Sunday, March 05, 2006

Bavarian Winter Wonderland - Record Snows in March?!?

A steady snow continues falling outside my balcony window at Freizeit Schloss, located somewhere in Bavaria outside Munich. Big, fluffy snow flakes contribute to the accumulation everywhere, dumping record amounts of snow and producing a Bavarian winter wonderland tableaux near the foothills of the Alps. The one kilometer walk to the awe-inspiring Schloss Seeburg Castle owned by the Wort Des Lebens (“Word of Life”) ministry where we assemble thrice daily for meals, offers views few would believe without documentary evidence. A forest where every tree appears as a caricature of Christmas tree flocking stretch out in almost all directions with a charming lake bordering the path from the south.

My nearly three dozen new friends represent a mixture of ex-pats from English speaking countries (Australia, England, America, Scotland, and Northern Ireland) with a couple of extras tossed in from Austria and Brazil. They are part of an English language congregation called the Munich International Community Church.

Pastor Steve Henderson, an American ThD (ABD) from Dallas Theological Seminary, shatters stereotypes at just about every point. His congregation seems to relish confounding my expectations as well. They are heavily freighted with serious minded evangelicals of a largely reformed persuasion. One of them, Phil, a young Austrian from “Arnold’s” town (yes, he comes from within a couple of kilometers of where the famous California Governator lived) studying American Cultural History at the University sounds like any other Midwesterner. He has no trace of an Austrian accent and could pass for a Chicago boy any day. Indeed, he speaks in a more quintessentially “American” way than a couple of our recent U.S. Presidents.

What does one notice about the character of evangelicalism in Europe, at least in the ex-pat community? After all, continental Europe boasts one of the lowest percentages of church attendance in the world, hovering in the mid single digits in some places. From my limited exposure, what they lack in quantity, they make up for in quality. This is a culture obviously indifferent or outright hostile to Christianity. Most Europeans are still trying to figure out what Bush’s “angle” is with his God-talk. They cannot believe that any serious person could be that religious; certainly not a head of state.

Almost in subtle contradiction to the surrounding culture’s disbelief, this ex-pat congregation excels in fervency and the overt evidences of Christian graces and Christian disciplines. Never in the U.S. have I met a group of men so serious about their walk, so committed to obedience, or so desirous to live as salt and light in a non-Christian world.

Tell-tale signs of differences from evangelicals in America abound. Their early morning prayer time drew almost the entire group for some of the most meaningful prayers I have ever heard. Large numbers of the guys have read the latest and most important evangelical books. Several of those at the retreat read/listen to John Piper and other serious evangelicals. Their conversations sound intelligent, committed, and full of earnestness. When they speak to God, their tones of voice sound as if they intimately know the one to Whom they are speaking and as if this conversation may be part of one that has been carried on for some time. Not since my own seminary days and exposure to spiritual giants such as Everett Harrison or Bob Meye have I heard men pray like this.

As the snow continues falling for the third day in a row, I already know I will miss this place and these men. There is so much reality about these humble folks that it makes one yearn to see the same kind of commitment back home.

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