German Junctures


All my life I’ve been a little hesitant to fall in love with Germany. My mother’s parents, my Opa and Oma, were killed during the Second World War in Holland when a bomb fell through their house killing them instantly. I have held a grudge ever since! Yet this Germany has played quite a role in my life at many junctures! After being born in Roosendaal, Holland, I left with my parents for Germany, I was ten days old! My dad was in the Dutch Army as a musician and Canada was searching for recruits to create a new army band. Seventy young dutch men responded to that call. They went to Germany first to be processed there with their families at a Canadian Military Post. Not much later there was a long boat ride for all of us from German soil all the way cross the ocean to the shores of of Montreal, Canada. I was ten months old.

ImageMy next German juncture was to visit friend from Chiang Mai who became a Thai missionary to reach out to Thai women who had either married German men or worked in the night clubs. I flew in to Frankfurt and took trains to see her. I was a little ill at ease trying to find my way around all the train stations, as English was not widely spoken. I heard words that sounded so much like my native Dutch tongue, but my smattering of dutch was of little avail. Finally late in the night I arrived in Emden. There I met Thai women who struggled with living in Germany. I could see why as the language, food, weather and culture were so different from the Thai ways. As I spent hours visting, encouraging, and then hours on trains traveling through the countryside of Germany it never crossed my mind that my heart was softening towards this proud and talented nation.

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Pratumtip loves Germany and I saw that in her. (center back)

My next experience with Germany would be life-changing. I flew from Bangkok to Hanover to get a tricky brain tumour near my inner ear removed on December 11, 2012. For seventeen days that hospital room was my home until I was well enough to leave. Another train ride, this time southbound to the famed Black Forest, where a house awaited me. I needed to spend a few weeks to recuperate in an ancient village called Badenweiler before being permitted to fly again. This time I was able to share Germany with my wife, two daughters and my second son who doubled as chauffeur. I began to fall in love with the landscape, the people and the bread!

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Cool scar, huh?

Each day I would take walks through the forest lush with green moss and gurgling streams. I was here to regain my balance and hopefully get over the nasty headaches of brain trauma. Two days before my departure date a question popped into my heart, “Could I ever leave my beloved Thailand and make Europe my home?” Could I? It seemed impossible. Yet with courage I asked a man I greatly respected the very same question. Without blinking he said, “Absolutely!” I had resigned myself to the thought that this might be my last visit to Germany. But now I realised that one day I would come back and visit this wunderbar-country again. Something had definitely shifted in me.

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I loved the crisp climate and the brisk walk each day. On my last walk it finally snowed.

When I arrived home to Bangkok I shared with my wife the question and answer I got from the director of the Eurasia Region. Our conversation over breakfast opened our hearts to something so unexpected and quite unsought. It really did scare me in a different way than the tumour did. I wondered after twenty-two years of living in Thailand, if I could ever be at home in yet another continent. My wife and my girls were ready for a change of continent, language and culture. After lots of discussion it was felt strongly that we would move to Paris and maybe be a part of a church planting endeavour. My first goal was an attempt to gain Dutch Citizenship. Refused. Then another obstacle faced us, the incredibly high costs of educating our girls in Paris. And so we sought after a creative solution to getting a European visa and for a cheaper schooling option.

This nest paragraph is going to sound incredible, because the answer came upon us so fast. In fact, my girls were the ones to do a little searching and found a cheaper place on-line. It was Black Forest Academy, a boarding school quite near to where I recovered from the surgery. We applied, but there was a slow response from the school as to whether the girls could find a space in the dorm program. Many emails later we were asked to Skype with Calvin who ran the Resident program. And in less than fifteen minutes we were praying to consider filling in the gap for the need of dorm parents. If we were willing the girls would indeed have a space for this year and so would another group of guys. I should have been in shock, yet surprisingly I had peace.

It is not like me to just jump into the unknown like this. But I had been studying the call of Jesus to Peter to go out deeper and throw his nets. It made little sense to Peter and those watching. And here I was making a move that didn’t seem to make any sense to anyone. Now since August 2013 I find myself in Germany once again, with my wife and two daughters to be a spiritual father (Dorm Parents) to twenty teen-aged boys who are here because of the difficulty to receive a proper education in their own parent’s mission fields of service.

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On my very last Sunday in Bangkok Thailand, I had the honour to baptise a missionary’s son, we call them MK’s for missionary kid. I remember so well how he stood in a blue garbage bucket and as I poured water over him in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit I was crying and laughing at the same time. I knew that in a short while I would be serving in the midst of a people group in Germany that lived, breathed and loved the MK’s from around the world. I would be a dorm dad to twenty teen-aged boys and someone like Joel Brunner whom I had baptised would be there too!

As we drove up and down and around the curvaceous roads of Black Forest in our first week, Patricia kept laughing and saying me and our daughters, “Isn’t this the most cool, outrageous, and wonderful gift from God? We are in Europe!” I smiled in my heart, because I knew it was true. I was living in the now. I was like Abraham not knowing where we would be next. This was a gift that only God could have given us. It is in some ways outrageous. To think of all those junctures where Germany came into my story; as a baby, visiting on a mission’s trip, brain surgery and then this. Here again, now. Germany is where I serve the mission cause until we find ourselves in Paris!

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Here we are in front of our dorm with our staff (Resident Advisors).

After the Brain Surgery: You Learn As You Go!

Aside


Today marks day seven since my skull gave way to a five inch incision to retrieve a brain tumor capable of so much damage including shortening my life. I’ve been living with this knowledge for about six months in an elongated search for a best solution. Because of my young age it was recommended that surgery would best suit the situation. Yes 50 is not old! Yet the risks were still high. So much could happen; one proverbial “false move” by the surgical team and…

I am a public speaker of sorts. I stand in front of audiences of all ages and encourage them to live with hope and make a difference to someone somewhere somehow. I live in a foreign country and I usually speak in a cross-cultural setting. I love this life! Would this all now end with the bedeviled tumor stealing my loved life away? Would I soon limp out my faith-walk with facial paralysis, deafness and a host of other risks that I cannot even pronounce? Yes, the dreaded ‘risk talk’ and signatures, well mine … on the dotted line, from a doctor reminding us this was not a risk-free surgery. 

My wife and I had been having these conversations for awhile already. Surprisingly to me the one risk that I hadn’t even contemplated, but she did, was, “Would my hisband experience heart arrest under anesthesia?” She was struggling with the death question. These were real questions taking turns taunting us over the six months. At times I wanted to just pretend that nothing would happen if we just did nothing, leave the thing alone. You know, just pray! Pray pray it away.

Pray. That I did as best as I could. Most times I felt so distanced by the unfairness of the situation that I could barely pray a prayer for myself. It was a humbling lesson in being human like you and everyone else, or as one leader casually put it, this was a reminder of my mortality, but it really was more than that, it was a lesson about faith. I was face to face with a never before experienced situation that carried huge risks. Never had I spent a night in a hospital room. Never was I faced with something so drastic that could change the way I interfaced with the world. I had to step out in faith. I had to believe. I had to feel the fear and then walk into the admission room in some faraway hospital in a country I knew not and by an aged surgeon from Iranian ancestry that I had never heard of before. Oh my God!

People who know me well would say I am generally smiling, passionate. They may add that maybe I try too young to stay young, that I am witty and like to use humour, even corny humous, and  most agree that I am transparent and outgoing. I tried not to change a thing about me during the six months of tumor awareness. But the thing, yes this thing, was starting to maybe change me, ever so slightly.

Every week at Newsong the team, led by Daniel, vowed to pray. Every week I would humbly update about not knowing the next step and let my friends lay hands in fervent prayer. People around the globe who knew me were getting concerned. I was concerned! When approval was made for surgery in Germany a series of miracles took place to provide for all our needs to go there. A date was scheduled, air-tickets booked, hotel booked and warm winter clothes to boot! The Newsong gang called me up one more time and I spoke out loud, “No please, let me be the one to pray! And the words flowed from a depth of peace that I had yet to experience up until that moment. Something changed in me. Had I started to become more fearless?

Early in the morning of December 11, 2012 I was rolled out of my hospital room and taken to the Surgery room. I remember nothing but the rolling sensation. I saw no faces I recognized. I heard no noises. No one was holding my hand. I remember no conversations. The lights were out quickly.

The next thing I remember was me sitting up and vomiting on the floor. In fact the next morning was all about vomiting viciously whatever there was or wasn’t in my stomach. Unbeknownst to me Patricia, my wife, had spent the night vigil with her friend, Tina, catching the wretch in a bucket. Yet when i began to be aware of my surroundings all I knew was that I was a alive, some sort of human being that was violently reacting to some invasion and I could not remember what!

And then the news. The good news. The surgery was a success! I could move everything. I felt the tickles on my feet. I could smile wide. Yes, I saw double, but my right eye was wide open and I could shut it at will. The tumor was gone and I was going to be alright. Tough I was groggy, in head pain and uncomfortable with all the catheters and machines connected to keep progress, inside my heart there was relief, incredible relief. I was so happy and I couldn’t wait to tell Patricia!

Stay tuned