Posts Tagged ‘God’

Mennoniting Our Way to the Mediterranean

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Thursday afternoon (11th) we called the family we had found in our copy of the Mennonite Your Way book. Before the trip, David ordered the newest European edition of families willing to provide sleeping arrangements for travelers through their area. The MYW people sent the older version (2006-2008) until they could send the newest, published a month after we left. Currently, the 2009 edition is sitting in Rosedale somewhere. We had found the Wheelers from outside Lyons the most willing of the six French families listed. We made good time from Bern and arrived around 6, the time we had given them over the phone. Andre and Ruth warmly welcomed us to their home. After introductions and parking the Passat in their property, we sat and shared our backgrounds and Kefir.

None of us had heard of this drink and were fascinated by the liquid which appeared to be lemonade. Instead, it was a bi-product of a bacterial ecosystem. Kefir grains are self-contianed micro-ecosystems of bacteria living in a symbiotic relationship to process and ferment sugars. The drink is this fermented sugar water, a healthy drink as a bacterial live culture like acidophilus in yogurt and for it half a proof of alcohol. The drink is like friendship bread in that these grains are not commercially available and the growth from their fermentation can be shared to start new colonies. The Wheelers described the process, first discovered by a doctor in the Caucasus mountains, as the combination of the Kefir seed, sugar water, a lemon for flavor, and a fig. The fig, when it expands enough with water to float, signals the adequate time for the fermenting process. All four of us enjoyed the refreshing drink as we learned of their French Bretheren background.

We moved the conversation inside for a hearty meal of tomatoes, potatoes, and ham. By then the family had gathered, Jean David from the university where is was studying engineering, Jonathan from a friend’s, and Timothy, the youngest. We learned that most of the information regarding the Wheelers in the MYW book was incorrect and that they had not ever actually requested to be included. They had sent a letter of interest years earlier and we soon surprised when they found a book in the mail, containing their names and they apparently attended a French Reformed church and also spoke Spanish. They were, nevertheless, pleased we could stay with them. We explained how we met and decided to try this trip, Andre interpreting for the curious boys. After a lovely conversation, some time to unwind, a washed load of clothes, and much needed showers, we stretched in beds after weeks of sleeping in the car or on the ground. Lovely.

The next morning, I woke early (for me) and worked on catching up with email and photos on Flickr until the guys began to stir. Andre, a cook for a school, and the boys, themselves in school, had already left the house, so I worked for an hour until eating a traditional French breakfast of baguettes and delicious jams. A little after our planned 10 a.m. departure time, we each filled out the Wheelers’ guest book and hit the road.

Sunday in Prague

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

When we finally left Prague late Saturday night, Dan Shenk and I [david] tried to find our way out of the city—this was made much more difficult because the roads in Prague are not marked, so we just navigated with a compass knowing that at some point Prague would have to end. Dan was driving and all of a sudden there were bright blue lights flashing behind us. A couple of cops got out of the police car and approached my side of the car before realizing that it was a right-hand drive. They told us that we had gone down a one-way street the wrong way (but I don’t think there were any marked signs). When they determined that it was an honest mistake and that we weren’t drunk they let us go. I don’t think they wanted to deal with the hassle of ticketing a Canadian (Dan Shenk has a Canadian passport) with a British car in the Czech Republic.

We found a place to park outside of Prague (after finally finding its end) by a KFC. The next morning we got up and went back into Prague to try to find the English speaking church we found on the internet the night before. Again the lack of posting road numbers deterred our progress, but we finally found the church. We were afraid we were going to be about twenty minutes late, but I noticed that on their web page they posted a note that the church service was to start at 12:00 instead of the normal time of 11:00. We were quite glad for this change because it allowed us to freshen up before going into the church and find a place to sit before the service started. We were made very welcome by the pastor and other church members. This was the first church service that I have been able to understand since we left the U.K., and it was very refreshing. It was the first church service that was similar stylistically to my church back home, which made me realize how much I miss my church family back home and the actual church service itself. We first sang praise and worship songs (that we knew), and then the pastor gave a good sermon using I John 3. After the sermon we had a time of communion in which we ate real bread instead of the cardboard wafer served in high churches. The church attracts quite a few young families and young adults going to college in Prague; it was good to see a large number of peers in a church for the first time on the trip.

After church we walked Prague for several hours. We first saw Wenceslas Square, which turned out to look much more like a road than a square, but what do I know? There we saw a noble statue of the “Good King” who went out on the Feast of Steven. We next saw a statue of Jan Hus—an early protestant martyr—in the town center, before seeing Franz Kafka’s house nearby. Unfortunately, Gregor the giant beetle was nowhere to be seen. Next, we climbed a big hill which gave us a great view of the city and also contained the Palace. Matt had a very one-sided conversation with a guard who was standing by the gate to the Palace. I had to wonder what was going through the guard’s mind as Matt explained why his job was unimportant and how he was nothing more than an ornament. We decided to head back to our car and walked over the famous Charles Bridge on the way. The Charles Bridge was covered with tourists like maggots on a rotting carcass, but we were eventually able to fight our way through the teeming masses. Prague is a very tourist town; I knew that this would be the case, but the sheer quantity of them surprised me (and also disappointed me a little too).

On the way back to the car we found a cheap supermarket (Tesco) and purchased some normal extremely cheap bread, some other normal food items, some snacks for Dan Shenk—it was his birthday, so we decided to get him some small treats—and some cappuccino mix which has joined toast and popcorn as a delicious supplement to our meals. We piled our food purchases into the back of the car and headed out of town excited to see the beauty of the Austrian Alps the next morning.

david miller

On a Boat

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Our ferry ride from Stockholm left Thursday (05/28) at 1745 from the main port. We had visited the ferry port twice on the preceding two days, first just after they closed and second while they were opened and we purchased our tickets. We had spent our day downtown and had a bit of a rush to get through the crowded city streets to the port in time for our 1645 boarding time. We did make it, however, and, exactly at 1645 checked in and were ushered onto the boat.

Our room was on the 8th deck and was about as small as a railway cabin. Just enough room for four fold-down beds, a corner toilet/shower room and a tiny desk attached to the wall. We got all our stuff in, including our foul-smelling bag of dirty laundry and Matt began washing his stuff. We had hoped against hope that there wouldn’t be a fourth person in our cabin, for his sake. David and I went out to explore the ship and Matt kept washing.

The boat was huge. It looked like a cruise ship. I’ve never been on a cruise ship, but I’ve seen a few in harbor and this looked almost exactly like one of those, except it was a bit smaller and didn’t have a climbing wall. It did have a spa, a casino, an arcade, two restaurants, a fast-food joint, a night club, a disco, and free (but slow) wifi. It also had three decks of rooms and two decks of car and truck parking.

I got back to the room and checked in on Matt who was soaking wet, had his shirt off, music playing in the shower and had the bathroom full of clothes hanging off the the two bed ladders he had wedged above the sink. He said our cabin-mate had showed up and greeted Matt with an expectedly shocked expression, dropped off his stuff and left.

Dan and David showed up a few minutes later just as the captain of the ship was making an announcement in Estonian. Not long after our cabin-mate showed up again and introduced himself as Rauno and, after we had apologized for the smell in the cabin, we all sat down and talked. As we talked, one-by-one each of us would disappear into the shower for a few minutes to wash ourselves and our clothes and, within a few hours the rooms scent had improved drastically and we were all much cleaner. We had learned quite a bit about Rauno, as well in his very good, although not perfect English–he said he has never learned Swedish or Norwegian so gets plenty of practice speaking English.

Rauno is in his mid thirties and works as a carpenter and cabinet-maker in Sweden and Norway for seven or eight months out of the year, with a visit home every few weeks. He has a family in Voru, Estonia, a wife and two little girls who live in a small, two-room apartment and he has been in the process of building a house for the past 5 years and expects to be done with it by the end of the summer. He is a pleasant, peaceful fellow. Soft-spoken with short, thinning hair, a ready smile and a gentle demeanor.

Over our shared peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches and his drinking yoghurt–delicious, real yoghurt with live cultures–we learned about his work history. Back when Estonia was under Soviet control, Rauno studied welding in the state university. After graduating, however, he was unable to find a job and so he began working at a logging camp. For several years he drove a 25-ton Soviet, treaded tractor pulling a large rake. His job was to follow after the clear-cutting of the loggers and rake all of the branches into rows to be collected and mulched. He said he hated that job. The cabin of the tractor was open to the air and temperatures could hit -20ºC and he was dropped off in the middle of the forest at the beginning of the day and picked up at the end.

After working as a logger for long enough, Rauno said “I looked around and realised that this is a s**t job. So, I told my boss ‘I quit’ and didn’t come back the next day.” After that, he picked up some jobs as an electrician before finally settling into carpentry around the time Estonia joined the EU. Rauno told us about how work is unavailable is in Estonia and how great it is to be able to travel to other EU countries where there is work–in his case Sweden and Norway. He said that for the past several years he has had to find work outside Estonia and, while that’s not ideal for him and his family, he is willing to do it and is very glad for the work.

From all he told us he is a hard worker, willing to do almost anything to get a job done right. When we explained to him what we were up to and how we were living on the road, he told us about working in Norway right before Christmas when he and two of his friends worked in a house 500 meters away from the outhouse, with no heat and the only source of water next to the outhouse. He said they went weeks without showers, we could sympathize, although it hasn’t gotten quite that bad for us.

During this entire time he seemed completely unfazed by the fact that we were washing our clothes and had then hanging all over the room, even helping us set up the ladders to make a great drying rack. I felt a bit self-conscious for imposing on him so greatly, but he truly did not seem to mind and seemed to enjoy hanging out with us as well. After a few hours we had finished washing our clothes and ourselves and we all dispersed to hang out throughout the ship.

It was nice to get a bit of time to get out of each others hair, and on a ship that big there was plenty of space. David found a quiet corner and read for a while and Matt got on the internet and got some personal correspondence and photo uploading done. After I had been doing a bit of reading in our room (Dune by Frank Herbert), Rauno walked in and we started talking. He asked me about the book I was reading and I described it for him then asked him what type of reading he does. He said he doesn’t have a lot of time to read, but when he gets time, he’s in the middle of a book on Yoga by an Estonian guru.

The subject of Yoga got us talking about religion and the bad parts and false parts and real parts. He believes in God but dislikes the word God so he calls Him The Absolute. He also doesn’t really appreciate most organized religions, but believes that all of them have some good in them, particularly when it comes to moral law. I discussed the origins of morality and the origins of sin, the origins of the world and the end of our lives. He seemed to have an almost Christian view of the afterlife, but the method for getting there is through conquering our will through our own means. In a way his faith was Christianity without Christ. Doing good, loving your brother, living a good life, trying to not sin so you can get to heaven, but without Christ or the Holy Spirit. He seemed to be very thoughtful and seeking and I enjoyed our conversation and hope I left him with a bit of understanding of the religion I’ve embraced.

Rauno and I talked until after 2300 and he went off to find a friend of his to try to get a ride to his hometown the next day and I went to find Matt and David to see what they were up to. That evening at 2330 was a cabaret show in the nightclub involving lots of glitter, crazy costumes and top hats. David, Matt and Rauno went and watched at least part of that. According to David and Matt, “The show was laughably ridiculous, especially since it seemed like it would have been better suited to Las Vegas than Estonia.”

In the meantime, I started working on the website. When I got up after a bit to borrow Matt’s room key to go get a snack of some jørdnotters–delicious and relatively cheap salted, roasted peanuts we had found in Stockholm–I found Matt taking pictures at the ship’s dance floor and soon joining in with the dancing. The music was live and performed in about 15 different styles by a group of 4 guys and a synthesizer. The event was quite a spectacle.

Anyway, I returned to the computer and spent the evening working on pictures, maps, etc. for the website and doing a bit of chatting with my homies and Rachel. Since we had the free internet readily available, we decided to make the best of it so I ended up staying up quite late getting quite a bit done (you may have noticed around that time a number of improvements to the site, if anyone was keeping track). That evening I felt like a fly on the wall of the ship’s nightlife.

I was sitting in the little fast-food area–which was open 24 hours a day–so I could see people coming and going through that area. At about 0100 there was a group of about 5 drunk truck-drivers sitting around eating burgers, hotdogs, and fries and talking in Swedish. After about half an hour they left and for the next hour or so I was alone with my headphones in listening to Flight of the Conchords and enjoying the quiet. Then, a shriek of anger, three people yelling and a man, sobbing loudly threw open the door to the sundeck and stormed into the drizzly night. A few minutes later three people–two who appeared to be a couple and another girl, apparently his friends–followed him rather timidly on deck. Some quiet murmuring outside and they returned with the angry fellow meekly holding the hand of the previously unattached girl. They disappeared down the hall and all was quiet again.

At 0130 the last glimmer of the sun finally disappeared from the horizon and, except for the distant thudding of a drum, the thrumming of the engine and the slight whistle of the wind, the night was quiet. At 0240 my peaceful evening was once again shattered by three of the same truck drivers from before, but this time they were more drunk and, therefore, louder. They ordered another round of fast food and beers and laughed and spoke slurred Swedish to each other for another half hour, then disappeared again. At about that time, the two couples with the anger issues from earlier came back, although they had apparently solved their issues and seemed rather drugged on a combination of beer and hormones, they left shortly after arriving. The sun began to glimmer again at about 0245.

I kept working and listening, now to several NPR podcasts from before we left. 0300 came around and the disco drums grew a bit quieter and fewer people passed up and down the stairs and the sun grew stronger just over the horizon. By 0330 I was nearing the end of my work on the slow internet and appreciating the quiet of the evening, then the largest and hairiest of the truck drivers stumbled into the cafeteria, placed his order loudly, and stumbled over to a table with a burger and another beer and apparently enjoyed them. After him, a man and his two Estonian women in way too-short skirts came in, ordered drunkenly, and, with an excessive amount of making out and feeling up, joined the truck driver to eat their meals and drink their beers.

I went to bed at at 0400 having accomplished a significant amount and rested comfortably the rest of the night. At 0930 we all woke up, packed up, said goodbye to Rauno and made our way to the car. We were separated at the packed elevator and Matt, who took the next one ended up on the wrong floor. David went to move the car while I went to hunt Matt down. Before I could find him, however, I found a lost looking Estonian man who begged me in German for help opening a locked door to the car area. I couldn’t help him open it, but I did show him where another door was. I went out, talked to David, got my passport (Matt had his on him) and told David to go ahead and drive out because the trucks were waiting for him to get out of their way.

While David did that I went hunting for Matt and found him just a few minutes later. We walked off the pedestrian ramp, at every point looking for a way to get back to the car before customs, then walked through customs without stopping (Thank you EU!), made our way to to the ground where we found ourselves separated from David by a high fence. We motioned to him and after a bit he drove out to us. Matt and I hopped in and off we went.

This was the longest boat ride of my life and, although there were several portions of it that made me slightly uncomfortable–mainly the entertainment and several of the other passengers–I enjoyed the ride.

Daniel Z

Religion and The West

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Our first Sunday in Ireland dawned predicatively cloudy. The night had been a bit hard, having spent a tense and hectic half hour in the in the driving rain and gathering dark staking down our tarps to keep our belongings dry. It was with smiling, if tired faces, then, that we greeted the calls of “It’s dry!” that morning. It was about 9 in the morning and the sun was up, although low in the sky and a dry wind was blowing. We laid out the tent and tent fly that hadn’t quite dried from the night before.(leaving at 8 before the sun came out and the dew dried meant we hadn’t had time to air them out.). We also laid out the precious tarps which had so successfully kept the rain off of our bags the night before.

After a half hour or so, we left our little spot in the field for the second time and headed to Dublin.
In Dublin, we parked about a block from St Patrick’s Cathedral and walked to church, feeling a bit bedraggled without a shower, but in our best clothes.

The cathedral is magnificent. During the week the main chapel is home to a gift shop and costs several euro to enter (I always think of Jesus ejecting the moneychangers and others profiting from God’s temple when I see gift shops and admission fees at these cathedrals). On Sundays, however, mass is held at 8:30 and Eucharist sung at 11:15 and admission is free. We didn’t feel like waking up early and wet two days in a row (plus most of us aren’t big fans of waking up early in the morning) so we aimed for the 11:15 service.

A group called the City of London Chamber Choir were the guest choir and sang beautifully, although, as in most cathedrals, the words were lost in the nooks and crannies of the decorated ceilings and walls. The cathedral is Anglican now, although I’m not sure it has been always. St. Patrick is, of course, the patron saint of Ireland and his name and face are widespread throughout the country. Schools, streets, villages, restaurants, hotels, tour companies, breweries and almost every other possible variety of institution bear his name. There are a lot of people who get a lot of acclaim who don’t really deserve it, but Patrick is one who almost certainly does. There are a lot of legends about his life–many of them probably true, for example his origins in Roman Britain or his relationship with the church, which is fairly well documented. Other stories are less documented. For example, he is said to have banished all snakes from Ireland by praying on a mountain for 40 days and 40 nights. It is certainly possible that a man in tune with God’s will could ask for God to perform a miracle as spectacular as banishing snakes from an entire nation.

Back in the church, the service celebrated the 4th Sunday of Easter and was filled with some beautiful spring music and a sermon exhorting the members of the congregation to be shepherds of our brothers and sisters and not sit back and assume that the pastor (shepherd) of the congregation will pick up your slack. The congregation was made up of a number of people who seemed as though they might be Dublin-area regulars and probably about 30 or 40 people who looked like tourists. All in all, attendance was probably at about 150. Not bad for secular Europe, although Ireland is one of the most religious nation in Europe.
It was a sombre service, but seemed filled with a groundswell of celebration of Christ’s resurrection. One of the morning’s hymns, written by John Crum and sung to a traditional French melody, seemed to fit well.

Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again,
Like wheat that springeth green.

I left in a good mood, feeling reminded of what a great, international God we serve.
That afternoon we headed to The West, straight across the country. It only took about 3 and ½ hours to cross the entire nation! Along the way, we were thrilled at the the sights of the Irish countryside, damp as they were. Matt also took his first turn driving once we were outside of Dublin, and did quite well. One of the phrases we’ve taken to using here is “Driving like a European” since it seems that in the two European nations we’ve visited on this trip so far, driving in a crazy manner seems rather mundane over here. Matt learned to drive like a European.
Eventually we made it safe and sound to Limerick in The West and headed up the coast. That evening we spent at the beautiful Cliffs of Moher, one of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World (As a sidebar, who comes up with these wonders? I mean… can I just declare myself one of the 7 Wonders of the Human World? Not that I want to. Just asking.)

Pictures will do a better job of describing the cliffs, but they rise several hundred feet from the frigid and tumultuous North Atlantic below. We were all awed by how dramatic a form Creation can take, more wonderful than the most spectacular of man’s buildings. In other words, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water is nothing compared with God’s Cliffs of Moher (just to clarify, I’m not dissing Wright, I really like his work!)
We left the cliffs a bit late–we had tried to see the sunset, but in typical Irish fashion, it was cloudy–and drove north through Doolin and Galway. Tomorrow we’re going to see the Giant’s Causeway built by the infamous giant, Finn MacCool himself. We’ll finish the day in Belfast where we’ll catch the 3:20 ferry to Stranrear, Scotland.

Daniel Z