Friday, April 24, 2009

A glimse into my life

So, my roommate and I don't connect too often, with both of us keeping rather bizarre hours and us both often having quite a bit of work or studying to do. However, when we do, it tends to be some sort of memorable interaction, including everything from philosophical discussions about whether or not we'll be able to fly in heaven and predestination to me vainly trying to convince him that throwing eggs out our windows at people, dogs and moving cars is not a good idea. I also tend to discover all of the awkward ways that I have not yet figured out this culture from my roommate. Imagine his frustration in having to explain to me in what state I must properly leave the bathroom after each time I use it, and the overly-complicated system for what color sponge, rag, or cloth I am allowed to clean what objects and surfaces with, and which things are absolutely forbidden to clean with the incorrect color sponge (who knew that for the first 3 months I was washing dishes with the face-wash rag?). I have also gotten a glimpse into the private nature of the French with regards to food. I honestly think that Greg has an emotional attachment to truly French food. Whenever he has nutella or cheese with baguette, the symphony of sounds of satisfaction that comes from the kitchen is always a treat. He also establishes that it is a proven fact that French food is the best in the world, not merely an opinion, as I assert. He does not listen to my logic and experience in the different cuisines of the world being different, and some even as good (or better!) than French cuisine. He once even chided me for eating Peanut Butter. :-) Whenever I make imported Kraft Mac & Cheese I do it when he's not home...I wouldn't want him to get offended at such an unfortunate excuse for "cheese." Mmmm...America.

Anyway, the latest vignette with Greg concerned several humorous videos of a French guy and some of his friends pulling these ridiculous pranks in public (similar to ImprovEverywhere). The guy is actually from Montpellier, and there is one video which takes you on a little tour of Montpellier!

Here it is, for your enjoyment:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What? Is he back?

Yes, I haven't abandoned this. I just returned to France from an almost 2-week vision trip with a group of students and staff to East Asia. I promise to have a real post up with pictures soon!

In the meantime, enjoy this:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

February: Welcome to Spring

Yes, that's right, we have entered into the joyous world of spring here in the South of France. February was a phenomenal month of ministry and some personal travel. We get a small amount of vacation days to take on STINT, and, well, at the beginning of February I hadn't taken a single one, and now I only have one left. :-)

Here are some highlights and reflections:

The beginning of February was marked by a visit from my parents! After a mess of getting them to Montpellier (they flew into Amsterdam to find that there were zero flights going between Amsterdam and Paris!), we had an amazing time! They got to see Montpellier, the Mediterranean, and then we took off with Erin to go visit Italy!

Here we are in Sête, a city just south of Montpellier, right on the Mediterranean.

Our first stop in Italy was Cremona, the home of Stradivarius and also of the man who made my violin! We visited him, which was one of the top highlights of my year here so far!

City #2 was Pisa, where we of course did the most tourist thing possible:

That night we caught an incredible sunset on the Mediterranean, just a block away from our hotel.

City #3 was Florence, which was simply stunning! That's where we shopped! :-)

After Italy, my parents and I visited Paris, where we saw the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, St. Chapelle, and my friend Andrew! The whole way we ate amazing food (in both Italy and France!) and really really enjoyed just being able to be together. I was very thankful to be able to see them part-way through my year. It helped my longings to get home dissipate quite a bit.

Eiffel Tower:

A visit to Notre-Dame, including mass! This is where I sang (and almost fainted) in
high school, the last time I was in France.

The highlight for me this time at the Louvre was seeing Napolean's Apartments! Wow!

And the thread throughout our whole vacation was to take pictures with my home church's newsletter! Here is my Dad with one of his Italian friends! (Bibiana)

And thus my trip with my parents was ended. I jumped back into ministry for a week in Montpellier, and then took a little weekend vacation to visit a really good friend who is also on this side of the pond!

Before getting there, I overnighted in Köln, Germany to see my favorite orchestra, the good old MO. The orchestra was in great form, performing Adams, Nielsen, and Barber with J. Bell. Josh sounded incredible, as did my favorite oboist on his solo in the second movement. :-) I also had the pleasure of spending time with Roger, talking one last time with Jorja Fleezanis (and being invited backstage into her warm-up room to finish our conversation!), and surprising a former collegue of mine by showing up to a concert in Germany!

Jorja warming up with the orchestra:

A view of the incredible hall from backstage:

Josh Bell warming up with the orchestra (heck yeah I got to go to the rehearsal):

After a very uncomfortable overnight train through Germany to Switzerland, catching a bus at 5am in Basel, Switzerland to get to my flight that left just across the border in France, I arrived and met my friend Scott, to go visit our mutual friend Jon.

Myself with Jon and Scott:

The three of us had an incredible time together - we spent a ton of time just hanging out and having great conversations. A stop worth mentioning was to a Turkish Cafe, where we enjoyed a traditional Turkish custom called the Nargile, as well as drinking a lot of çay (chai tea). Mmmm...I brought some back to France with me because I loved it so much.

The other significant highlight of the trip there was visiting a mosque. Jon lives in a highly Muslim area, and so I learned a ton about what the Muslim world is like and what Muslim culture looks like.

Visiting the mosque was one of the most impactful things I have done in a long time. I was absolutely struck with a feeling of deep sorrow, mixed with some anger at the emptiness I saw and experienced learning about their lives. Unlike the hope found in Christ, there is no real hope in Islam - just the 5 pillars which qualify you for consideration into heaven. There is no guarantee. There is no forgiveness, no grace. It broke my heart to see people following empty rituals because that is all they have been taught. I've never really had a heart for Muslim people before, but after this experience, my heart yearns to help them find true joy.

After what seemed like almost no time, Scott and I were on a plane back to France. We spent a layover between our flight and our train in Mulhouse, which is in the part of France that looks like Bavaria! I ate some super stinky cheese, and we had great tea, and enjoyed an incredible dinner conversation. :-)

Getting home: first sleeping car experience for both of us! Yeah sleeper cars!

Scott stayed with us in Montpellier for the next few days, and I took him with me on campus, as well as visiting some of my favorite sites! Again, it was an amazingly fun time spent with good friends!

Fitzy's. Our favorite pub ever. Home of English Club every week (and our team hangout times as much as we can afford the time and expensive drinks!)

THE best crépes ever. Even better than in Nantes, which is actually where they are from. So...take that.

Sigh...I love this café. Best hot chocolate in the world.

You may be wondering whether or not I did any ministry in February. The answer is yes! I just don't have sweet pictures from that part. :-) My team is also putting in a really full month this March, so more details on that to come. In fact, as we speak, we have another vision trip arriving today! The campus is totally on strike, and two campuses are actually blocked, so we're praying that the Lord gives us guidance for how to best use this week with the vision trip here!

Thank you all for keeping abreast and for your prayers. I miss you. Think of me when it snows - I'm getting a tan already. ;-)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Just one reason why I really like living in the south of France:

More updates soon...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Flashback to January

Now that it's almost March, I thought it might be a nice idea to finish my update of January!

We had two big highlights from January, the vision trip from the U of M that came for a week, and our Midyear conference in Nerja, Spain. Here are some pictures from the two events!

The Vision Trip was a group of 9 students and staff from the U of M (and one North Dakotan who also came along). While they were here, we had a lot of fun showing them our city, the ministry, and giving them an idea of what our life is like here. This of course included seeing the sights and the guys treating the girls to a ride on the carousel!

I also enjoyed helping the students get into French culture a little bit. Here we are having just purchased new scarves to sport back in the States. :-)

One of the biggest blessings to me personally was having 4 other guys here for a week! I spent almost every waking moment with these guys, and enjoyed so much just getting to hang out and have some time with other dudes for a while. I love the women on my team, but having guys here for the week was awesome! This is us at the Skur's house. I'm not quite sure how this happened, but I think it was Ryan Larson's idea...

More importantly, having a boost of 9 fresh, energized workers for the week was a huge encouragement to us as a team. The week the Vision Trip was with us we had more spiritual conversations and were able to share the gospel more times than we ever had our first 4 months here. It was amazing how the Lord blessed us as we and they went out in faith to meet people.

One story that I particularly enjoy was from the middle of the week. Drew (one of the vision trip students) and I went out to go sharing on campus, and after some time with relatively unproductive conversations, we sat down at a small café on campus where many students spend the afternoon. We had sat down next to some guys hoping to talk to them, but they left almost as soon as we sat down, so we waited, and after just a few minutes a group of 5 students sat down. We started talking with them, asking if they had a few minutes to view this short film we were showing and get their opinion on the film. The purpose of the film was to have an easy way to initiate conversations and also to invite students who were interested to a soirée we were having at the end of the week with two short films both based on Jesus' parables.

The group was very interested, but two of the students had to leave for an exam, but asked for my cell # to get together later to check out the film. We ended up having a great conversation with the other three, and invited them to the soirée.

The next day I had a text message from the two who had left early, hoping to line up a time to get together. Their proposed time didn't work, but when we went to campus to have lunch, we ran into them! (Let me just note that the cafeteria is huge, and divided into several sections, so the likelihood of this happening by chance was extremely small) We had a great time just visiting with them at lunch, and asked them if they would come to the film soirée as well. They were very interested, so we parted ways that day hoping they would be able to come the following night.

The night of the soirée they were the first students there, and as we dived into the films we had really good discussions. Part way through the evening another friend of theirs joined us in time for the last film. The film was a modern retelling of the parable of the Prodigal Son. As we discussed the film afterwards, they were pulling out solid biblical themes from the story, and Drew was able to share about what it means to him that God's love for him (and all people) was unconditional and how He is always waiting for us to respond to his call for us to come to Him, just like the father in the story.

(Mélanie, Julian, myself, Peter and Drew (two vision trip students))

Since then myself and the team here has been able to keep hanging out with these guys, which has not only been fun for us, but encouraging as we continue to share what our life as believers looks like to these two friends of ours!


The other big highlight from January was our Midyear conference, which was in Nerja, Spain, which is on the Mediterranean coast of southern Spain. It was a week-long conference, where we were able to connect with other STINTers from all around Europe and surrounding countries, share successes and frustrations, learn from each other and get some mid-year training and re-energizing for the second half of our year.

On the way there, Laura, Erin and I actually spent a weekend in London, because it was cheaper to fly to Spain via London (makes perfect sense, doesn't it?). We had a great time - Erin and I got to see many of the sights, including going to Les Misérables in London!

When we got to Spain, it was super refreshing to be in an incredibly beautiful location! We were blessed to be staying in a hotel right on the coast, and the view from my room was pretty awesome:

Probably the highlight of the week for me personally was getting to room with and spend the week with one of my close friends who is also STINTing this year.

As a team it was a really fantastic time to connect with other STINT team from around Europe. Here we are with the other STINT team in France. They're up in the north, where it's rainy and cold! We're glad that we're in the south of France!

One of the big answers to prayer from the week at the conference was that it really brought our team together. After living and working in close quarters for 4 months, we all had sensed an underlying tension on the team that none of us could name or put a finger on. One evening at the conference we talked, shared, prayed and worked things out together for five hours, the resulting conversations of which have changed the dynamics on our team 180 degrees. Since then, we've been closer with each other, more honest, and more comfortable living and working together. It's been one of the biggest blessings I could have asked for the second part of this year.

We came away from the conference with some new ideas for a fresh start to how we worked as a team, one primary thing being that we've been focusing on prayer a lot as a team. We've been praying together every week day either at the beginning or end of the day, and the changes that have happened in our ministry have been huge. We've suddenly had more conversations that lead quickly to explaining the gospel, and we've been able to make relational connections with students very quickly as well. We've had one really exciting story in the last week...but you'll just have to wait for that until I have time to type it up!


Sunday, February 1, 2009

More photos...

Here are some photos from our Christmas conference, Camp Nouvel An.

A view of our main meeting room:

I was assigned to be captain for team 4 - we had a competition on New Years Eve, involving several challenges, including transporting small beans across a room with a straw, stuffing one team member's mouth full of marshmallows, a quiz and blind pictionary (draw with your eyes closed, or use someone else's hand)

We had one day of outreach in the city that we were in (super cool story to follow), here is a picture of my friend Jad out with a fellow STINTer, Natalie, and another student.

When we returned to Montpellier, the unthinkable snowed! For all you Minnesotans, this is the sum total of snow that we had all season. Winter is basically over already. :-)

Here are some reflections after the conference:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Recap 1.5: More Christmas

I thought some fun technology would spice this up a bit.

Here are some looks at what our vacation adventures were like:

The idealized beginning to our voyage:

Our expectant voyage through the mountain to Italy:

Our unexpected return to France, after an unfortunate discovery of snow...