Not too long ago, I was a stranger here in Germany. It’s funny, because most days I still feel like a stranger. Just some examples: I’m the last to get jokes, I’d rather talk in person than on the phone (on the phone in another language is HARD), I greet men first (in Germany they greet the ladies first), I don’t know who to ask about simple things like meals at Cayla’s school (which right now are €80 ($100)/month, joining a sports club requires a Master’s degree to read the application (even the girl at the sport’s club office didn’t understand the form), and on and on.
Until today, that is. I was out prayer walking, really with no other agenda than asking God to take me where I’m needed. My hope was to stumble upon some very obviously needy place; a place where I could find the next Martin Luther (as funny as that sounds, it’s been my prayer since coming here that we could find the next Martin Luther who would usher in the new Reformation). I’d walked almost 2 miles, turning this way and that, having a sense of where God was taking me, but not really feeling like it’s a place of great need. I must admit, I’m already drawn to Starbucks in a supernatural way often enough! But, that’s where I was heading after 2 miles of walking. So, I’m praying something like “God, what could I possible be doing in a Starbucks?” when it happens. A block from the Starbucks I hear a Vietnamese man ask a German lady for directions. He’s speaking broken English, and she’s struggling to understand. She’s answering in German, and he’s not understanding. So I approach the man, the German lady, and the man’s wife and ask in English, “Do you need help?” The German lady looks completely relieved and wanders away very quickly. The man and his wife ask how to walk to the Central Train Station (Hauptbahnhof). We’re a pretty good ways from there, but I explained to them that the train station we are standing by will get them there. The wife says they don’t yet have a ticket, and wanted to buy the all day/all transportations ticket. Well, you don’t have to do that at the Hauptbahnhof, so I explain to them there’s a machine right inside that they can do that, thinking I’ve helped. But they both look at me with this desperation in their eyes that I recognize: they will have to navigate a machine that is in German… Oh man, in that moment I felt their pain and fear! Even as the wife started to ask me if it was in English, I asked, “Could I come with you to the machine and help?” They are overcome with joy that only a fellow stranger could really understand. The depth of my empathy for them connected us instantly. So, we walked together to the machine, and I showed them which ticket they wanted, navigated them through the payment methods, and prepared to go. They both stopped as I wished them a good day, looked at me, and said, “God bless you! That was so nice! God bless you.” Silly, but I’m pretty sure I found what God sent me this way to do.
And, as I walk away, God reminds me of a strong spiritual truth that I often try to forget: We are all strangers here. As familiar or comfortable as I want to be in this world, or in any culture, this is not my home or the world I was made for. In 1 Peter 2:11, we are reminded of this very thing. Jesus reminds us that we are to be wise as serpents, but innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16) as He explains how to navigate the world He has sent us into. Today’s walk was a strong reminder that I’ll always be a stranger, but that I’ve been left here to navigate this world wisely and innocently, all the while proclaiming the kingdom and finding those in need of (metaphorical) navigational help. There are literally 1,000’s of people in our paths every day (Greater Hamburg is almost 5,000,000 people) who are lost, without hope of finding their way, and have no understanding of what they need. They are drowning in a world they were not created for either. And, if we will walk prayerfully, God places us in their paths to help them navigate safely home. Be willing to go out of your way, walk with someone today who needs a wise and innocent guide, and help them find their way. I wish I’d had a chance to help this couple get further than the Central Station. But there will be others needing help, I’m sure.
And, as I sit at Starbucks now writing and praying for this couple, I’m asking you to join me in praying for those in need of finding their way, even this couple, that God will place me and you in the paths of those in need that we might proclaim His Kingdom and help others find their way home.