Translation Tables or Common Ground

One of the struggles anyone will have in moving to a different country will be learning the culture and/or the language.  In our case, learning both is something very hard to do.  I spent a few hours yesterday talking with an American who is moving here next year, and I bet he thinks I’m some type of language fanatic.  The one thing I said over and over was that he would need to guard his first year here JUST to get a basic handle on the language.  The other element we spoke about was the cultural differences between USAmerica and Germany.  Although a very western, post-modern culture, these two countries are VERY different.  At some point, I’ll blog solely about the differences.  Last weekend I was speaking with 3 men who live in Stuttgart, and we were speaking about American expressions like, “That was so good, it’ll make you slap yo’ mama!”  It just doesn’t translate.  When we spoke about Texas, the idea of a “Good ol’ Boy” came up.  I thought I’d done a great job of explaining this one when one of them asked, “So, is Arnold Schwartzenager a ‘good ol’ boy?'”  My saving grace is that the conference presenter used a clip from “Second Hand Lions” where Garth, Hub, & Walter realize the salesman sold them all the same seed, and that they’d be eating corn for the next year.  I was able to lean over to my friend and point to these two old men in overalls eating corn-on-the-cobb that they grew on their farm, and said, “Those are good ol’ boys!”

The next day I received an email from a very close and very wise friend.  He always seems to have the right words at the right time, and was speaking into my frustration getting the Harley road-ready.  And he drove home the point that where my American culture and German language may fail me, the Harley is a “point of translation.”  I’ve been chewing on that, and the implications for life overseas in general.  There is a great temptation to always be transfixed on the differences, and to see the cultural gap as unbridgeable.  But, I think that’s going about things all wrong.  The question should be, “Where are there commonalities that will bridge that gap, and make language and culture a minimal difference (or at least a smaller difference?”  Motorcycles, sports, family, kids, eating, art, the list is endless.  Caryn has been singing in a community choir for the last month.  It’s a group of mostly senior adults who don’t know a lot of English, but they love music and she loves music.  So, they come together in the medium of their interests and bridge the cultural and language gaps with music.

We often quote Paul saying, “I’ve become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Cor. 9:22)  I know I’ve often used this verse to talk about being places the traditional church hasn’t been, but it’s much bigger than that.  And, even though Paul was a Roman citizen and a Jew among Jews, what does he really mean?  This morning, I’m chewing on the idea that he didn’t let things keep him from his appointed task.  He didn’t balk at cultural or language differences.  Instead, he found the commonalities and plowed ahead.  

Today was the first time I’ve ridden my motorcycle out to have coffee.  It wasn’t just a “ride through the country so the battery doesn’t die” ride.  It wasn’t a ride to the shop because there was a problem, or a ride home from the shop only to be parked.  I rode into town, found a parking place, and was unpacking my stuff when a German man walks up, looks over the motorcycle, looks at me, and, with a smile, says, “Wunderbar!”  Then, he turns and walks off.  For just a moment we connected.  As he walked off, I said, “Danke!” hoping he’d turn around, but he didn’t.  But I guarantee that, had you been standing there with NO knowledge of the German language, you’d have understood, too.  The gap was bridged, and, even for a short moment, we connected using an understood medium, or “translation table,” as my friend called it.

New concept?  Not at all.  For thousands of years, God sought to make Himself understood to humanity.  Although His language was clearly understood, our sin-nature clouded our understanding; a disconnect of cultures perhaps?  But, at just the right time, in just the right way, God made His perfect revelation of Himself in Jesus so that we could say, “Wunderbar!” and connect with the divine. (Gal. 4:4-5)

Instead of living your day today disconnected or discontent, feeling alone or misunderstood, why not follow the model of Christ, the model of Paul, and  strive to bridge some gaps today through commonalities.  You’d be good at it, I promise, if you’d just get out there and give it a try.  There is a world of very diverse people all around you that would benefit greatly from your presence.  Find a commonality and connect with them!

My Walk Today

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.

Simple Church

I’ve been wracking my brain of late in an attempt to figure out how to multiply my influence with limited language skills. After spending a few days with some peers listening to their stories, and reading some great books, I’m still not sure I can wrap my brain around it. But tonight, as a new friend told his story, I heard something that resonated a bit: the world wide interwebs! Okay, yes, I know it’s the internet. Anyway, I thought I’d update my blog and just throw it out there: if you are interested in Simple Church and would like to strike up a conversation about it, hit me up! ESPECIALLY if you are in Hamburg (or Germany in general). Do you have to be in Hamburg to hit me up? Not at all! I’d love to visit with you about what you’re doing, and what we could be doing together!

Another idea I had was to re-establish a coaching posture through an online podcast about topics Simple Church people would find useful. Before I commit to that, I’d be interested in knowing if you’d “tune in.”

And, of course, I could write a book… But that’ll have to come later, when I’m not so busy!

Whatcha think? Hit me up!

Germany so far…

We’ve just completed week 3 of living abroad, so I thought I’d blog a little about similarities and differences in life here compared to life stateside.

There have been many differences, but the most striking so far has been the weather. I think we’ve had one day where the temperature got close to 80F/27C. And it has rained almost every day since we arrived. As I sit in our living room writing this, it’s Sunday morning, raining (since Friday), and is 52F/12C. This may be our high temp for the day! And because of our northern latitude (same as Edmonton, Alberta), it’s light from 05.00 (5a) until 22.00 (10p). It will be like this for a short part of the year, then make the shift to being dark from about 17.00 (5p) until 09.00 (9a), giving us about 8 hours of sunlight.

We have a car, and are allowed to drive for up to 6 months with our Texas license, meaning we’ve been able to drive since the day we got here. It’s not too different than driving in Texas, and we’ve only been honked at a few times for mistakes we’ve made (like right on red…only exists where specifically indicated by signage). The speed limit is in Km/H (kilometers per hour) instead of MPH. When you are driving through town doing 50Km/H you’re really doing about 35 MPH (multiply by .6 to get to the standard value). And, although we’ve driven on the Autobahn several times, we haven’t hit any of the no speed limit spots. That will happen in next week when we drive to Slovenia and Austria! Yeah, I’m pumped and Caryn is terrified. I may need some homeopathic tranquilizer recipes from you!

The primary form of transportation where we live is still the car, although bikes are probably a close second. Many people walk or bike where they need to go since almost everything is within walking distance. But, we live in the suburbs. In the inner city of Hamburg, the transit system is the predominant form of travel. The trains, buses, and harbor ferry are amazingly efficient and easily accessible. We’ve utilized these forms of travel a few times since arriving. We will use them MUCH more when Caryn and I start school in August.

There are some food options that are very German, as well as Turkish. Our favorite ethnic food so far has been the Döner. It’s a shaved meat, either chicken or beef at the stand we go to, stuffed into a grilled flat bread and topped with lettuce and sauces. Of course, Cayla orders chicken nuggets there! I’ve had some schnitzel, which was delightful! Imagine a breaded, thin-cut pork chop. Mmmm!

Starbucks has some of the traditional offerings, too, but not the drinks we have liked so we’re trying new drinks. But we’ve found a local coffee shop called Sorrano’s that we really enjoy. The owner, a man named Tarak, has been so friendly. He speaks English very well, but has told me he will only let me get by with English for a few weeks. He will gradually only do German with me. It’s a great thing that I can order all of our drinks in German already.

There are Ice-cream stands everywhere! And the kids have found their favorite flavors. Here, ice cream is called Eis (say it like “ice” but more of a “z” sound for the “c” rather than an “s” sound).

There is also a bakery that is within walking distance of our house. The kaffee (coffee) is alright, but the pastries are amazing! We were told about a pastry that is a regional pastry called fronzbrochen. It’s like a croissant/cinnamon roll. Cayla loves it and wants to stop for one every day when we leave our neighborhood!

Contrary to what you hear about Germans, our experience has found them to be friendly and accommodating. Two of our four neighbors popped-in with house-warming gifts (potted plants). We’ve delivered thank you gifts to them (Caryn’s famous chocolate covered/white-chocolate swirled strawberries). Many of the people we’ve encountered have spoken English. The ones that didn’t were very patient and helpful. When we’ve ended up in a language pinch, we’ve resorted to motions and sounds in a way that is probably VERY entertaining to the people around us.

You may have heard people mention the orderly nature of Germans, and we’ve found that to be pretty accurate. There are certain lanes for certain speeds. There are certain procedures that no one would ever violate. Now, there are some people, just as there are everywhere, that put their needs above others and buck the system. But they are not the norm.

Germans enjoy conversation and relationships. It’s the norm for a wait-staff person in a restaurant to assume you’ll use your table for more than an hour. They don’t get antsy and try to move you along. It’s part of a good meal to have good conversation. And when you visit their home they expect you to come in, sit down, and stay a while. We have really enjoyed the people we have met so far.

I could go on an on about the banking system, media, recycling expectations, holiday traditions, etc. But, I’ll sum it up by saying that we are really enjoying our time here. The people are great. The food is great. The weather is generally pleasant. Thanks for your prayers in this transitional time for us!

Going Forth

“Go forth from your country…” -Genesis 12

We are experiencing a little of what Abraham must have felt as God uprooted him from all he knew and sent him to a land of strangers. If you haven’t heard yet, The Bishop family now resides in Hamburg, Germany, where we are hoping to make strides for the kingdom.

I still remember my first trip over seas. It was to Kenya. I was 31. I’m not as old as Abraham was, but older none the less. Right now, I’m sitting in a London airport and thinking through what God is doing with our family. I see my kids sitting next to me and can’t help but think about how different life would have been for me if I’d engaged in God’s work at their age. Now 11 and 9, these two have sensed God’s call on them to the nations, and have pursued it on 3 continents. Considering all they’ve left behind, I wonder how it must be for them! They truly are leaving behind everything they know for the sake of the call, living as “sent-out ones.”

One of the things we’ve tried to do through this whole process is to nurture that sense of obedience in them. For some families, the kids are a part of the calling by virtue of having to go where their parents go. But we made this a family decision, asking them to express what they felt God was telling them, and giving them a say in this. My hope is that, through out their lives, they would pursue God’s calling for them, no matter the cost. And I pray daily that it could be said of each of us what was said of Abraham in Genesis 25:8, “Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life.”

Can you find satisfaction in knowing you did what God called you to do and let that be enough?

A Cup Half Full?

Today’s post is mainly for me as a sort of cathartic moment. It’s been ruminating in my brain for a week, trapped amidst the busyness of preparations to go. So, thank you in advance for for your gracious understanding of my need to write and process.

Many of you know me, and know that I’m a pretty optimistic person. Sometimes it gets me into trouble that I assume the best of people and situations, allowing me to be blind sided by bad situations. Here of late, though, I’ve been seeing the events of our life as a series of “lasts.” I.E. my last meal at Chick-Fil-A, my last Disciple Now, my last Nooma Ride, my last Sunday at THF, my last Belt Test at CrossPoint, etc. But it hit me this morning that none of these events are necessarily the last of anything! Not any more than they could have been my last on any day of my life. And even if they were, I’ve been seeing this wrong. The ending of a chapter simply means the beginning of the next! As I sat with some of my friends this morning (who happen to be former students of mine), I realized that they will not stop being my friends or former students. And just because it will be 4 years before I get to ride with my biker friends here, it doesn’t mean I won’t ever ride with them again! It just means that I’ll have a whole new batch of stories to share with them the next time we ride, as I’m sure they will, too! We will still be able to share in the victories of the faith, the trials of life, and the sorrows of heart-break with those we call friends.

Our departure for Virginia Monday only marks the end of a chapter in our lives. But it also marks the beginning of a new chapter, with new characters and adventures. Today I am making the appropriate changes in my thinking to again see the cup half full instead of half empty. We aren’t saying “Goodbye.” We are saying, “Stay in touch and we’ll see you soon!” Know that each of you are loved and cherished by the Bishop family! Sincerely, you have been such an integral part of our lives, how could any of these things be the last we would share? I’ve been bothered by calling our time with you a “chapter” because it really feels like a book!

One question we’ve gotten a lot lately is, “What are we going to do without you?” And while I know that really means “without Caryn,” I think you do what you’ve been doing with us here! Strive for excellence! Walk with Christ! Laugh often! Give generously! Share completely! Live life to the fullest! And keep on changing the world! I KNOW you have made our lives better, richer, fuller. And, I hope that our investment in you has been a positive thing. But even more so, I hope it’s something that will be paid forward. As you make life’s journey, you’re not alone, and you’re not without us! Now, make our joy complete by having Christ’s heart for your world!


In the coming days…

In the coming days, things will begin moving quickly for us as we prepare to go to Germany. In one month, we will have to be in Virginia where our training and preparation will be intensified. We will be living at a conference center and spending 8 hours a day in classes, as will the kids. We will depart from there mid-June, and arrive on the field by July 1. In the mean time, there’s some things I’d like to do.
First, I’d like to say “Thank You” to all of you who have been praying and encouraging us in this process. Tomorrow night, we will stand before 1,000’s of people and share a very brief testimony about why we are going. And I want you to know that, in my mind, you stand there with us as those who have been instrumental in this process and in our lives. We don’t just go as the Bishop family, we go as the body of Christ. Thank you for giving so sacrificially for His cause.
Second, I’d like to continue building our prayer team. As you could read in my last post, we know that this whole endeavor hinges on prayer, and that’s one significant way you could join us in this work. It’s not too late to get in on that list. You can shoot me an email letting me know, or comment here. But I’m also wanting to build significant relationship with 5 churches in the states to be partner churches with. We already have 2 solid churches that are partnering with us, so I’m looking to build a connection with 3 more. These churches would be sending, praying, involved churches who partner with us in the ministry and allow us to partner with them for mobilization. If you are interested in that, get in touch with me.
Third, I am speaking 4 of the last 5 Sundays we have left in Lubbock. Most of those, I’ll be sharing about the work we’ll be doing in Germany. If you are interested in hearing about what we will be doing, contact me to find out where you could come, listen, get prayer cards, and say hello!
Again, thank you. I’m looking forward to watching God do His thing as He answers your prayers and makes Himself famous in Germany!

We Want You!

We are quickly approaching our appointment for our new ministry in Europe. With all the changes that are fast approaching, people have been asking me, “What’s your biggest need right now?” I’ve wracked my brain to try to anticipate what we might need for the coming months only to land on the obvious answer: prayer. Our greatest need now, and forever more, will be prayer. One of my favorite quotes about prayer comes from Oswald Chambers. Many of you have heard me quote him on this topic. Oswald said, “Prayer doesn’t prepare us for the greater work. Prayer IS the greater work.” As we plow, sow, water, and reap, the greatest work is prayer. And We would LOVE for you to partner with us to share in the joy of advancing the kingdom. Honestly, if people don’t pray, I can’t imagine how the work can get done!

SO, I’m beginning our prayer support list. If you would commit to make prayer for our family a weekly occurrence (or more!), I’d like to get your e-mail address so I can send you a monthly update. In the event you know people who would pray for us but don’t have e-mail, send me their snail-mail address so we can send them our newsletter via USPS.

We will be sending out updates once a month so you can keep up with our ministry. And, on occasion, we will send out more pressing needs as they become known to us.

Would you prayerfully consider being part of our team? If so, you can comment here or email me your contact info at I will continue to post to my blog, And, we will also have a family blog that we are working on. That site is  It will allow you to point potential team members to our blog so they can read about our family’s. I imagine that at some point we will have a secure newsletter site, too, but that’s well on down the road.

Thanks for all you do for us and the kingdom. Will you join us in this next chapter of our lives?