The doorbell rang. Any normal person would simply go, open the door, and handle any business waiting for them. Not me. I peeked through the curtain to see who was bothering me. I wiped sweaty palms on my skirt. I was in Germany, and the German language still came slowly to me. Now I had to use it or let the doorbell ring perpetually!
After summoning courage to meet the stranger ringing my bell and deal with business, I closed the door, feeling satisfied. Then I recounted the dialogue in my mind. The man was a realtor who needed to speak with our landlord. I told him Herr Klemens lived down the street and…that he rented from us. The man gave me a puzzled expression, but said he would phone Herr Klemens. I realized later that I had told the man the opposite of the truth. Herr Klemens did not rent from us; we rented our house from him!
“Live to the hilt every situation you know to be the will of God,” said Jim Elliot, martyred global worker to Ecuador in 1956. My family followed this principle during our years as global workers in Germany. Spending twelve years on the mission field brought many incidences like the Herr Klemens story. These slipups pointed us to the power of Christ in our weakness, the chance to expand our courage, and the aid of laughter. Who could help but laugh when my brother David told our new neighbors that we were moving a big cake inside the house instead a kitchen? Or chuckle when Mom told the mailman that all the neighbor’s mail was to be delivered to her dryer instead of her daughter? Or giggle when the newspaper printed the wrong information about me? When the news spread of our starting a church, the local paper interviewed my dad. One of interviewer’s questions was: could you tell us about your children? My dad promptly said, “We have one son in college. Our other son David and our daughter are still at home with us.” The article printed his answer as this: “Kathleen, our daughter, lives in a Baptist church in the United States.” Somehow Dad’s simple answer had morphed me into a Baptist nun.
Despite our fumbling, God worked in Germany. We put out a church sign, passed out information, and prayed for miracles. We got them. A church flyer in a mailbox brought two families who needed spiritual growth. A simple conversation about the weather led to an opportunity for ministry. Our neighbors laughed with us at our mistakes in acquiring the German language. Then each one visited our church and heard the Gospel message. Frau Stoof said, “Your church is so beautiful.” Another lady told my dad: “Your grammar is not important—what the Bible says is.”
Our grammar was not always correct. Sometimes our pronunciation sounded like a penny scraping a chalkboard, but God overruled. Frau Raubold said to us one night after a Bible study, “Das war einwandfrei.” We translated this thought in our heads (hmmm…that means…‘that was one wall free’…) and failed in our understanding. She smiled at our grappling with the idiom and said, “That was perfect.” Maybe she exaggerated just a tad. Our German language was not perfect, but it was of God. He gave growth to a struggling church. He brought people to Himself and to be baptized. He gave the church a German pastor. He sustained His work by His power, even after my family moved on. “I perceived that whatever God does endures forever… God has done it, so that people may fear before Him.” Ecclesiastes 3:15 (ESV). Any action undertaken for God is what turns our stammering tongues into silver messengers of the truth. So we are reminded that He has done it, not us. This knowledge makes me happy to remain a simple jar of clay, ready for His use.