Deeper into the Wardrobe

For months now I have been praying and seeking wisdom about what will happen next. When I originally came to Germany, the plan was to stay for four years, maybe more. I always said, “at least” four years, but I wasn’t sure what was beyond those four years. After three years in Germany I was asked to consider doing some leader development training, but it would mean I had to stay an extra year…so I did and I don’t regret that decision at all.

As my 4th year ended and my new agreed upon length of stay approached, I knew the decision loomed ahead. I needed to figure out what life was going to look like for me going forward. Where would I live? and what job would I have? were the most pertinent questions I needed to address. I’m an over-analyzer so you better believe I had plenty of “options” to choose from. I had seriously considered all of the following (though some were more plausible than others):

  • Return to Toledo and open a boardgame cafe
  • Move to Freiburg and open a boardgame cafe
  • Return to the US and get my doctorate in Instructional Design or User Experience
  • Return to the US and work as an instructional designer
  • Return to the US and work at GEM’s headquarters in one facet or another
  • Return to the US and work at MTI (where I had my pre-field training)
  • Stay in Kandern with eDOT
  • Stay in Kandern, but switch to EuroTeam and work with TEFL

I’m sure there were other options that came to mind at some point, but these were all of the ones I at least spent time researching. The problem I ran into was that all of these options were enticing for one reason or the other.

  • The boardgame cafes were interesting because I love boardgames and have a lot of ideas on how to run a community impacting cafe.
  • I’ve always wanted to get my doctorate, because I’m weird and I like school.
  • I enjoy writing curricula and thought working for a large organization designing their training could be a tough challenge for me.
  • I like the idea of recruiting people to join GEM, or helping them get to the field or designing and leading orientation.
  • MTI is an amazing experience and helped me adjust to life as a missionary. Having a chance to help others would be incredible.
  • I like my team and we do good work, so why change?
  • I love camps and curricula development and believe I am skilled to do both.

I could justify any of those. It was like staring at a counter of cookies and being allowed to only choose one. But they all look so good!

I did have a few major concerns, though, including, “Where does God want me?” and “Where do my passions lie?” After a long while, God finally got me to recognize something I had said many years ago while working at COSI (hands-on Science center) where I wrote curricula and taught camps. I said, “If I could do this full-time and make a living doing so, I would work here in a heartbeat.” COSI barely paid a living wage and I wasn’t ready to do that kind of work full-time yet anyway, but God has been preparing me for this ministry choice for years. I will soon get to say that I am developing curricula and leading short-term teams to teach at English camps full-time.

This is what I get to do…and I’m ecstatic about it. Don’t get me wrong, it was not an easy decision. I didn’t come to this lightly, nor consider all of the things that I would be giving up by living here. I thought about silly things like not being able to get a good hamburger or not having stores open pretty much all day everyday. Then I thought about more difficult things like being far away from my mom and brother and how hard that is at times. I thought about not being there to watch my nieces and nephews grow up. There are many things that made this a difficult decision, but in the end, I am confident this is the right decision; this is where God wants me and so I have said “Here am I, send me.”

So What Does This Mean For Me?

Well, in the short term this means I will be still with GEM eDOT until around March of next year when I make the official switch to GEM EuroTeam. I will continue to develop the Narnia (Adventures in the Wardrobe) curricula and complete my leader development studies. At the end of April I will return to the US for a mandatory year out of Germany (laws are weird!). While in the US I will be talking to churches and individuals about partnering with me and filling in my faithful ministry partners on what things will look like after the year in the US. I am also going to be recruiting short-term teams to come and teach at one of our camps the year I get back (if you are at all interested, please let me know). Potentially I will also be going to colleges to help recruit future TEFL missionaries. I’m not sure if this will happen, but I hope it does! When I return to Germany in 2019, I will work with GEM EuroTeam in the running of TEFL camps and the development of English as a foreign language curricula.

But What Does It Mean For You?

If you are currently a ministry partner of mine, all it means is if you want to continue that partnership you don’t have to do anything. You can certainly alter the partnership with zero hard feelings on my end (contact me if you need more info), but if things are staying the same, then you are already done! If you aren’t a ministry partner of mine, but are curious of learning more, then please let me know and I would be happy to talk with you!

A Wardrobe in Greece and a Table Full of Food

Just before Easter I found myself in Athens with a team from California who came to teach English. The curriculum we were using was the Adventures in the Wardrobe curricula I have been co-writing for quite a while now. The curriculum is based on the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe movie and has been used in Germany before, but this was the first time in Greece. I wrote more about how the camp went on the eDOT site, head over there and find out what some of my student’s favorite colors were.

I was very happy with how the curriculum was received and as one of it’s designers it confirms that what we are doing is worth the time and effort. That alone would have made our time in Greece worthwhile, but what happened the day after the camp ended touched me deeper than just about anything ever has before.

The day after the camp we went to one of the refugee camps in the area to deliver diapers and wipes. 11 of the 50ish students we taught currently live in one of two nearby refugee camps. Most of them came from Afghanistan, but two of them were from Syria and it was these two boys and their mom who this story will center on.

Because of relationships that had been built between one of the leaders of the ministry we partnered with and the people in this camp the two boys were invited to a blatantly Christian camp. Even though they were not Christian, their mom said they could come because they have brains of their own and she wanted them to be able to learn English and have a good time.

My co-leader ended up teaching them during the camp and these boys ate up the lessons. They asked questions, were engaged in the lessons and loved speaking what English they could, whenever they could. They didn’t always understand what we were saying, but they tried as hard as they could to give the best answer they could. They certainly did not lack enthusiasm, that is for sure!

While at the camp we were given diapers and wipes to take to specific cabins. Immediately a young boy found my teammate and I and wanted to help. He grabbed my hand and, to no one’s surprise, started swinging from it. He lead us successfully to the first cabin and we delivered the diaper’s to an appreciative mother. After the success with my new friend we decided he could probably help us find the others we needed to find…yeah, that didn’t work out so well. He lead us, confidently, to many wrong places until eventually he scattered off to find other friends.

While struggling to find one of the cabins we ran into one of the Syrian boys from English camp and after helping us find the right place he dragged us, willingly, to his place to meet his mom. As we arrived we found my co-leader there already talking with his mom and with a plate of food in front of her. We had eaten lunch before we came to camp, but that didn’t seem to matter to his mom, who quickly stood up, shook our hands and then produced two more places of Tabouli and another dish of which I can’t remember the name.

In some cultures it is offensive to leave a plate with food on it and in others a clean plate means you want more. So, somehow we needed to tread this fine line of not offending our host, but also not getting even more food since we were already pretty full. My two teammates didn’t want to be rude, but realized they would not be able to finish eating their plates of food. When the mom ducked inside her place I became the recipient of their remains. Since it would be obvious that I had more food on my plate than before she went inside I had to eat their share quickly. My stomach was full…but I did what needed to be done, or at least, what I thought had to be done.

In the meantime more of our team came and joined us, eventually we had 5 teachers and 3 of the leaders from the camp at our table. At one point one of the leaders called the other in as “backup” because he knew how much food was about to be consumed.

When the mom came back out, I had successfully eaten the rest of the food on my plate (which was delicious by the way) and then my jaw about dropped to the floor with what she was carrying with her. Out on the table she placed a giant pan with saffron rice, potatoes, eggplant and chicken. We weren’t leaving anytime soon and my stomach was not going to be any less full.

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The reason for “backup.”

Again, we didn’t want to offend anyone, so I took one for the team and had a plate full of this dish. Unfortunately I made the mistake of allowing the mom to serve me. I’m not sure how she managed to get so much on one plate. I did what I could and in the end, I finished my plate. The smile on the boys’ mom’s face was enough to deal with the slight discomfort I was feeling.

Why do I tell you this? Well, it is not to tell you that refugees have it better than you thought, because they don’t. Or that they can make giant meals for anybody that comes to visit, because they can’t. The reason I tell you this is because it was the curriculum that allowed us to meet these wonderful people who opened up their limited resources to us to show their appreciation. There was no way we were going to disrespect this family by not eating what was served, because to them it was an honor to serve us. They loved that we would spend time with them, love them and care for them.

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A photo taken by one of the boys and this was only half of who all ended up at this table.

This is what our partner ministry does in Greece. This is what we do with our curriculum. It is through these relationships that we can share the Gospel and it will be heard because they know we love them and care for them. It is through these relationships that God will bring more into His kingdom and if I have to eat a ridiculous amount of food to help establish those relationships, then that is exactly what I will do!

3 Year Deutschiversary

I've arrived!

3 Years ago, today, I arrived in Basel, Switzerland, just a short drive to what would be my new home: Kandern (Riedlingen, really, but close enough!).  There was a lot I didn’t know, wasn’t ready for and a lot that even if I was told, I would have forgotten. It was a long time in coming, but it finally happened. I had arrived.

When I was younger I never thought I would leave Toledo. It’s not that I couldn’t have found a job elsewhere, but I was comfortable in Toledo. Toledo was my home and I had no intention of leaving. I think I can still hear God laughing when I say that, because He had way different plans for me than I had ever imagined. God knew what He was doing (duh!) by sending me to Maryland first, allowing me to feel comfortable in another place, to make another home. Now Maryland was never the home that Toledo was, but it was a home. After making Maryland my home for 7 years, God had a new home for me; Germany. Instead of an 8-12 hour drive from my original home, now I was going to be an 8-12 hour flight away.

Establishing a new home, in a new country, with new people, a new job and people who…gasp…didn’t speak English as their first language (though their English is way better than my German) was tough. I definitely have had some ups and downs, some highs that may never be reached again and some lows that I hope I never again have to experience.  God has provided during all of those times though and helped me see Kandern as my third home. I have friends and family here just like I do in Maryland and Toledo. I have favorite restaurants, locations to visit, and places to relax. I love and am loved here.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here 3 years already, but so much has happened so at the same time, it is easy to believe. God has done so much for me over the past 3 years and I can’t wait to see what He has planned for however much longer He has me in this home.

Before I go, I have to say thank you to all of those who are back in the US and here in Germany, who have made this possible. Seriously, you are my favorite people!

Ok, but what do you actually do?

In the last post on what instructional design is and the 30,000 foot view of what instructional designers do, this post will bring it all down to the ground level and look specifically at the design of one activity.

For our Narnia curriculum we wanted a fun activity that had the students using the vocabulary from that day’s theme, which was clothing. We wanted the activity to be engaging to the point where the students almost forgot that they were “reviewing” their vocabulary.

Our plan was to play a game, but we were struggling to come up with a game that was fun. One of the major tools in an instructional designer’s tool belt is taking something that already exists and changing it to fit their needs. Honestly, this is one of my favorite things to do as a designer.

My colleague suggested taking a game called 6 Nimmt Junior and adapting it to clothing. The basics of 6 Nimmt Junior is that there are four rows of “stables” and the players are trying to get all six animals into a row, allowing them to take the cards. Each card can have between one and three different animals. If an animal on the card does not appear in a row already the player has to put it in that row, but if all of the animals are already in every row then they get to choose in which row to put the card.

The game is pretty simple and lent itself very well to adaptation. If you are familiar with the first Chronicles of Narnia movie (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) then you know the children go through a wardrobe to get to Narnia. Well, what goes in a wardrobe? Clothes, that’s what. Essentially all that needed to happen was a change of theme of the game. Instead of putting animals into a stable, the students will now be putting clothing into a wardrobe. Simple.

But that is not all that it takes to make an activity for a TEFL curriculum so the next step was changing the rules to provide reasons for the students to use their new vocabulary (the items of clothing). Instead of just playing a card like in the original game, in our game the students have to say what they are putting into the wardrobe. So if the card has a shirt, pants and a hat on it, then the students would say “I am putting a shirt, pants and a hat into wardrobe #3.” By the end of the game they should be pretty used to all of the types of clothing in the game and using them in a simple sentence.

This adaptation was pretty simple and not all adaptations can be created as easily, but sometimes they are.

Wait…what do you do?

I’m an instructional designer, which means I essentially, wait for it…design instruction. Even though that statement seems pretty ridiculous, I have said that more often than I can count (not literally, I can count pretty high). Instead of trying to say the same thing over and over again, I thought I would share with you all what it means to design instruction, the process behind designing instruction and maybe a few other tidbits of information here and there in relation to my work, here in Germany.

I won’t do this all in one post though, so don’t worry. This post will mostly serve as a basic introduction to what it is that instructional designers do.

If you noticed the picture for this blog, it will serve as an analogy for how the process of instructional design begins. No matter who the client is, they typically come to you and present their need, or their felt-need in order to get the project started. Typically though, their idea is either too fleshed out by someone not trained in instructional design or it is a view from 3,000 feet. The first meeting is important for both sides of the project, because the client needs to understand what will work, and the designer needs to understand what the goals of the instruction are to be.

Herein lies the analogy, when the project first starts it is hidden in the clouds of possibility. In order to understand the whole project, the designer must know that they are looking at a forest while the client must recognize that the designer can best guide people to that base of the trees. If either part of this is not understood then the designer might lead to the wrong destination and the whole project could be a waste of time.

Hopefully that sheds a bit of light into what it is that I do. Next post I will be using a specific example of how instruction can be crafted from non-curriculum based sources before going into detail on how the design of a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) curriculum based on the Chronicles of Narnia movies has and is continuing to work.

FUEL – What Does it Mean?

Recently I was invited and, after much prayer by myself, ministry partners and co-workers, accepted the invitation to a training called FUEL. I have been invited to join the third group of FUEL (though other leadership trainings happened prior) and it is a combination of GEM and CA (Christian Associates). What I want to do in this blog is discuss a little bit about what this means for me, my commitment with GEM and what the training will be about. I don’t know everything that will happen throughout the course of the training, so I’ll keep you updated as I know more.

First, the training:

  • FUEL is a leader development process that deepens Faith and broadens Understanding so participants are Equipped to Lead where they live and minister.
  • 5 week-ish long trainings in different locations within Europe every six months beginning in March 2016 through March 2018.

Now, my part in FUEL:

  • Commit to being a part of a learning community where you not only receive input from others but also take an active role in advancing one another’s growth.
  • Agree to complete reading and assignments between the forums and participate in an online learning community.
  • Live what you are learning and work on a project in your own ministry context.
  • Gain insight from a personal coach throughout FUEL and acquire insights from fellow workers ministering in other contexts.

How does this change my commitment with GEM?

My original commitment with GEM was through April of 2017, but after starting to co-lead a small group of high school Freshman (in 2013) I decided to extend that until they graduated in 2017. Since the training does not end until March of 2018 it adds another 10 months to my commitment. Beyond that, I am not required to stay with GEM. Obviously they would like me to stay as long as possible, but if God leads me somewhere else then they have said, they will be completely supportive of that change. That is not to say that I am for sure leaving or staying, all this means right now is that decision is still a matter of prayer.

Now obviously since I will be extending my initial 4 year commitment for at least another year I will be asking my current ministry partners to continue with me for that time as well, but at the same time I will completely understand if you feel led to not continue as well.

 

Please if you have questions, feel free to ask. If I don’t know the answer I will find them for you. You can post them below or on the link you followed to get here.

The easiest blog I’ve ever written

My last blog post was a plea for help and it was tough for me to write. I feel that God has led me to Germany to work with Greater Europe Mission and eDOT. That was not a plea for help thinking that God is not walking along side me and providing for me. What it was, was a plea for help, knowing that He will provide, but also knowing that I should to do something to make others aware of the financial need. Without that knowledge how would people know what to do?

Today’s blog is way easier to write because it’s all about what I believe God has planned for me and my skills over, at minimum, the next two years (the remainder of my agreed upon term which God may or may not be planning on extending). There are some exciting things within eDOT and GEM and even though sometimes I struggle to understand how my skills can be used to further His kingdom, nonetheless, they are. I’m going to be highlighting 5 different areas where God is using me and I want to spend a little time discussing the potential impact of each.

• Chronicles of Narnia curriculum – Over a year ago I started working on a curriculum for ESL (English as a second language) camps based on the movie Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It was successfully used at a German camp last year and since then we have expanded the scope of the project. At first we went back over the curriculum and fixed things we saw that needed to be changed, added more resources and made it a bit more presentable. We spent a lot of time on this because the next step is to publish the curriculum as an eBook for anyone to use all around the world. While that curriculum goes through the editing and conversion process we are working on the 1st movie in the series (a reworking of an existing curriculum designed years ago by people in Kandern) and soon will create a brand new curriculum on the 2nd movie. Our hope is that camps will start with the first curriculum and then for 3 years be able to use our curriculum. This would, in theory, allow them to use those curricula on a 3 year rotation which lessens the work that the camps have to do. While the curriculum itself is not blatantly Christian it does take themes that lead to many conversations between teacher and students. We have also designed a series of Bible study lessons to go with the curriculum in order to provide flexibility to the camps. We are hoping to have all three curricula finished by summer of next year.

• Discipleship Multiplication conferences – Recently I took a trip to Cologne to watch a conference on discipleship multiplication. The idea behind my attendance was to see if we could write down a reproducible curriculum that could be used throughout Europe to create similar conferences. While we are still in the early stages of this project it looks like our goal will be to have a basic curriculum finished by the fall in order for it to be used in England. We are then hoping to attend the conference in order to capture even more of what needs to be taught and create resources for future conferences.

• Small group – Every week, during the school year, I lead, with my friend Jeremy, eight Sophomore boys in a small group. Being that the make-up of Black Forest Academy (the international school in town) changes year to year our group slightly changes with it. Last year we had five boys, but one returned to Switzerland to attend a school there. This year we had eight, but two will not be back next year. We may gain more students next year, but the task remains the same. Jeremy and I are trying to lead these young men, the best we can, to see them through their high school years and hopefully maintain a relationship with them for many years to come.

• Singles session – This is a new thing that literally just came about within the last few weeks and so the details are a bit foggy. This upcoming GEM annual conference (in August) will have a session on “How to lead singles on the mission field,” or possibly a roundtable of singles to help other singles who might be dealing with issues dealing with their current stage in life. These sessions would not be to single out those who are single, but rather, to help support them and keep them on the field. As of right now it is a possibility that I will be leading the session and it is my hope to also bring to the attention of GEM, as a whole, that singles are valuable members of the mission who might need slightly different help than a couple (for obvious reasons).

• Orientation – My friend, Crystal and I are also creating a document for the Kandern area in order to help in the orientation period when people are new to the field. It is an overwhelming time for the new people, but also for those who are helping them adjust. It can be very easy to forget one, two or a multitude of things so the goal of the document is to help alleviate the overwhelmed feelings for both parties.

I hope this blog did a good job of showing you what I really believe God has planned for me for the near future. This is why the last blog was written and I hope you will now understand why I needed to write that blog in order to secure that I can stay here and see these projects to completion.