A group of 34 toured Germany this summer in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. We sang in many churches, participated in a festival, and sang in a church service. Below three of our signers share some reflections. Note, we are remaining in touch with the pastor of the Jünesdorf/Blankenfeld Parish and hope to develop a partnership with them.
Sharon L. Robert
I enjoyed my trip to Germany very much and loved singing in such beautiful places with other Christians that shared my enjoyment of the place. However, what I didn’t expect is that God would meet me in a small Lutheran church in Blankenfeld, Germany and deeply touch me with the kindness shown by the parishioners and pastor while I was there for such a short time. Our Reformation Choir sang several pieces in the long service on that Sunday morning, joined in on the hymn-singing in German, and took communion along with the congregation. After the service was over, each singer was presented with a hand-knitted shawl made by a church member to say thank-you for visiting them and singing in their service. It was such a touching gift to present to each of us – something I will never forget. It made the luncheon set out for us after the service even more special that we could enjoy sitting with the church members for a few minutes before we had to rush off to the next tour stop. I will always regret not being able to spend more time with this congregation who really had the Holy Spirit moving among them and showed the gift of hospitality toward our group. I am so thankful for the little Lutheran church in Blankenfeld, Germany, which is alive with the Holy Spirit, and the people and pastor there that made me feel so very welcome.
Traveling has always been a dream of mine, but I was never able to live out that dream to the extent I wanted to because of raising a family, taking care of my husband & home, and, of course, the money. So when my life recently changed so very much with the death of my dear husband, I decided to use some of his insurance money (bless him!) to begin to travel. Little did I know what a delight one of the first trips I would take would be to me.
The 2017 500th Anniversary Reformation Choir Trip was fun and challenging from the beginning when we first started practicing in January. I was challenged not only because was I learning to sing in German, but also I was learning to sing as an alto, which I have never attempted in my whole singing life. There were some extremely talented altos in the Reformation Choir who really helped me, many of whom came to my house regularly to practice over and above our weekly 21⁄2 hour Sunday afternoon practices. I came to recognize, as the practices continued week after week and then the actual trip unfolded, how dear these ladies had become to me. I look back and realize that I loved singing, chatting, eating, exploring, and just spending time with ALL the trip participates.
Many highlights of the trip itself stand out, such as the practices for the Luther Festival with the talented conductor held in that beautiful red stone church, and, of course, the actual festival itself when the 280-voice choir performed Mendelssohn Barthody, Bach, and Luther, in German, in the Berliner Dom. However, without a doubt, the best memory I have is performing and participating in Pastor Stephen’s small, rural Evangelical church service. The Holy Spirit was strongly present in this young pastor throughout that service; God’s presence was also felt as our choir sang, during the confirmation of new members, communion, the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, and, afterwards, at the meal the congregants provided for us. At this meal, many of us were able to lay hands on Pastor Steffen and pray for him, and the Holy Spirit gave me a word for Steffen that the Lord wanted to do “something” in that rural area of Germany through him.
As a choir, we learned that God’s timetable is definitely not ours since we were supposed to leave Pastor Steffen’s church much earlier than we actually did. But we stayed longer than our written schedule dictated because that church really blessed all of us and, I believe, we connected to and blessed them. We followed the Holy Spirit’s lead and this young pastor’s bright blue eyes, glowing with God’s love, found its way into many of our hearts. He and his congregation will be in our minds and prayers for years to come. That precious experience, of so deeply connecting with other believers who loved Jesus like we did, was the best ever trip highlight for me.
The music, the history, and the beautiful sights were wonderful, but I probably saw God working the most through a negative experience. I lost my passport.
Marilyn and I went over to Europe a few days prior to the rest of the group so that we could see Munich and Salzburg areas. We joined Mike and Janet Murphy for a tour out of Salzburg. Upon returning to Salzburg in the tour bus, I noticed that my passport was gone. We panicked, and Marilyn immediately hopped back on the bus to look for it while I notified the tour guide. One good result was that we found the Murphy’s camera on the floor of the bus. They had not realized that it was missing and it may have been gone for good if Marilyn had not discovered it. We then stopped to pray about this situation.
The tour company was helpful. They had another tour going back to the same place in the afternoon, and the tour guide said he would check at our restaurant to see if it had been found. I thought it might have fallen out when we stopped for lunch in a small town.
Meanwhile, I started learning how much trouble I was in. I called the US Embassy to find out how to replace my passport. I would have to travel to Berlin and it would cost a lot of money. We were scheduled to fly to Berlin the next day, but that requires a passport. I planned out a long train trip, as I knew I could travel between Austria and Germany by train without having my passport checked.
We went back to or hotel room and were praying and planning what to do when there was a knock on our door. It was the hotel receptionist. She said “I have some good news for you.” We had shared our situation with her when we returned. On her own, she called the police station in the town where we had been and discovered that someone had turned in the passport. We were thrilled! We walked several blocks back to the tour company to let them know and to see if they knew how we could pick it up. Before we were done explaining, they asked us to wait for a minute. They made a phone call, and then one minute later a driver and a van showed up. They had to send a van back to that same small town to pick up some extra tourists, and they offered to have the driver take us there at no charge. It was about a 45 minute drive. The driver not only took us back to the town, but he happened to know where the police station was located, and he drove us there even though it was at the opposite end of town from the place he was headed.
When we walked inside the police station, we were the only people there besides the officers. I started to explain my story and told them that I had lost my passport. One of them said “Ah, Mr. Conrad.” After that, it took only a few minutes to sign a paper and get my passport back. And I was more than happy to not only see the passport, but also the nearly $200 in Euros that I had tucked inside it.
We were unable to ride back with the same van driver, as he had a full van. But the driver did give us directions to the bus station. After a short walk, we arrived at the station at the same time as our bus arrived. We were happy to get such an easy ride back to Salzburg, but did not realize that the bus stopped right across the street from the tour company, just a few blocks from our hotel.
I’m not sure why problems like losing a passport occur. It was troubling, worrisome, and very inconvenient. But I wouldn’t have experienced God’s provision in restoring it to me and the great friendliness of many people if it would not have happened. The celebrating was topped off when we returned to our hotel later and ran into the Murphys again. After sharing our good news, they immediately brought out a torte cake that they had purchased to celebrate. They said that they just knew we would find it again and had purchased the cake to be ready for the celebration.