Give Me Your Eyes for Just One Second

Today was an important day.

Today started with an all too familiar routine.

My morning started with class, as per usual. Class flowed into chapel, which led to ever popularly attended after-chapel coffee get together at the base of chapel plaza steps. After-chapel coffee, of course, finished with a trip to the library to scan through the free book section. Being unimpressed by the already well picked-over books, I prepared for a stocking day at the campus food bank where I work.

This is where the routine came to a halt.

About halfway through stocking, I had to leave early to head to one of my educational modules required for my program. This particular module was an institutional module at the Department of Justice.

I show up to the St. Louis County Justice Center (Jail) at 2:00pm and meet my supervisor. His name is Chaplain Vince Stanley, a Michigan native, who was ecstatic to discover I was a greater Port Huron area native.

He told me how his mother was from Port Huron and that he travel there to visit her frequently, where they would enjoy parties at the Port Huron Yacht Club. So we shared our fondness of the Blue Water and St. Clair River.

We eventually got to the module requirements. Learning under Chaplain Stanley, I will have several experiences working inside of the jail. With his supervision (and only under his supervision) I will be meeting one-on-one with those being housed in the Justice Center. I will also be partaking in weekly group Bible studies with inmates.

Entering a jail alone is rather intimidating, but being told that I will be working one-on-one with inmates who I have never met before made it so I could literally feel the boundaries of my comfort zone stretch out like a rubber band.

This opportunity is overwhelmingly exciting; however even with a police officer for a father, I still live with socially constructed (and very physically constructed) boundaries that I will have to consciously learn to traverse when sharing the gospel with those who are incarcerated. This is me getting the opportunity to wrestle with Hebrews 13, like I was able to share with you who I saw at Immanuel a couple weeks ago.

After leaving the Justice Center, I came home to grab a quick bite to eat with Krysti. We had white (not yellow) macaroni and cheese. While not mind blowing or necessarily noteworthy, it fit too perfectly in the non-routine theme to not mention. When did macaroni and cheese stop being yellow?

Following our quick dinner, I took whatever paper-thin shreds were left of my normal routine, balled them up in the palm of my hand and threw them head-on into the wind.

I went to help lead youth group at my new Resident Field Education (RFE) congregation for the first time. My new RFE sits right in the heart of North St. Louis.

Before I got there, I was nervous. To be clear though, I was not nervous or worried for my safety. I know that at all times God is in control (though I might have to remind myself that constantly at the jail).I was nervous because I did not know if I would not know how to interact with these children God was placing before me.

I can drive through their neighborhoods; I can see the shattered windows, the broken glasses and burned up houses; but, I will never be able to understand what it is like to call these streets home.

When I arrived we played in the gym for about an hour. The gym was on the third floor of the building, and it was a little stuffy and filled with that classic St. Louis humidity. The kids thrived though and there were so many of them! They were rounded up by the van load by our van crew at church – it was incredible!

Following gym time we all moved into the sanctuary where we had a worship time and object lesson by the pastor, and then we were broken into grade levels where I was asked to help lead the fourth grade in a classroom discussion. Before long it was already time to wrap things up and take the kids head home.

Taking the kids home – I thought that would have been a real eye opening experience. The staff even asked if it was something I really wanted to go do, warning me of things I might see in the process.

Out of all the neighborhoods and the streets we visited while we were dropping off kids, nothing really made me feel as uncomfortable as I thought it would. Nothing seemed too shocking. I was partially upset with myself – I felt I should have been more astonished, rather than unaffected.

Maybe it was because the kids got off the van with a smile the same way I would get off the bus after elementary school, running up to their front door, where they’d disappear inside of their home. Maybe it was just that whatever is taking place, I knew God is in control. I do not know; I cannot explain it.

There were a few instances tonight though that really made me stop and made me think about what to say next. The most poignant came during gym time.

I had taken a few things out of my pockets so I could run around with the kids: my phone, keys, etc… A few obviously asked if they could play with my phone, but more of them wanted to grab and hold onto my Bible. They were mesmerized by the leather binding and gold edges of the paper. They opened and folding and crinkled a few pages, which I got over quickly enough.

Several of them then would turn to me and asked if I could read it to them. So, my heart filled with joy, and I proudly opened up its pages to readily share all of its ecclesiastical wisdom… … … until I realized that that was not really what they were asking. They were asking if I could simply read. They wanted to know how to pronounce what was printed onto the page.

Even as I type this upon reflection, I still do not know how to properly respond to their questions other than sounding out for them “Ezekiel” or “Daniel.” It was heartbreaking.

It was eye opening.

At the end of it all though, I was asked to come onboard as a family leader. This meant taking a family of church kids and mentoring them throughout the week after school… I had a whole conversation about a description of what the expectations were, but the point of it all was to “LOVE. YOUR. KIDS.”

These kids more than anything need to know that they are loved by Jesus.

There was lots of Jesus today. There was a lot of Hebrews 13: 1-3 today. There is a lot to reflect on. There is a lot to pray about.

There were many other things from tonight that left an impression upon my heart, but frankly it’s late and I am tired from a long, yet incredibly blessed and rewarding day.

Preacher Creature

A little over 426 days in our life at Concordia, I have finally hit the long awaited milestone my classmates and I have dreamt of since before we set foot on Concordia’s campus: I am a certified preacher!

Or as we’ve been dubbed by our beloved Seminary President Meyer, “Preacher Creatures!”

Now let me be clear, though I am able to preach, this does not mean that I am a pastor yet; however, it has been the payoff that we have been working for this entire first year of studying. I cannot, I CANNOT express the joy that I feel knowing that I now have the privilege to preach God’s Word to His people. It is nothing short of a privilege and an honor, as well as an important responsibility.

That being said, I loved all of the public speaking courses and speech performance classes I ever took in high school and college, but none of them could have prepared me for the attention demanded of sermon crafting.

When I was a kid, I loved listening to Pastor Schwieger and I thought he was having an absolute blast every time he would preach – he made teaching the Gospel look like the most fun job or calling anyone could have. However, though I knew that there was always behind-the-scenes work done before delivering a sermon, I did not understand the challenges that come with the weekly faithful preparation of God’s Word.

I was never able to fully appreciate what Pastor Schwieger or the other men I have served with go through on a weekly basis until I stood on this side of the pulpit. Mr. Dubois, would probably agree with me too, that even just going through a single homiletics (preaching) class by itself could not help us fully appreciate the work that a preacher puts into any given sermon. Every single class I have taken over the past year, and every course Mr. Dubois has taken in his deacon education indirectly, if not directly, affect the way we form each and every sermon. It is a wonderfully beautiful and exponentially complex art form.

Though I am still simply a padawan with much to learn, I joyfully look forward to coming home to Immanuel on August 28th to share with you God’s Word in my very first sermon.

Thanks be to God

Tonight I would love to wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving, and share with you, not all, but a few things I am thanking God for this season.

First and foremost, I am thankful that this week Krysti and I celebrated six months of marriage. Through her, God has blessed me a thousand times and more. Not to sound mushy and lovey-dovey, but I do not know how I would maintain sanity without her – she is a saint.

This is our first major holiday away from home, which has been hard for us. I always have loved my family, but I never knew I would miss seeing everyone, especially all of our nieces and nephews quite this much.

But, God is good and God provides.

After texting my brother Jim about an upcoming concert taking place in St. Louis, he informed me that he was in Memphis, TN for a work conference. Krysti, knowing how much I was missing home encouraged me the day before our sixth monthiversary to go visit my brother, before he took a plane back to Detroit.

So immediately after leading services on Sunday morning, I hopped into our blue Chevy Malibu and I drove straight down I-55, down the Mississippi River, through Arkansas and spent all night in Memphis with Jim walking up and down Beale Street listening to the different blues bands, soaking in its history from BB King to MLK., and, frankly, catching up with him for the first time since Krysti and I had moved.

The next day, I woke up early, drove back through Arkansas, up the Mississippi, up I-55, and back past the Arch in time to buy monthiversary flowers for Krysti before she got home from work.

It was the best 48 hours I had experienced in quite some time.

Secondly, I am truly thankful to have been assigned to a wonderful Residential Field Education (RFE) Congregation.

Since September, I have been serving at St. Johns Lutheran Church, with Pastor Michael Tanney – fellow Michigander, and Lions Fan. He has been a great mentor to me. As my RFE pastor, he has been my guide in learning the ropes of teaching Bible studies, leading liturgy, constructing children’s messages, and other things you might find going on inside a church on Sunday mornings (except sermon writing).

Some of my classmates have been assigned to churches where they have not been able to do much more than observe a pastor’s Sunday morning process, but Pastor Tanney not only involves me almost every week, but he wants to know what I want or need to learn from him, just as he does for the other three students who attend St. Johns every week.

Not only is he a wonderful pastor, but he has been skilled teacher, and gracious friend.

Lastly, friends and family at Immanuel, while on the topic of mentors, I want to, again, thank God for the privilege of having Hank Bowers as a confirmation table guide.

Krysti and I went to service at another local congregation this evening, and it was a wonderful service, it truly was, but it was incomplete: Hank wasn’t there.

No words I can write will give Hank the proper credit he deserves for being one of the very best role models I have ever had as a young person; however, I will say his Thanksgiving Eve testimonies were, are, and always will be a part of my Thanksgiving.

Despite his battles with cancer, he strove to shape our coal-like confirmand selves into the very best young Christian men and women we could be. Pure and simple, I am a better person because God brought Hank into my life.

Thanks be to God.

Rejoice

In the long absence from this blog, Krysti has sacrificed more time than I will ever be able to repay. She has worked full-time, done all of the chores, made the majority of our dinners, and spent many evenings alone – all while I was studying in class or at the library.

The first two months of our marriage have been unfairly lopsided; and, she does not need to tell me how much stress I have put her through by asking her to move halfway across the country just for this. However, everyday I hope she knows how much I love her, because without her I would never be able to have this day.

This morning I passed the Biblical Greek final exam with an 83%. This was the single most difficult class I have ever had to pass.

This afternoon my brothers and I are jumping into the campus fountain to celebrate; and, I hope the splashing (and hopefully chlorinated) water will hide my tears of joy.

Crock Pot

Today Krysti used our crock pot for the first time and though it might be to early to tell, I am pretty sure we have fallen in love with it.

This morning she was able to take our frozen chicken out of the freezer and place it right into the crock and set it to slow cook for 10 hours. The different flavors inside just melted together and soaked in the spices, juices and barbecue sauce. Then when I got to take the lid off, the chicken practically shredded itself – a little piece of heaven on earth.

Then on the side, Krysti and I went to Soulard Farmer’s Market in Downtown St. Louis this past weekend. The market has been open since 1779, and we were able to find a few ears of corn and a couple pounds of potatoes which we boiled up and mashed (Additionally, we were also able to buy 2 lbs of strawberries, about a dozen limes, a dozen avocados, and a couple of tomatoes all for $10). The flavors tonight were simply incredible.

Though food metaphors are frequently made, I feel like learning Greek is not above a Crock Pot metaphor.

It’s a slow process. From the beginning of June to the end of August my classmates and I sit together soaking in as much as we can from class. Our first class starts at 8am, and ends for chapel at 9:30am, then then continues until 12pm lunch. From 1pm until 3pm is usually study group time where we all discuss concepts from the morning and help each other through our struggles (or occasionally empty our minds with ping-pong), then from 3pm until 4:30pm we are back to doing in-class exercises and get our homework assignments. Following class, I come home and get to have delicious dinner with Krysti. Then from generally 6:30pm until about 10pm I am studying vocab and doing homework assignments.

Everyday is a new day with a 10-12 hour timer set to soak up and simmer in as much Greek as I possibly can; so, that by the end of August, I can shred apart Greek sentences, breaking down verbs into all the different participle parts, and identifying the key structures of different nouns.

Dr. Oschwald said yesterday that in our 10 weeks, we are learning what is normally taught in the time frame of two years at Concordia Universities. It is remarkable the amount of things that we have already learned, but there is still a lot more to take in.

*Crock Pot Metaphor Honorable Mention – Just as a crock pot traps in all the moisture, St. Louis is a quality example of a river basin in that it traps in all of the humidity, but a delicious humidity that smells like barbecue and spare ribs.

Hump Day

I am now three days into summer Greek.

On the first day, I knew as soon as my Professor walked into the class it was going to be incredible. The room silenced as Dr. Oschwald entered from the back of the class. He wore a suit and a hat, and he carried a really cool, old-styled briefcase with an umbrella tucked inside the handle. The picture was very reminiscent of Sean Connery from Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. Cooler yet, like Indiana Jones, at the beginning of class he removed the small journal from his briefcase, in which he keeps his favorite prayers written down and read one aloud to us all.

Now it could have been the style of hat, but he also reminds me very much of Alfred Gay who teaches at SC4 and attends Faith, Port Huron. Anyone who knows Alfred knows the infectious grin and excitement he spreads when he is able to share artwork or German with someone. Thus far, Dr. Oschwald has had the exact same joy about sharing ancient Greek with us.

However, despite Dr. Oschwald’s passion, the second day for me was a little bumpy. We were given our first quiz and I did well, but the discussion that followed felt like it had already risen above my head just a little bit. My friend Sam, who is also from Michigan, was asking a bunch of really solid questions about word pronunciations while I was still just trying to remember how to read and pronounce the alphabet.

So, when I got home from class yesterday, I ate dinner and spent some time with Krysti, but told her I was not comfortable with my ability. I ended up going to the library to re-read the day’s lesson, and read a little ahead (of course, formulating phenomenal questions I was able to ask today).

Beyond the collection of books and artifacts, what impressed me in the library was a man I met named Gene. Gene is Chinese and came to study at Concordia for his Ph.D. Though he did not pronounce anything wrong, it was obvious from his accent that English is Gene’s second language. What makes this worthy of noting is the fact that when I asked for his help, he was able to give me without hesitation a brief foreign language lesson (Greek), in what to him is already a foreign language (English).

As a movie-going person in my twenties, I will colloquially describe this phenomena as Language-Ception. I was completely blown away by his intelligence.

There are so many people on campus who already have my utmost respect.

I simply love it here.

First Class Eve

Tomorrow is my first day of Greek at Concordia Seminary.

It’s my first class, not counting the ones I was able to read for and test out of earlier this spring. As excited as I am to start classes, it’s still a little ominous feeling. I have heard some horror stories of people failing Greek, sometimes having to take the course up to three times before they are allowed to advance.

This does not bode well for me as I took Spanish throughout high school and college. In both instances, had it not been for Muzzy and participation points, I highly doubt I would have passed.

The bright side of looking at tomorrow has been speaking with the other students here. Yesterday, I met a couple students while Krysti and I were at the campus food pantry. Both of them assured me that despite its difficulty, Greek is not a course meant to “weed out” students from the program.

Their words echoed Pastor Roberts (Formerly of Living Faith, Marine City) who called me earlier this week. He simply told me to just ask questions – the professor is there to teach and to help students, not to judge and fail them.

That being said, I still have not figured out how to address my teachers. My whole internal monologue today has been how I plan to introduce myself and not look like a complete idiot. “Good morning, Professor Oschwald, my name is Christian,” or “Good morning, Pastor Oschwald,” or “Rev. Professor Oschwald … Rev. Dr. Professor Oschwald?”

At the very least, I have decided against fist-bumping.

The Laundromat

Before Krysti and I were offered our washing machine this week, we had to make several trips to the laundromat. Growing up at home I cannot remember not having a washer and dryer, so it was a new experience for me.

Walking into the laundromat about a mile South from us opened my eyes to the community outside of the seminary. There is such a rich diversity both ethnically, and socioeconomically. Immediately though, I was approached by a homeless woman mumbling, saying she was in some serious trouble.

This was the very first person I spoke with outside of the seminary world and I probably looked frozen in time like a Greek statue trying to come up with something to say. I panicked and felt the eyes of the two other people doing their laundry fall upon me. She eventually turned, walked away, and started pushing her cart of clothes around in front of the business.

I would be lying if I said I did not feel like a failure afterwards; for, I could not stop thinking about The Sheep and the Goats from Matthew 25. However, rather than simply letting me sit and sulk while watching my laundry spin around in circles, God (as He often does) does something awesome.

A very tall, imposing man dressed in a red polo, khaki shorts and flip flops enters the room. The same woman from before follows him inside and tries speaking with him as well, but gets a similar reaction.

As he starts doing his laundry next to me, I ask him if he understood her any better than I did, and if she was okay. He looked over and shot me a grin that could only be comparable to Michael Duncan Clark and asked if I was a social worker and wondered why I cared this woman so much. I explained to him that Krysti and I were recent transplants from the Greater Detroit Area and I was studying at Concordia Seminary to become a pastor.

He quickly introduced himself as Ricky opened up about being a psychologist and how badly he wanted to move to Detroit himself a few months ago to work with the Ruth Ellis Center. However, he explained to me how he was hired by the State of Missouri to operate as one of the leading workers in bringing about reconciliation within the Ferguson community, and the surrounding areas.

Interested in my soon-to-be studies, we then delved into how faith communities have played a large part in rebuilding Ferguson. He said the Ferguson Commission itself has at least three board members who are ordained ministers from various denominations, and that groups walking the streets and ministering to those in need have made such a large impact on the reconciliation efforts.

About an hour into our conversation though he said something that caught me off guard. He told me by the time I am through with seminary the last thing I need to worry about is spending my time helping African American communities like that of Ferguson – not because it is not appreciated – but as a white male pastor, I would have the ability to reach groups no one likes thinking about: white supremacists.

Ricky told me African Americans and Women are never listened to when it comes to such hate groups. Only white men are going to be able to preach love into the ears and minds of these groups and turn them away from the hatred planted into their hearts.

Again, I froze like a statue. How could I, how should I, respond to such a profound statement?

We are Home

Dear Friends,

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and The Lord Jesus Christ!

Krysti and I arrived safely to Concordia Seminary on June 3rd; and, we have been busy unpacking ever since. Already, this has reaffirmed in me a very simple, yet important lesson: all Krysti and I truly need is God’s love and mercy. All kidding aside, moving so far from home has created an even stronger bond with my best friend than I could have ever expected. She has made our apartment feel like home away home, decorating it with colorful Haitian paintings, flamingo posters and African carvings.

Making it feel even more like home has been the amazing community that has accepted us as their own. Our next-door neighbors Crystal and Ben, and another student named Alex came out and help Krysti, her folks, and myself unload our Penske trailer.

Trevor and his wife Hannah (also incredibly nice) live below us and have invited us to go to church with them this weekend, as their friend is preaching for the very first time in a local congregation. Knowing us for only a few minutes, they still invited us to a small celebratory waffle brunch in their apartment following the service – the generosity of the people who live here astounds me.

Today even, Krysti and I quickly learned that we were not going to be able make the laundromat an economical choice and within minutes a husband and wife that we had never met messaged me on Facebook and offered us their old washing machine for free. Josh and Laura even helped us move the heavy contraption up and down some of the steepest sets of stairs that I have had the pleasure of walking.

With these amazing people (and the many more we have met) acting as His hands and feet, God has surely shown Krysti and me that He has brought us here, He already knows our needs, and He is ready to provide.

God’s Peace,

Christian