Posted in cross-cultural

Ebb and Flow

I love being down by the river. It’s exhilarating and calming in equal measure. The constant movement of boats – small ones shuttling people around the port, and huge ones taking containers and goods to the far corners of the earth. The lapping of the waves against the shore. Those predictable patterns of the tide coming in and going out, coming in and going out.

The piers in the picture above float.  So when the tide is high, the bridges only have a gentle incline and it’s an easy stroll back to the shore. When the tide is really low, however, they can be pretty steep. Ever changing yet familiar at the same time.

Life so often is like that river. There is crazy rushing around, and there are bigger changes. Just like the tide, there are some familiar patterns anchoring it all. The seasons. The different festivals and holidays we celebrate. The school year.

The beauty of having been around in a place, in a ministry, for a while, is being able to see some of those patterns of ebb and flow. No, the craziness of September and October will not last forever. There will be a different season, when things are slower, maybe even too slow. When the novelty and the excitement wear off, and it can feel like there is not enough water for our (metaphorical) boats to keep moving. Then the tide will come in again. Relationships have grown, we are able to understand more. There is a familiarity that helps us look beyond ourselves.  Summer comes around and with it a feeling that the tide is going out. It’s a season of good-byes, as friends, team mates, students, leave. By the end of it, we’re exhausted and ready for a time of quiet and of restoration. Before the tide comes in again and brings with it new team mates, new students, new ideas and ways of doing things.

And so the cycle begins again. Ever changing and yet strangely familiar.

At times, the unusual, the unexpected hits. Sometimes the tide is way too high, nearly flooding the bridge. Business as usual can not continue, our focus needs to be on the crisis, the stressful situation or relationship.


But there is also the beauty of patterns among the many shifts and changes of life.


This post has been linked to Velvet Ashes, an encouraging site for women serving cross-culturally.


Posted in Uncategorized

A View That Says Home

1780244_10152082258992928_1213650001_o(Foto: Olaf Schieche)

I don’t know how many times I’ve come across this bridge on the train.  Many many times during my years at university!  More times than my parents care to remember, I’m sure, as they spent way too much times at Hamburg-Dammtor, waiting for my train to arrive.  It’s a cold, draughty station (aren’t they all?) and despite their reputation abroad, German trains are not always on time. So all too often my parents would venture into McDonald’s (something they would ordinarily NEVER do) for an apple pie and to warm up.

Meanwhile, I would have been on the train for many hours already, making my way north.  Slowly the hills would disappear and the land would become flat (and I mean really flat)!  A sure sign that I didn’t have far to go.  That I was nearly home.  Then the warehouses started appearing, the cranes that move containers, side arms of the River Elbe.  The excitement grew!

Hauptbahnhof always felt like a bit of an annoying delay.  Most passengers got off there, the train became very quiet.  Then we set off again.  I wanted to stay seated for as long as I could, to be able to really enjoy this view.  The view that says “home” like few others do.  Instead I collected my stuff and headed into the corridor, awkwardly crouching down because I really didn’t want to miss THE VIEW.  And then I was home.

On the return journey, the view was the same, yet the feelings were very different.  There was a quiet sadness at leaving, yet also an excitement that started to build as I got ready to return to my “other life”.

I haven’t come across this bridge in a long time.  For many years, I was living abroad and arriving at the airport became the new normal.  Now I’m back in the country and do often travel by train again.  These days, though, I get off at Hauptbahnhof and therefore miss the view.  Life changes.

Yet when this picture appeared on my Facebook feed, I was instantly back in that place and time.  All those feelings were real again.  The view that carries so many emotions.

The View That Says Home.

Posted in Uncategorized

Trip down memory lane

A couple of days ago, I did the “Places I’ve lived” thing on Facebook.  They only allow 5 spaces which is clearly not enough (for me, or a lot of people I know).  Anyway, just looking at some of the pictures brought back so many memories that I wanted to say a bit more about each place.  I could have written about so many wonderful people I met along the way – but that would have been boring for everyone else.  I could have focussed on what was going on in my life at the time, what I learned, how I changed.  I might still do that on another occasion.  There were things in each place that I really didn’t like.  But somehow looking back they don’t matter quite so much.  So here is a fairly random collection of things I did and do appreciate about each of the places I have lived in.  Not complete by any means, and I would probably put different things tomorrow, but a snapshot.



Well, it’s where I grew up so of course I love it 🙂  But what I probably appreciate most about it is this:

Being a big port city and very trade oriented, you can never forget that there is a big wide world out there!  There is always a whiff of somewhere exotic in the air – whether it’s seeing the ships down at the port and dreaming of where they might be going, and walking past some of the many consulates of countries you might have heard of but whose flags you certainly wouldn’t recognise.



Exciting year – first time away from home!  A lot of freedom and not much responsibility – what a great combination 🙂

OK, so a photo of All Souls Langham Place is probably not the most recognisable one I could have picked for London.  But it certainly is the most significant one for me.  It’s where I first met people who followed Jesus and took their faith seriously, it’s where I first heard about God’s amazing love.  What first attracted me to it was the wonderful, totally international mix of people.  What kept me was discovering the reality of God.

Anyway, I really loved being in London!  I think my favourite place was Covent Garden.  It had only opened in its current form about 3 years previously and the whole concept was very new and fresh.  These days it’s all very commercial and so busy but at the time there was a real sense of excitement.  Such a fun place to hang out!  I’m always a bit disappointed when I go back now.

So much more I could talk about but I’ll leave it at that.



“Easy to admire but difficult to love” This is how I recently heard someone describe Paris and it sums up my experience quite well.  It is an amazing city – to visit as a tourist.  Not easy to live in, though.  But then – after the “perfect” year I’d had in London, what could possibly have compared?!?!

However, the cultural life is amazing!  I have never been to so many films, plays, concerts, etc in a year!  And such variety!  I still remember seeing “Huis Clos” by Sartre in this tiny theatre.  The audience were sitting on benches around the edges and the centre of the room was the stage.  Amazing! 



The first thing you notice about Bamberg is that it is very, very beautiful  (Unesco World Heritage site – – cycling through the town centre at night I often felt like I was in the picture book rather than reality. 🙂

I lived there as a student so I think my experience was probably more one of student life rather than of Bamberg as such.  I loved the sense of community you get in a small town.  You just bump into people as you go about your life, nothing is ever very far, meeting up is easy.

At the time, Bamberg was a bit isolated.  To the north was the border with East Germany, and to the east that with Czechoslovakia.  Neither of which was very easy to cross.  I always had to go quite a bit west before heading north back to Hamburg.  Now that the borders are gone/open, the atmosphere of the place has changed.  There are so many more links with other parts of the country, people are passing through, etc.



Well, going from there to Berlin definitely caused major culture shock!

Berlin is big, busy, noisy, fascinating, infuriating, surprising, moving, ever changing, full of contradictions – the list could go on!

This was the early 90s so things really were changing all the time.  Train lines and roads were being reconnected, road names changed.  You could almost buy a new map every few months because so many things had changed again. 

And the sense of history is something else.  Lots of places I could mention but here’s just one: I remember getting goose bumps walking across Glienicker Brücke (aka “bridge of spies”) which the Soviet Union and the United States used to exchange captured spies during the Cold War

I think my favourite place was Unter den Linden.  It’s gone very upmarket and touristy now but back then you could see the beauty but it also seemed a lot more normal and “studenty” (is that a word?  If not, it should be!), Humboldt Uni being right there.  I just really liked the atmosphere and also have fond memories of seeing productions at the stunningly beautiful opera house for very little money.

Other favourite place: my friends’ “Schrebergarten” (kind of like an allotment but so much more) out by the lake!



Oh how naïve I was at the time about the difficulty of living in such a very different culture, and not speaking the language at all!  Hence it was an even more difficult year than it would have been anyway.  Ulyanovsk isn’t the most immediately endearing place either.  Lots of industry and Lenin, and not much else.

However (and there’s always an “however”), I have lots of fond memories as well.  Seeing the Volga frozen over with cars driving on it is amazing! 

I love going on Russian (overnight) trains.  Second class, anyway – not so sure about third class… There is something about your body and your soul arriving in a place at the same time.

By far the best night I had out there was also my last one.  It was the 50th anniversary of the end of WW2 and there were street parties everywhere!  People were out on the streets singing and dancing.  What an amazing atmosphere, I have never seen anything like it!

What I didn’t really appreciate until after I had left was the depth of relationship with people.  The people I connected with, I REALLY connected with, and friendships went very deep.  Very special!

And CMETAHA – I just love it!!!



This is probably going to be the most difficult.  It’s where I live at the moment so I’m sure I am taking a lot of things for granted.  I find it’s often only after you leave, that you realise what you most appreciate about a place. 

Apart from lots and lots of great people, here are a few things I really like about Brum.

Though in some ways, the many different culture in Birmingham don’t always mix, you do see people of all different backgrounds everywhere.  It seems very strange to me now when I go somewhere else and everyone around me is white.  I’m not used to that anymore at all!

There is so much lovely countryside all around and it’s not difficult to get to!

The way the city council really makes an effort to have flowers in the centre of roundabouts and in the middle of dual carriageways.  There is so much green around!

And I do like the canals (hence the photo), they bring back memories of a lovely family holiday on a canal boat.