Thursday, December 22, 2011

Relaxation At Last

I'm in Germany since Friday, and I'm so glad to be here. I had a train ticket for Thursday already, but circumstances beyond my control have led me to change my planning.

Last Wednesday, we received the following message from our Human Resources Manager:

"The public sector will be on strike tomorrow, Thursday, 22 December...there will be no public transport (including train, metro, bus, tram, flights). Belgian schools will be affected. In addition, the main entry roads to Brussels might be blocked by garbage trucks..."
Ok, wonderful. That the trade unions in my adopted home country like to strike (or do these "action days" - or "Journées d'Action" as they call it in French) is nothing new, but if they do it two days before Christmas, it's exceptionnally damaging (that's why they planned it that way of course). My first thought was: "Thank God I'm booked on Deutsche Bahn (German railways); they will get me out of Belgium." However, it's not that easy. They have to use the infrastructure of the Brussels raiway station after all. So they promised a bus service between Brussels and the city of Aachen. However, I anticipated chaos with this kind of arrangement, so I decided to cancel my train ticket and rent a car instead - the best decision I could have taken. I stayed in Brussels on Thursday, relaxed, and did my preparations for the journey. Friday morning, I left with a Fiat 500 (one of those tiny little cars they would laugh at you if you would drive them in the US), and safely arrived in the early evening. No problems whatsoever on the road; it only took me longer than expected, since I decided to take more breaks.

Christmas with family was a blast. In fact, I think it was one of the most harmonious Christmas evenings I've spent with my folks. We were a rather small group, since my older brother and his wife were visiting with her family. So it was my parents, younger brother, aunt, uncle, cousin and grandmother. We played and sung as ususal, and I was asked to share a couple of hymns. One of them my mother even knew from the Lutheran hymnal, and so she joined me with her tenor voice. It was lovely.

Yesterday, we continued at my grandmother's house with our traditional Christmas lunch. Today, there will be yet another family event, as we are going to visit my younger brother in his new apartment and then go for lunch to my parent's house again (since he doesn't have enough seating at his place).

From Tuesday, I'm going to attend a prophecy seminar at one of the retreat centres of our church near Stuttgart. It's a one-week seminar, however I will only be able to stay there through Friday, as I have already registerd at this New Year's retreat in Bad Kissingen. But I would like to go to both events, and so I have to make concessions. I'm really glad that I have the car now, as it would be really difficult without. So I'm looking forward to these last few days of 2011.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Night Shift

It's after 1 AM and I'm sitting in my living room. Of course this is not a time when I'm usually up and running, however I woke up after midnight. I really don't know what happened - whether it was a dream or maybe I was just lying on my left arm, but I started panicking because I thought I couldn't move one of my fingers anymore. Strange.

So I got up and took the opportunity to call a friend in Tennessee. It was nice talking to her for a little while, and I'm feeling better now. However, I'm still not sleepy enough to go back to bed, so I thought I might as well continue with my ramblings.

So where were we, ah yes: the church service. Communion was very blessed. Our new Pastor preached one of the best sermons I've ever listened at such an occasion. One of the main messages was that we can overcome sin. For most of my fellow church members, this is a rather new thought, and thus the "Amens" were only far and few in between. Nevertheless, I'm really happy that we have a Pastor who is into Present Truth.

In the afternoon, we had a special children's Christmas program. I didn't stay through the end, but I was impressed how well they had prepared everything. All of the little ones were dressed in white garments, and some even had angel's wings on them. I think they really liked their outfits! They sang a few songs, and maybe later on they opened some gifts (at least I saw that they had prepared some wrapped items for them).

But I was not feeling too well. The week had been a bit exhausting, and so I felt I had to take it slower now. I spent the rest of the afternoon partly outside, and partly at home, just recuperating. In the evening, it started raining again, later on mixed with a bit snow. At about 7 or 8 PM, I took a long walk at one of the side streets in my quarter. It was very wet, but nice. Those streets are really quiet, and I like Belgian architecture.

On Sunday afternoon, the sun came out nicely, and I even went outside two times. The first time, I did my usual "round" on the nearby University premises; and the second time I walked to Woluwé Park, which is about 15 minutes away. I saw a group of geese eating some grains or bread crumbs somebody had dropped for them. It was such a cute picture, but unfortunately I hadn't brought my camera along. In the evening, very thick snowflakes came down. It was a nice picture and I'm curious how it's going to look like in the morning.

Anyway, I will try to calm down now a bit more. Maybe I'll feel sleepy enough to go back to bed at some point!

The angels/princesses are getting ready to perform

Just before marching in

Cuties

They sang very nicely

Pastor Lucian preaching

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Turbulences

I know I haven't blogged for a while - wasn't really up to it. More about that in a moment.

It's already mid-December and we haven't had any minus degrees yet (I'm talking about 32 F or lower). In fact, November was said to be the warmest one since the beginning of weather recordings. However, it has been raining a lot lately, and these dark clouds tend to really annoy me. As a surprise, it suddenly started snowing last night. The first snow this winter! However, in the morning, rain fell on top of it, and by now almost everything is gone. At any rate, I've been trying to catch every ray of sunlight possible - which can get rather tricky here!

The last few days at work are coming up (in fact, for some of my colleagues the end-of-the year break has already begun), and I'm going to leave for Germany on Thursday morning. I really look forward to this time off. I'm going to spend the Christmas days with my family, and for New Year's I'm going to attend a retreat in a German spa called Bad Kissingen. It's a very nice area in northern Bavaria, and this retreat is organized by a group of young adults of different churches. I just received the list of participants and figured out that I'm going to see some old acquaintances there. People I have gotten to know at seminars or other meetings in Germany at some point, some of which I have only recently seen on Facebook; so it will be neat to see them again in person.

I haven't mentioned yet the health talk on the frontal lobe of the brain that I gave at my work place. It took place on Tuesday at lunchtime. Unfortunately, December is a very busy time in our offices. So many things still need to be finished before year-end, and also many Christmas lunches are taking place. So I had about nine people attending, however two of them left even before I finished the talk (the only two male attendees - maybe they didn't like what I shared about coffee or alcohol). Anyway, the toughest part is always the Q&A at the end, and so one of the colleagues asked me a question related to evolution. I couldn't give her a satisfying answer other then saying that I didn't believe in evolution, and that science is split here. I really felt a bit clumsy and awkward. Other than that, the presentation went pretty well. Of course there is always room for improvement. However, right after I was not encouraged at all. I thought that I had completely messed up. I also started doubting and getting anxious about our planned health work in Brussels and about many other things. The exceptionally ugly weather did the rest.

On Wednesday night however, I went to church for prayer meeting. I had been wanting to attend for a while, but I would always find a reason not to go. However, this time I had promised to meet our first Elder there to give him a hand-out on health work that he wanted to copy. We were only six people, but it was really blessed. Somehow, this cloud lifted, and ever since I've been feeling so much better - although the circumstances haven't changed at all. I cannot express how relieved, happy and encouraged I am. These are the kind of experiences that really strengthen my faith.

So if you feel down or discouraged for any reason - just hold on a little longer - there is light at the end of the tunnel!

This morning at church was also very blessed - but this may become another rambling...

"To all who are reaching out to feel the guiding hand of God, the moment of greatest discouragement is the time when divine help is nearest. They will look back with thankfulness upon the darkest part of their way.. From every temptation and every trial he will bring them forth with firmer faith and a richer experience." The Desire of Ages, p. 528

Friday, December 2, 2011

One Thing After Another

So many things have been happening lately that it's difficult for me to keep up with blogging. My Thanksgiving party last week turned out a blessing. Although a lot of my colleagues had other commitments that evening, I had eight people at my home, including some former colleagues, as well as the two other ladies from church who also work for the EU. My guests liked the vegan food (although there was no turkey), as well as the alcohol-free champaign (although some of them would surely have preferred the real thing!), and we had a nice time together. I shared a DVD about the medical-missionary project in Serbia that I have been supporting, and I also shared my personal experience related to it. The result was that I raised 165 Euros for the project (two of my colleagues even donated something the day after when I brought some left-overs to the office). So this year, Thanksgiving was really a happy event.

I'm also thankful about the outcome of my cooking class, which took place last Sunday. For this event, I also had eight people at my home, even a lady from my neighbourhood. I showed them some healthy options for sandwich spreads, and it was well received.

The next big event will be another health presentation I'm going to give at my workplace on December 13. This time, I will have the opportunity to speak on the frontal lobe of the brain. A highly interesting topic, but also quite controversial. I guess some people will not like to hear that things like coffee and alcohol impair the functioning of this part of the brain. I still have to prepare quite a bit for this. May God help me.

This coming Sunday, we are going to have our first meeting for our planned health expo next April. Valérie Dufour, associate director for health ministries at our Division, is going to take part, so that we can get this started. I'm thankful that I was able to establish contact to some of the members of our second French speaking church in Brussels. They conducted an expo back in 2008, so they already have experience with this. The two brothers I got in touch with seem to be very motivated. So I really hope that we can get this organized. It will not be easy, but I pray for the Lord's guidance.

Anyway, I'm glad it's Sabbath. There was a big strike in Belgium today. Tens of thousands of people have marched through Brussels to protest against new austerity measures brought on by Europe's financial crisis. I didn't see the demonstration, but I had to cope with the ramifications of it, as it also resulted in a partial transport strike. There was absolutely no metro and no bus going from my place, and I had to walk to and from work, which was about 40 minutes each way - and I had to walk briskly! So I really got in my exercise in today, and I think I'm going to sleep very well tonight!


Some of my Thanksgiving guests
My friends from church: Viliam from Croatia and his wife Jana from Slovenia,
who works for the European Council. To the right: Agnieszka from Poland,
who works for the Secretariat-General at the Commission
My cooking class attendees
The sandwich spreads - and a zucchini cake in the background

Saturday, November 26, 2011

No Time To Blog

I've been really busy, as I have invited my co-workers for a Thanksgiving reception at my home, which is going to take place tonight. I'm very excited, as this will not only be a great opportunity to get to know some of my colleagues better, and show them that a plant-based diet can be very delicious; but I will also do some fundraising for the medical-missionary project in Serbia, which I have been supporting.

In addition, I'm going to hold another cooking class at my home this coming Sunday. This time, I'm going to teach them about healthy spreads they can put on their sandwiches, which don't make them fat :-).

So hopefully soon I'll be able to share about the outcome!

This is a recent shot I took of the Berlaymont building,
the main buidling of the European Commission. The
Commissioners meet every Wednesday in this UFO shaped
silver top on the roof

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My "Awww" for the day....

I received an email from a friend with some of the cutest animal pictures I've ever seen. This was really my "Awww" for the day. I hope it will be the same for you!

Baby dolphin
Baby penguin meeting a baby dolphin

A firefighter giving oxygen to a kitten
This baby owl
An embarrassed walrus
A baby hedgehog taking a bubble bath 
An otter showing you its baby 

And here comes my bible verse for the day - just came across it through a devotional reading:
Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.  (Exodus 23:20)
May the Lord give you an awesome day under His guidance and protection!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Collonges

Last weekend, I visited our school in Collonges-sous-Salève, France. This is the place were pastors are trained for our French speaking countries in Europe (e. g. France, Belgium and French Switzerland), but there is also a primary and secondary school, and they always have a bunch of American students there learning French (normally easily distinguishable by their Flip Flop shoes - yes, some of them even at this time of the year!). The school is situated in the region of the Alps, very close to Geneva. The year-end meetings of the European Division took place there from 4-8 November. This is the new name for the EUD, as it didn't make sense anymore to keep "Euro-Africa-Divsion". Due to some recent changes, there is no more African country part of the territory after all. Amongst other decisions they took, a new Secretary for Public Affairs and Religious Liberty was appointed, a Romanian named Dr. Liviu Romel Olteanu. This became necessary after the tragic death of Karel Novak this past summer. More can be found under the news on their website.

Anyway, my purpose to come there during this time was not primarily to attend these meetings, but initially to meet Dr. Ella Simmons, one of the vice presidents of the GC, who was facilitating some of the administrative meetings. It's a long story how I got in touch with her and why she offered me to talk to her, but I thought this would also be an excellent opportunity to meet some other people, like Dr. Viriato Ferreira, whom we invited to come to Brussels next spring to give some health presentations at our church. He is the director for health ministries at the EUD, together with Valérie Dufour as an associate, who was also there. We had a fruitful discussion on how we should go about with our planning. It will take place mid-April, and there is a lot to organize, especially for the health expo, which will be the main event during this weekend.

All in all, I had very positive encounters in Collonges. I mainly followed the meetings on Friday afternoon and Sabbath. From the GC, there were also Gary Krause and John Thomas who gave some interesting talks on Global Mission and the history of our church. No doubt, we are facing numerous challenges in Europe and beyond, however there are some very dedicated leaders. I especially appreciated the "prayer room" run by two young ladies, Raluca from Romania and Melissa from Canada. They are part of a group originally formed in the US within the "Revival and Reformation" program launched by the GC. A prayer room is something were people come together for united prayer in a structured, yet informal way. I found this very powerful. On Sunday, while they had their lengthy administrative meetings, I enjoyed the outdoors. It was actually the only sunny day during that weekend. The only problem was that it takes you about two hours to hike on top of this huge mountain behind campus - there is no alternative. I didn't feel like going for such a marathon (all the more I had nobody to join me), so I didn't really get into hiking, but it was ok. The fresh air and the quiet surroundings were already a treat for me.

I arrived back in Brussels Monday night and I had a busy week at work. So many things to do, catching up with pending tasks and trying to deal with new ones - plus I still have to explain quite a bit to Dana, our temporary help in the office. But she is getting there, and hopefully she will soon be able to take on some more tasks. Now I'm so thankful it is Sabbath!

Beautiful mountain scenery

You can see part of Geneva in the valley if it's not hazy
Ella Simmons giving a devotional talk
One of the school buildings on campus

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ooidonk Castle

I have no time to blog, but I don't want to withhold the beautiful pictures from you that I took yesterday.

The time with my parents here in Brussels was very short but pleasant. The only full day we had was yesterday, which was a holiday only for the EU officials, but not for the Belgian population. So we drove to Gent (about 45 minutes from here). There, we first went to IKEA, as I needed a new carpet and a lamp for my living room. Then we drove to the countryside of Flanders and visited the "Ooidonk Castle", which is an old fortress built back in 1230 to defend the city of Gent. We were not able to go inside, as this is only open to the public during the summer months, but it was so lovely just to walk around in that beautiful park.






Sunday, October 30, 2011

Back To Good Old Germany

There have been many happenings in my life and there are lots of things to share - I just can't find the time to write down everything; so I have to make a selection now (I don't want to overwhelm you after all!).

This past Friday, I travelled back to Germany. The EU officials traditionally get November 1 and 2 off (All-Saints and All-Souls), and so I took Monday in addition to make a bridge.

My journey was very pleasant. I really like the colored trees at this time of the year. It was especially beautiful to watch the scenery from the train which passes alongside the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, also called the Rhine Gorge (between the cities of Bonn and Mainz), and I found out that this is even an UNESCO world heritage site.

Beautiful scenery along the River Rhine
One of the many old castles along the way
Here is another one!

On Saturday evening, my aunt Renate (my mother's sister) celebrated her 60th birthday, together with a good friend who turned 70 around the same time. Both my aunt and uncle as well as the other couple have been very active in traditional folk dance. So whenever they celebrate something, they like to involve their guests with this. I know this may be a bit foreign to most readers of this blog (especially to the Adventists who are in self-supporting work), but I really like it. I find it an innocent, pleasant and very convivial activity - and I actually wouldn't mind to have more opportunities to do folk dance.


We tried our best to follow the steps
And some would just sit there and watch - or talk
(like my mother and grandmother)

Whenever I get to visit my folks, I like to go to the nearby Black Forest. So today, my parents and I went for a trip to the famous city of Baden-Baden. I actually lived there for about five months during my secretarial training in 1999/2000; and this is also the town where this NATO summit meeting in 2009 was held. However, we went for another summit, i. e. we took a small cable car to get on the "Merkur" mountain. It was still foggy in the morning, but then the sun gradually came out, so our hike back down was just lovely. Again, the fall colors are very pretty.

View from an observation tower (while it was still foggy)

A great day for the paragliders
Almost ready to fly...

video

...and go!


Hiking down
The trees (picture above without flash, the other one with flash)
Loveley scenery - what else can I say?

On Tuesday, my parents are going to take me to Brussels by car and stay there for a couple of days. This will give us another opportunity for a hike - maybe in the hilly region of the Ardennes (no real mountains in Belgium after all, but pretty anyway). On Friday, I'll be headed to Geneva, respectively Collonges, France, where I'm going to spend a long weekend - but this is another story!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Golden October

The past week has been quite eventful to say the least. I've been extremely blessed.

Last Friday, I took the train to my home city passing through Cologne. There, I had over an hour lay over, so I decided to stroll a bit through the city center. It was such a lovely sunny day after all. I really like the Cologne station, as they have a nice shopping area there. It's also great to have the famous dome right besides the station. Well, the dome itself looks ugly from outside. The acid rain (and I'm sure other environmental influnces) have taken much of the beauty of this impressive building. In front of the dome, interesting things usually go on, especially on a day like this.

A knight in shining armour

Who is that?
Mr. King

The angels played their role really well
But the Knight in Shining Armour, Charly Chaplin,
and even the angels need some rest every once in a while

So I enjoyed my time there. In the evening, I arrived at my parent's house. It was my mother's 65th birthday, and she had invited family and friends for dinner. We had a nice time, but I went to bed early. On Sabbath, I attended my home church. It was good to see the brothers and sisters, although something sad happened in the meantime. My friend Paul lost his father last month and I had not known about it. Just a few days before I came did I learn that he had had a kind of a bloody embolus in his brain, collapsed, and was found only hours later. One week later, he passed away. Of course this was a very difficult and stressful situation for Paul, as well as his mother and sister. My friend Tanja (who also lives quite far away now) only learned about it very recently and informed me about it a couple days before I left for Germany. She was also upset that Paul didn't pass on the news. We were always good friends after all. He said to me that he had been so busy with everything. Ok, I said, but you could at least have written a short email or something. Even though Tanja and I couldn't have helped much, we could at least have prayed. Well, some people are not very good communicators!

On Sabbath afternoon, I had to continue my journey further south to our yearly business meeting of the German ministry. We had a very blessed time together at the Fickenscher's home. Our meeting was very fruitful. Marius' wife Stefanie took over the office of the treasurer. Now the board is complete again - and even gender-balanced! Fred and Alberto, and Steffi and myself.

Sonja, the wife of our late Thomas, also came - with her father-in-law and the two little ones. Katharina is such a sweet baby. Too bad that she will never meet her dad.

Katharina looks so much like her dad in this picture

Sonja is showing her little one to Kai, who is watching via Skype from Bolivia

On Monday morning, I went back to Brussels. At the station in  Cologne, I took a little video of the high speed train rolling in, and I managed to upload it on YouTube. This is especially for my American friends, since most of them might have never seen this. Click here to watch it.



On my way from Cologne to Brussels (which doesn't take much longer than 2 hours in these kind of trains), I had a divine appointment. I got to talk to a young mother who was also on her way to Brussels. We didn't talk only about health, but also about spiritual things. It was so blessed. I gave her my card, and I hope she will get in touch with me.

Now I'm so glad it's Friday again. The work week has been very exhausting, since I not only had to deal with ongoing things in our unit, but I also assisted our Director. He doesn't have a secretary right now, and the one who normally replaces in the front office went on vacation this week. So the Sabbath is drawing near and it will be sunny all weekend. I can't wait to be able to rest without a bad conscience!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Never a Moment's Rest

Both work and ministry keep me running up and down these days. It's not that I would like to complain about my busy life (that's definitely much better than not having to do anything), however in the past few weeks, I think I have reached my boundaries.

Yes, I'm really longing for some time out, and this coming weekend will be a welcome change for me, as I'm going to travel home to Germany. It's my mother's birthday on Friday. However, the original reason for my travels is the yearly business meeting of the German ministry, which will be taking place on Sunday. I really look forward to it, although it will be a bit sad, since it will be our first business meeting without Thomas. Nevertheless, we have to step forward with the Lord's help. Important decisions will have to be taken, and I pray for God's guidance.

There is a song on YouTube that I've kept listening to lately. It was actually sung by the Nebblett family at our camp meeting. It's so beautiful. Click on the title if you would like to listen.

Before the Throne of God 
Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me 
My name is graven on His hands
My name is written on His heart
I now that while in heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart 
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin 
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me 
Behold Him there the risen Lamb
My perfect spotless righteousness
the great unchangeable I Am
The King of glory and of grace 
One with Himself I cannot die
My soul is purchased by His blood
my life is hid with Christ on high
With Christ my Savior and my God!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Brussels Everyday Scences - part II

We are finally having an Indian summer, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it! It makes such a difference when the sun is shining. This past week was quite strenuous, yet very blessed. Friday morning, I attended a very interesting meeting of the "AST network" of the EU Commission. The AST's are the assistants working in our offices, i. e. everybody who is not an Administrator. I'm part of the network of our Directorate-General, but this was an event of the Commission-wide network. I was able to share about health. What a blessing. Again, I have the feeling that I'm pushing at an open door. Will share more about it later.

The other day at lunchtime, I went for a walk in the park nearby my office.



I think these are Turkish men. They gather there every day to play cards
Interesting view. I had never consciously looked at this statue from this perspective.
The impressive building in the back is one of our services: It's called "OLAF",
the European Anti-Fraud Office

I also saw a muslim couple in the park. Apparently, they were on a date. He was dressed all in white, and she was dressed in dark blue, wearing black gloves (in spite of the warm weather). They were talking and holding hands. I found this really interesting to look at, so I took a picture hoping they wouldn't notice. However, the man then approached me and asked me politely to delete the picture. He watched me deleting it and asked me if I was sure that it was deleted, which I confirmed. I was impressed with his politeness: he was neither angry nor impatient with me. I wish all Christian men would be like this. Afterwards, it dawned on me that this couple was probably not married. Why would they meet in the park after all? Therefore, I guess they didn't want me to blow them off!

Yesterday, there was also my colleague Giovanna's "farwell breakfast". Giovanna joined our secretariat in August of 2009. She actually has a legal background, but she was interested in working for the European Commission, and so she accepted a three-years contract to work in the secretariat of our unit.

Anyway, she decided to end her contract earlier than originally foreseen. Her boyfriend has two children, and she has taken over responsibility for the kids. So for now she would like to spend more time with the family. I always appreciated her humble spirit. After all, she didn't get to do much work which would have been interesting for her according to her background, yet she never complained. In two weeks time, Cristina, the most senior colleague in the secretariat, will leave us. I'm a bit apprehensive of the weeks after that, as we are not going to have a replacement for her right away. And even when somebody comes, this person still needs to be trained. I hope it won't become too stressful.