The village where I live

the village where I live

So, it’s been a year, and I am mostly acclimated and settled in. Thank you for all of the cards, notes, and letters expresssing concern.

I know my way around. I have figured out the trains, trams, buses, ferries, and boats (though not without some early trial and error). I have been to both a Swiss doctor and a Swiss dentist. I can buy groceries and get a haircut. When a letter arrives with words like ‘Achtung!’ on the outside of the envelope, I no longer think that I am in immediate danger of deportation. Those omninous-looking mailings we receive are usually just friendly greetings from the local government, asking why we haven’t done something that EVERY OTHER RESIDENT has already done on time.

And it has been several months since I have been fined for driving too fast.

For all of that I am more grateful can I say. It helps of course that I had several hundred friends to greet me on arrival and ask me about my every need. Not every expat, I realize, can say that. Also, Switzerland is not Somalia. It is a highly-developed western country with one of the best transportation systems in the world. The views are gorgeous in every direction. It is clean and safe. The health care is among the best in the world. And that’s the just the beginning. I don’t want to bore you.

If you move to Switzerland and fail to thrive, then … you are a complete failure as a human being and should never have tried expat life. (See, I am learning to think like a Swiss.)

However, being acclimated and settled in doesn’t mean that I know everything I need to know. My language skills, for example, still leave a lot to be desired. I can read German fairly well, but my conversational skills are sadly lacking. The young woman who cut my hair this morning tried to be helpful by saying, ‘Do you want me to speak German or English?’ I can assure you that Mike at the barbershop back in Fort Lauderdale never posed a question like that. (But I still love you, Mike.)

More important than langauge skills is the matter of living and working, as I do each day, in a multicultural setting. I have mentioned previously that only one member of my church’s Council (or leadership board) was born in the U.S., but the differences are more numerous (and often more subtle) than that. Some days the differences are mind-boggling and overwhelming.

What I take for granted in my preaching and pastoral care, skills I have labored for more than 30 years to perfect and sharpen, can no longer be taken for granted. I am not only learning to speak the language of my village and canton, as I mentioned, but I am also learning to speak the spiritual language of my congregation. When believers come together from so many different continents, when they have been trained and discipled in the faith by such a wide variety of Christian teachers, when their worship experiences are as varied as they are, being a pastor of this congregation has an exceedingly high degree of difficulty.

Some days my head hurts.

I remember saying in the interview process that I know who I am. And that’s still true. My Christian (and pastoral) identity has been shaped and formed over a very long period of time. I have had one of the most thorough Christian educations (beginning with my parents and my Kindergarten Sunday School teacher) it is possible for one person to have, but nothing could have adequately prepared me for this church, this experience, this time in my life.

What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus right now, right here, at this moment in history? I will keep you posted.

(Photo: That’s the village of Meilen where I live.)

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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6 Responses to The village where I live

  1. Mary Ninow-Thomaere February 5, 2015 at 10:08 am #

    I arrived at Zurich in 2012 with my German-speaking spouse full of excitement only to realize the realities for an English-speaking expat– from picture pointing in hair salons & grocery stores to the humiliation of a clerk grabbing my Francs and counting change himself. Or the cable guy, repairman or landlord that had to call my husband because I couldn’t communicate. When I first drove through the city I knew it would be the death of me, and when I did venture off alone to visit villages I felt like an alien not able to read or talk to anyone. I can imagine how difficult it must be to lead such a diverse church in ethnicities and spiritual backgrounds, but for me, and other’s like me, it was a beacon of hope that I could not only survive but eventually thrive. I’m grateful for your courage to continue the work of a very special church! We have since moved, but I look back and cherish the time we had in beautiful Zurich.

    • Doug February 6, 2015 at 1:50 am #

      Thanks for such a thoughtful response, Mary. I would like to think the church has played a similar role in many, many lives over the years. You’re always welcome for a return visit!

  2. Barbara Keith February 5, 2015 at 3:06 pm #

    We are happy that you and your family have settled in and are enjoying life. I do want you and Susan to know you both are really missed here in Fort Lauderdale. Please do come back … if only for a visit. Our door is always open to you both! Fondly, Barb & Tom Keith

    • Doug February 6, 2015 at 1:48 am #

      Hi, Barb. If there was ever a month to be in Florida, this would be it. February has been cold! I miss you too and would love to visit.

  3. Scott Harmon March 26, 2015 at 2:18 pm #

    Truly appreciated what you shared about the challenges of serving a multi-cultural congregation Doug. The variety of Christian expression is stunning and no more so than when you serve an international congregation. Its a difficult experience to convey to those who know only of ministry in their own context, but you captured it so artfully.
    A number of years ago I served as interim pastor in the International Church in Hamburg, and experienced how wonderfully diverse and sometimes confusing ministry amidst diversity can be. You never offend so unknowingly as in a second language. 🙂
    It was a true joy to read your post, I only regret not finding your blog sooner.
    Happy hiking!
    Grace and peace,
    Frankenmuth, MI (USA)

    • Doug March 26, 2015 at 3:46 pm #

      Thanks for the kind words, Scott. Am glad to know my impressions are shared. Would enjoy a conversation one day…for the book.

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