‘The Lord has provided’: Former Greenfield residents navigate language, lessons of work in Germany

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Jared, Elizabeth, Jonathan, Allyson, and Mackensley Crabtree pause during a day trip to Strasbourg, France. The family left Greenfield in 2021 to live in Germany.

Photo provided

In the morning, the children leave for school, each with their own start time. Mom and Dad study German. Everyone has homework and activities in the evenings.

It’s been about a year since Jared and Elizabeth Crabtree and their three children arrived in Pforzheim, a city of 125,000 in southwest Germany.

The family lived in Greenfield for several years and attended Park Chapel Christian Church, co-leading a small group with other young families, teaching in the children’s ministry and serving on the church’s Missions Team. Jared was in the personnel certification field; Elizabeth was a stay-at-home mom and active in Park Chapel’s Mothers of Preschoolers.

They knew Middle Eastern refugees were moving to Europe and saw the opportunity to minister interculturally through local churches. They took an exploratory trip to western Europe in 2018 through Kontaktmission and connected with a local pastor. Now they’ve moved to Germany and committed to serve there at least eight years.

Their goal is to help plant more churches. For now, they are building their knowledge of the language and the local culture. Amid all that, they took time for an email interview.

Describe what you are doing there and your role.

We are here to support the growth of the Kingdom of God through church planting. We find it critical for churches we steer to fit local culture to grow and thrive beyond our involvement. Recognizing that we are outsiders here having spent most of our lives in East Central Indiana, we need to learn to balance what we bring to the table with healthy expressions of local culture. … On any given Sunday, we are attending church services in both German with mainly German nationals and in Arabic (most of the time with German or English translation) with those from an Arabic background. Jared preaches at least once quarterly and coordinates the coming together of the German and Arabic congregations into bi-monthly International Church Services where he can also be heard singing in English, sometimes German, and occasionally even French.

What might the average American not know about daily life there?

Germans DON’T wear Lederhosen, eat giant pretzels, and drink beer while dancing to polka every day. That’s just in Bavaria. I tease. This place and many of its people look similar to East Central Indiana, but they function VERY differently. In a land with forests, rolling hills, and 4 seasons, stand houses, restaurants and hotels built before Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Many of the people we’re around desire things from America. So, our Turkish friend’s favorite actor and celebrity crush is Leonardo DiCaprio. Our Ethiopian friend’s son frequently dons a Tupac shirt (even though he may have no idea who Tupac is). Our Iraqi friend can’t wait to vacation in Detroit (of all U.S. places).

We’ve gotten used to setting appointments to set appointment with doctors … we set appointments to submit all information related to registering our address with the city, establishing our residence here, securing EU driver’s licenses, and many others. We even have some German friends who we must set an appointment to hang out with.

What have you learned so far from this experience? What have been the spiritual lessons?

… We’ve experienced so much in this year, from the victories of arriving, establishing relationships, and progressing in our German, to the tragedies of the passing of Elizabeth’s father Ron in October 2021, testing positive for COVID-19 on Christmas Day, and Elizabeth having some intestine and her appendix removed during emergency surgery in January. Here are some highlights of our learning:

· Your life will be enriched through building relationships with people who are different from you. You will often find that you have more in common than you think and that you can both benefit in ways you previously didn’t imagine.

· Use wisdom in navigating the way forward as you get to know someone from a different culture. It often takes work, research, and clear/sometimes uncomfortable conversation to understand why the other person is acting the way they are. For example, why does the Turkish family earnestly invite themselves to your house soon after first meeting randomly at a public park? Answer: They’re showing you honor with this gesture in their mind! Giving others the benefit of the doubt and breaking through situations like this can uncover things you have in common and ways you can help each other.

· Keep going when awkwardness and discomfort come when getting to know new people. When it seems conversation has come to an end and you just sit in silence. Sometimes, just sharing your presence is meaningful to the other person, and they don’t mind the silence.

· Be patient with those around you learning English and American culture. (And, yes, there are many in the Indianapolis surrounding area in this boat!) It takes a ton of effort, concentration, and mental energy to learn a new language and culture. It’s a very courageous thing to speak a new language and act in new and awkward-feeling ways in a context where it’s relevant and necessary. They’re showing patience learning your culture. The least you could do is reciprocate. …

· It’s been confirmed yet again in our minds that the blessings of knowing Jesus are truly all we need in this life. The Lord has provided for all our needs every step of the way, when we’ve been on the mountains and in the valleys.

What was the biggest daily life adjustment when you got there?

Two major adjustments we’ve had to make involve how to dispose of trash and the kids’ school schedules. Normal house trash, plastics (and tin and aluminum), paper, biodegradable materials, and glass are all disposed of separately … all picked up at unique times. We’ve never had to think so much about how to dispose of trash in our lives …

The kids’ classrooms at school look similar to those we saw in Weston Elementary, but each class has its own start and stop time. This reminds us of our time in college. … It’s taken both of us parents to keep track of this challenging-to-us schedule.

What convenience/comfort food/etc. do you miss?

Our family could give different answers to this question. We parents miss the convenience of consistently good customer service, the ease of driving on flat and straight roads, and plenty of options for doctors and specialists. Living in this socialist state, we occasionally need help in a store and struggle to get the workers to even acknowledge us. Getting around here in southern Germany is more difficult than running across Greenfield to catch a movie at the Legacy. Pforzheim is a hilly, more crowded place with much narrower roads and not a straight road to be found. Driving requires more effort and concentration here. As our city has become more diverse in recent years, many of the Germans, doctors and specialists have left the city for the suburban villages. So, finding and visiting our kids’ doctor and specialists requires traveling a few villages outside of town.

Our son, Jonathan, misses Buffalo Wild Wings (even though we’ve found fitting substitutes here). The girls miss Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese from a box. As a family, we miss Mozzi’s buffet.

What’s been a memorable story or event during your time there?

Seeing Arabic-background people come to saving faith found in Jesus Christ. In September, we had the privilege to attend the baptism of a young man born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq. He had come to faith a few weeks earlier … We watched an Arabic-background couple follow Jesus together in believer’s baptism and another from a Middle-Eastern background come to faith during an evangelistic church service. One of these was Yazidi from the Kurdistan region. This is significant in that it’s not common for people in her homeland to convert to Christianity. We know the Lord wanted us to see these things and for us to tell others of his mighty deeds!

How can those interested support your work?

First, and foremost, you can pray for our family. We are daily navigating new challenges to our daily rhythms of life. Many of these just require a small and quick adjustment of expectation, and others really rock our boats and can lead to frustration, disorientation, and disappointment. Pray for these experiences to lead us closer to the Lord as we grow into the image of Christ and disciple our kids. Pray for us to see clearly the Lord’s path forward for our family.

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Easter is coming up. What does the celebration look like there?

In Pforzheim, Easter is celebrated in ways similar to those in Indiana. … Stores have already begun carrying Easter-related wares, from chocolates to little toys to pre-hard-boiled and colored eggs. In fact, it’s believed that the Easter Bunny (Osterhase) tradition originated here in Germany. … It’s common to have Easter Egg hunts for the kids and to bake 3-D cakes in the shape of a lamb. Many, including those who rarely attend, will go to church as part of their celebrations. They’ll spend time with family and friends.

For followers of Jesus, this is a somber yet hopeful time as we reflect on the glorious hope that awaits us because of what Jesus has done for us. We’ll greet each other with the phrase “Der Herr ist auferstanden! Er ist wahrhaftig auferstanden!” (“The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!”)