Sunday, 31 March 2013

First Steps

Wow - this week has been intense! I can hardly think of a time when I've bad to go through so many changes, except for perhaps the first week of Uni. It's been a challenge to say the least, but I think I'm getting there (although there's still a long way to go). Keep praying, those who are, an if you're not, start! I think I'm going to need it...

This second week has been better and worse than the first in equal measure. Better, because I'm getting to know the girls, the routine, the system, and starting to see where I can fit into it as a whole, and where I can start to have an impact on those around me. Worse, because adjusting to this system is hard work! I never have time to myself, I'm constantly exhausted, I often find myself doing jobs that I don't enjoy, and there seems to be a new rule every day that I didn't know about - something I'm sure is designed to try me to the extreme!

But I can see a way out. I had to lead a time of devotion/Bible study on Tuesday, and although I was ridiculously nervous, tired and emotional, I managed it, and my message seemed to get across. It was about God working best in your weakness, and I don't think there's been a better time for demonstrating that than now. I'm learning the values of patience, humility and obedience in a big way, particularly as I often really can't argue back - I just don't know the words in Spanish! This is incredibly frustrating, but it's given me the chance to properly think things through, to decide whether something's worth the bother of arguing about, and to know that God is with you at all times, particularly when you're feeling weak and alone.

My Spanish is improving rapidly, even if it is mostly aural at the moment (I don't have the energy to do lots of speaking!). I'm starting to settle into this new lifestyle and great things are promised for the future. I'm sure I'll have plenty of stories to tell you about the amazing girls I'll be living with over the next few months, but for now let me leave you with a little message that Betsy, a Mexican volunteer who's about to leave after having spent three months here, gave me:

Nahum 1:7
The Lord is good, giving protection in times of trouble. He knows those who trust in Him.

She told me that spending time here is the best experience you can have, and that by the end you will not be the same person you were when you first arrived. This message makes me a little nervous, but also gives me an immense hope and excitement for what's to come. I'm looking forward to many new experiences and being able to learn from the women that surround me by their example in day-to-day life. Until next time!

Happy Easter :D

Nat xxx

P.s. I've found the time to do a lot of letter-writing recently. If you fancy penning me a message, I'd be happy to give you my address - just pop me an email, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can :)

Monday, 25 March 2013

¡Hola, España!

Well, things at present are certainly a little different than they were in my last post! For one thing, I am no longer in Germany, instead currently residing in Madrid, Spain. Secondly, I am no longer teaching English to German schoolchildren, but volunteering in a centre for drug addicts and alcoholics, living with them and generally spending all my time in or about the centre and its various other working locations.

To explain, I feel I should give a little bit of background information on the centre and what it does. It's run by Betel, a Christian charity set up by Elliott Tepper, an American missionary, in the mid 80s. The principle aim was to give a recovering drug addict a place to live, food, clothing and spiritual support as he went through court proceedings. To pay for his keep (and keep him occupied), this man worked at the flat where he was staying, painting walls, mending appliances and such like. As he was doing so well, his friends started asking if they could come and stay too. Soon there were too many of them to live and work in one small flat, and they had to move out to a bigger house, and they started finding work outside the home, but always working together for the benefit of the whole house. Thus Betel was born. Now there are hundreds of centres all around the world, all giving practical aid and support to thousands of recovering addicts and alcoholics, and run by missionaries and ex-addicts (named Betelitos, people who have been previously taken in by the centres), and helped out by a fair few volunteers along the way. Here's where I come in. I decided to spend my time on Spain helping out at a centre like this, living with the girls at their house in Madrid, and working with them at their charity shops, giving out leaflets, doing collections for donations and generally making myself useful.

I've been here just over a week now, and the time's been interesting to say the least! I stared off on the first day helping out with cleaning at the church, and I haven't really stopped since then. It's been tough at times, particularly with the language, which I can mostly understand (thank God), but I find quite hard to speak. I've had to adjust to a lot of things in the Spanish Betel life, not least the eating times, which tend to be about 7 in the morning, 3 in the afternoon and 10 at night. I've also had to get to know the 20 other girls that I'm living with, no mean feat when half of them are Spanish, and the other half from various places around the world, including Russia, Poland, Brazil and Portugal, to name a few. Oh, and the pack of Internet access (only a couple of times a week, at the church), and my iPod, is killing me!

But I'm pleased to say that I'm feeling more and more secure every day, and I feel like I'm getting to know the girls and the organisation much better with each new experience I have. I definitely like the attitude towards coffee (always, and has priority over work), and the idea of a siesta is quite appealing too. I've heard some amazing stories already, and I'm sure that time will only reveal more. Life can be dealt with without constant Facebook access and music in your ears, however hard that might be. Only time will tell.

I would be grateful for any prayer people could send my way - that I can settle in well and start to make a difference, and also for the girls and their problems. Until next time - adios!

Much love, Nat xxx

P.s. If you want to read more about Betel and their amazing work, please check out their website:

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Liebes Deutschland

Dear Germany,

I came to you as a very tanned, slightly apprehensive, rather French-sounding English person, full of expectations. And you did not let me down. Thank you for proving and shattering stereotypes; showing me the fun of travelling; the joys (and grievances) of teaching; the beauty of friendship, and making me into 'one of yours'.

I will miss your wonderful array of herbal tea; your fabulous Brötchen (and bread as a whole), and your amazing knack of making a night out last several days, even if that is just the repercussions of having left the house at 10 in the evening and not coming back until 6 in the morning (the club, incidentally, not even having closed yet). I'll miss your people's keenness for sporty activity, thus rendering the question ' Do you play sport?' useless, and replacing it with 'What kind of sport do you do?' (ahem, volleyball). I'll also miss their penchant for travelling ridiculous distances for a holiday, even if it's just for the weekend and half the time will be spent on the road getting there and back (it's just good to get away, you know?). On a similar note, I'll miss their incorrigible interest for different cultures and languages, and just how much they love to demonstrate this, even if it does make practising German a little difficult at times!

Some things I won't miss, however, are getting up at six in the morning to go to work while it's still dark; your people's seeming obsession with sparkling water (Tap water is fine. No, honestly!); the permanent lateness of your trains, particularly when you want to get somewhere important/have a connection to catch (Note: after my journey back home was punctuated by having one train come late, one being cancelled at the last minute and one bus just not bother to turn up at all, I stand by this point. German public transport, you suck!). I'll not miss your people's inability to form a queue (letting the person that was there first go to the new till in the supermarket? Just not the done thing. And letting people off the train before you plough on with all your suitcases/prams/children in tow? Not a chance!), and their terrible Europop/Club music mix that is all there is to be heard on the radio all day long (actually, I might miss that a bit. Just the Europop part. And only sometimes).

All in all, I've learnt a ridiculous amount during these six months that I've been here, not least a rather hefty amount of German! I've also developed my sense of organisation, my directness, and my general knowledge of the world as we know it (so far, so German). Also my guitar-playing skills, a nice addition to the group, if not as predictable as the others!

Let me finish with one final thing that I will miss about your wonderful country. Your lovely people and their fabulous sense of occasion, which I have had the luck to experience often of late, in saying my goodbyes to the various friends and acquaintances I have managed to gather in my short time here. I will be forever grateful that they decided to take me in, welcome me and call me friend (or even family, in some cases). To leave that behind will be hard. But there is one things you can be sure of:

I will be back!

All my love,