The end of November may seem an odd time for our “What we did during our summer ‘vacation’” essay, but we’re finally back home (although not in the water quite yet). Looking back at our summer, it’s amazing to see God’s plans and how they overrode our plans. We thought we were going to spend the summer getting caught up on homeschool, admin, financial reports, and blog posts 😉 Dennis was going to work on research for his doctoral project. I was going to finish my certifications in counseling. We would never have bounced over the Atlantic without the promise of a few months to be still (and access to the internet). God knew that and I feel now (it’s taken some time to get here) that He used that plan to get us to Europe. After the disastrous month in France (if you missed that blog post, you can read about it here), we were searching for what God had in mind. He seemed to insist that we keep doing what He called us to do – spend our time helping and encouraging missionaries. In fact, even while we were in France, we had a missionary family spend a few days there before they headed to language school. It was a great opportunity to share our stories and encourage each other (we sure needed it at that point!).
We left France in search of peace for ourselves and the least expensive way back to the US. We knew our chances of getting a military space available flight during the summer were pretty slim, so we were looking for places to stay cheaply in Europe. Driving to and flying out of Paris was the cheapest option out of France. We searched for places to stay with many different ministries in Europe. We talked to quite a number of missionaries and ministry leaders in Europe during our search for places to stay. We didn’t get to meet most of them, but we’ve certainly made new friends through email. A 3 hour detour to Switzerland became the new plan when a family offered us room and board for almost a week (although I have to admit, I was hoping to get to go to Switzerland).
On our way to Switzerland, we made our first stop at Pont Julien, a 2000 year old bridge that was only about 5 miles from where we had been working (we just never had an opportunity to leave). We spent our “first night of freedom” near the Pont du Gard. (On a side night, if you ever think staying in a safari tent sounds like fun, maybe think again. The sheer number and size of the spiders was slightly terrifying. Caleb made the mistake of teasing Hope after she screamed when a large spider came inches from her face, and he ended up having to trade beds with her. You could tell he was freaking out a bit too, but he held it together and survived the night without any screams or bites.) The Pont du Gard is the highest and one of the best preserved ancient Roman aqueduct bridges that provided water to the city of Nîmes. It was part of the 31 mile aqueduct system that was built in the first century. First century! We’re talking about when Jesus walked the earth! It stands 160 feet high and only descends 1 inch across the almost 1/3 of a mile length. The system carried 8,800,000 gallons of water a day! Mind blowing and beautiful.
We were invited to stay at the Hotel Kurhaus in Grimmialp, a Christian hotel/retreat center tucked in the Alps about an hour south of the city of Bern, Switzerland. A wonderful family with 4 children run it. As it turned out, the husband had served as a missionary for many years in Guatemala. His first language is Swiss German (which I didn’t even know was a language before arriving in Switzerland), but his Spanish is perfect. His wife spoke some Spanish but was more comfortable with English. Our conversations together were probably pretty comical to any outsiders as we had four languages going at once, if you include the accidental French instead of Spanish! He said God has quite a sense of humor. They didn’t get to visit Mexico/Central America this year; instead God brought part of Mexico to them.
We also met other families that were there for a retreat. True to our children’s nature, they jumped right into soccer games and the playground (which absolutely would be outlawed in the US because it was too much fun, ie. dangerous) with the other kids and had a blast, even though they didn’t speak the same language. Language only creates a barrier if you let it – challenging still, yes, but it doesn’t have to separate us (and we are very blessed that most of the world speaks English). Dennis helped build a VERY large teepee for their summer programs (but sadly, no pictures) and the kids also enjoyed playing the family’s chickens.
We took a few days to relax and explore some of Switzerland, including caves, castles, lakes, and an Alpine slide (check out the full video here)! Oddly enough, I wanted so badly to be on one of the sailboats out on the ice blue lakes surrounded by the high snow capped mountains. It was just incredible. My favorite thing was the quiet evenings, listening to the cows’ bells as they wandered the hillside in the dimming pink sunlight, as the sky slowly turned to an inky shade of blue.
Words and pictures just can’t touch the beauty of Switzerland and the people there (even though I tried). Hope has decided she wants to live there and I would happily visit her often. Switzerland provided the peace we desperately needed.