An interview with my German professor


My German professor is one of the most interesting and well-traveled people I’ve ever met. He has instructed me for the last four semesters, and I will miss his classes immensely after I graduate. His life has intersected with history time and time again, so I thought it would be a travesty if I didn’t take advantage of his insights while I had the chance. So last week I sat down with him and listened to a few of his stories. I’ve written them down in the short essay below, and I hope you find them both interesting and inspiring. Enjoy!

I hated being drafted in 1961. I’m the oldest of five children and that was the first time in our family that there was a major “break.” It was hard on the family and hard on me. I dreaded it and was not excited.

When I was in high school, I had a music teacher named Hering who was a displaced Jew from Vienna who escaped before WW II. He was a child prodigy and concert pianist who taught me piano. He was so wonderful. He himself was taught by a line of teachers who studied under Beethoven himself. There were no German classes in my high school, but this music teacher began to teach me German. It sounded so interesting to me, even though I couldn’t really understand it yet. Little did I know then that I would one day be sent to Germany.

But once I was sent to Germany with the military, I realized God was opening a big door for me. I was a Conscientious Objector, so I was trained in basic medical care instead of combat. The military gave me the opportunity to travel and see historical places, so I took advantage of it. I became passionate about learning German, unlike my fellow soldiers– I was odd in that respect! I was working at a military hospital in Landstuhl;  the whole country was on alert against Russia, who was building the Berlin wall that year (1961). Sometimes we would go out on mock field missions where we had to simulate a battle scene with Russia! I used to not wince at all when I had to draw blood, but today the thought alone makes me cringe. In 1962 there was a big 7.1 earthquake in Iran. There were over 12,000 deaths and hundreds of people who were injured . We were put on alert and thought that we might be sent to Iran to help, but at the last moment it was cancelled. I was relieved because it would have been my first time confronting death so head-on, and I knew it would be difficult.

That was the only real emergency while I was in Germany. We were never sent to Berlin, but it was always a possibility since it was a “flash point” city. The Russians were flexing their military muscles and the atmosphere was tense. I knew several people who had left East Germany and come to West Germany.

One real blessing was that I got involved in the church in Kaiserslautern. A black family took me to church every Sunday and Bible study during the week, rain or shine, sleet or snow. The preacher there, Hans Nowak,  mentored me. He was immensely talented, and inspired me to become a preacher in Germany years later.

I was in the army for two years total, and then I came back to the US. I had an expectation that I would go back to Germany one day. I didn’t know when or how, but I just knew I would. I went to college at David Lipscomb University and did my masters at Vanderbilt University. When I applied to Vanderbilt, I wrote in my application that I aspired to be involved in Christian ministry in Germany one day. One of the professors degraded me and put me down for that, but I never let it get to me! I applied for an exchange year at Humboldt University in Berlin and was accepted. I got involved in the church there, where I soon began preaching. Heinz Müller, the preacher in Berlin, was also an inspiration to me, and I’ll never forget when he said, “Du predigst nächsten Sonntag.” I was so nervous! I was an exception because I wasn’t formally trained in theology or hermeneutics, but I taught myself through experience. I became interested in Greek and Hebrew too. I worked in the Müllers’  bookstore while I studied in Berlin to support myself. It was in Berlin where I met Udo Herbst, who was a Berliner and had become a Christian years earlier. He helped teach me Hebrew.

Then after I finished studying in Berlin, I committed to do full time mission work in Munich from 1971 to 1975. There were four churches in the US who sponsored me out of the generosity of their hearts. Munich is where I met my wife, Pat, who had a job with the US government.

I still hadn’t written my dissertation, and I had a deadline to finish my Ph.D. So eventually I went back to the US to finish up at Vanderbilt University. I knew I needed to have a Ph.D. to support a family one day. Then I got my first teaching job at Abilene Christian University, where I stayed for eight years. It was hard to readjust to life in the US. Life in West Texas was somewhat boring compared to Germany.

Then in 1983 Pepperdine University offered me a job. I accepted eventually and we moved in 1984. I haven’t regretted coming to Pepperdine. I would do it again. I’ve had wonderful opportunities and met talented students. It is a ministry to me because I’ve had contact with and influence on so many diverse students. For instance, I am going to baptize a former student on Saturday, and I’ve officiated at the weddings of several students over the years. Not all the non-Christian students I’ve taught have become Christians, but I feel like I’ve influenced them positively in one way or another. I enjoy working with the very multicultural student body at Pepperdine.

If I have any advice for young people, it would be to keep your aspirations high and in alignment with God’s purposes for your life. Never let anything discourage you. Once you become convinced you have a calling in life, never let anything or anyone stop you.

Fascinating, right? I particularly related to the part where he said, “I had an expectation that I would go back to Germany one day. I didn’t know when or how, but I just knew I would.” I too have an expectation that I will return to Germany one day, though I don’t know all the details yet!  I’m so glad I took the time to record these memories in perpetuity. I would encourage you to interview someone in your life who intrigues you! Human stories are incredible.

P.s. A few photos from Berlin in the 1960’s

Do You Believe In Soul Mates?

Chances are we’re all familiar with the idea of a soul mate– the one person out there who was made to fit you perfectly. I’ve been thinking a lot about this concept recently, particularly as it pertains to romance, so I thought I’d interview a few friends and family members to get their take. Their answers were fascinating. Here’s what they said:

No. There is no perfect person out there for you, just like there is not a perfect college or job out there for you. Even if you seem to be made for each other, there is no magic potion for a life of true love and happiness. Relationships will always be about work and compromise. You can make a marriage thrive with many different well picked spouses. The dynamics of the relationship will differ but the formula is the same.

Yes and no. I believe that there are multiple soul mates for everyone. The idea that there is only one soul mate in your whole life is scary and daunting. I think those kind of relationships do exist though.

No, I don’t believe in soul mates. I don’t think there’s a single person you’re destined to be with, I think factors such as emotional preparedness and proximity play huge roles in who ends up in our lives. I think the idea of marrying your soulmate is overly romanticized and idealized.

Yes, I do. But I don’t believe in immediate soul mates, it’s something that develops slowly over time. You become soul mates by living life together. There’s a difference between chemistry and experience.

Yes I do! I believe that soul mates exist in more than just the romantic sense that most people imagine. I think friends and family can be soul mates too. If there is someone who I feel that I connect with on levels that are more than just on the surface of friendship; or even more than that, if I think that I can be utterly and intimately vulnerable with that person, and they can do the same, that there is a good chance our souls are a match for each other. My closest and most valued friends I consider my soul mates because when I am with them not only do I feel I can be myself fully, but there literally is a happiness the fills up my heart because not only does their presence give me joy but also the knowledge that whatever I say or do will be understood.

I don’t believe that romantically there is exactly one person with whom you’re meant to spend the rest of you life, the emphasis on ‘meant to’ because it suggests some kind of predestination. Thinking that allows us to say, “It’s okay if I’m not actively pursuing anyone because it will just happen when it’s supposed to.”

Personally, I don’t believe in soul mates. Although I am married and can’t imagine spending my life with someone other than my husband, I think the idea that he is the only person on the earth on the earth who is a good match for me is slightly ridiculous. Someone else in our global society might be a good match for me in a different way, but I’m not going anywhere to find out. I’m married to my first love and best friend.

I like fairytales, so it’s fun for me to imagine the perfect guy. But I also realistically know that no one is perfect. Every guy will have things you don’t necessarily love about them, but that doesn’t mean the relationship isn’t awesome! So no, I don’t believe in one soul mate because no one is perfect, but there’s multiple people you can live happily with.

I do believe in soul mates. But it doesn’t have to be a spouse, it could be a friend who just get’s you. No explanation needed on certain levels. It doesn’t have to be an immediate connection either, you can grow into it over time.

No, I think there could be several people out there for you. You can’t be destined for just one. When someone’s spouse dies, they often find a new person with a love just as great as the first, just different.

Lauren C.
I think I believe there’s someone for everyone (like everyone can find a person that’s right for them) but I don’t necessarily believe that there’s just one person who can be that for you. There are too many people out there for there to literally be just one soul mate.

Lauren S.
 I do believe in soul mates.  In fact, every person has more than one soulmate. It is true that in any romantic relationship one must choose to love the other person every day. However I do not think that means that any couple can make a perfect match if they just work hard enough. That is what makes love so hard to find. Compatibility is limited and only so many guys out there would be right for me…but they are out there. In fact, I’m dating one of them right now. So do I believe in soul mates? You bet. I love you, Parker ❤

Aren’t these people wise (and sweet)? Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses!

As for me, I’ve decided (drum roll please) I don’t believe in soul mates! Like many, I think there is any number of people out there who can make you happy in unique ways. At least where romance is concerned, I take comfort in the idea that if you pick the ‘wrong person’ you’re not screwed, or that if the person you’re with dies/leaves you’re not doomed to be alone. You may grow so close to your current partner that it eventually feels like you were perfectly made for one another, but that can only been realized with time and effort. So while the idea may be romantic, it doesn’t hold up for me. But I do love the idea of platonic soul mates, friends or family members who get you on a guttural, almost spiritual level. I certainly have a few of those already 🙂

But I want to know you’re thoughts as well, do you believe in soul mates?IMG_4748P.s. Thanks again to all my interviewees!

Heidelberg Through Another’s Eyes


Ladies and gentlemen, I am beyond excited to introduce my dear friend and fellow blogger Jessica from Further Up and Further In to you to day! Jessica is currently studying abroad in Heidelberg, Germany through the same Pepperdine program I participated in last school year. She kindly agreed to do an interview about her experience thus far, and I’m trying my best not to turn green with envy. So, without further ado, let’s put our hands together and welcome the funny, beautiful and insightful Miss Jessica!

1. Hi Jess, introduce yourself to the amazing Passports and Paintbrushes readers!
Hi Micah! And hello lovely readers. I’m Jessica, a nineteen year old studying abroad for the year in Heidelberg, Germany. Me in a nutshell: little adventures, German pastries, and any piece of fiction I can get my hands on.
2. How did you decide that Heidelberg, Germany was the right place for you to study abroad?
I think I’ve always known the Pepperdine Germany Program was for me. Being the ninth member of my family to call this city of brown and red my home, Heidelberg may very well be in my bones. Not only is it the perfect jumping off point to other European countries on the weekend, but the city is safe, homey, and positively enchanting.
3. What was your first impression of Heidelberg?
My first impression of Heidelberg was the spirit of Disneyland instilled in a city. The European influence of storybook culture is written down its cobblestone pathways and the flowerpots hanging from each windowsill. Heidelberg is famously the City of Romance, and I fell in love with it at first sight.
4. What are a few cultural differences have you noticed between Germans and Americans thus far?
Well. The differences are certainly everywhere. The streets have a hushed feel to them– the restaurants too, for that matter. People draw deeper into themselves, their thoughts and their purposes. You’ll never hear unbridled laughter break out at the next table over. Transparency is a German ideal, but I’ve learned not to confuse that with expressiveness. If you enter the town with the wrong mindset, you’ll draw the conclusion that the Germans are a cold people. I’ve had to make necessary adjustments.
5. What’s been the hardest part about this experience? The most rewarding part?
The hardest part of the experience is juggling time. There are fifty seven friends to invest in here: which ones do I go out with today? There are only so many weekends to travel: where is a priority to me? There are five classes to balance: which takes precedent right now? And when, and where, do I get some quiet time to myself at the end of each day? It sounds harder than it is, but still, the stress always finds a way in.
The reward is certainly worth it all; this may very well be the greatest month of my life thus far. It’s nearly impossible to pinpoint what’s best about it, but I’ll focus on the self discovery I’m experiencing in this foreign place. I’ve been ripped away from my hometown, my country, my family, my previous friendships, my language, even key parts of my religion. It makes a girl think. What’s my identity in this micro-ecosystem of fifty seven other American students? What’s my identity in this foreign place, as a regular fish out of water? I’m learning things about myself through the changes; the facets of myself that transcend country and culture; the values that don’t waver when cut away from family and church; the passions that still take precedent when time is a commodity. It’s a growing experience. Journeys, of course, do not always occur by foot and train.
6. Describe your dream trip while abroad!
My dream trip? Honestly, anywhere in Europe is a dream. It’s not the place as much as the people, pace, and activities done there. Flexible and fun friends, a balance of go-getting and relaxation, and a strand of simple adventures is a magical formula. But, if I have to name a couple places: the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, Santorini in Greece, and Prague in the Czech Republic.
7. Advice for others thinking about studying abroad?
My advice for those thinking about studying abroad: stop thinking. Sometimes you have to jump, and this is one of those times. Trust me, the plunge into this bewildering new world will take your breath away.12065649_994208257298182_503413629337318281_n.jpg
Isn’t she a gem?! I loved her words, “Journeys, of course, do not always occur by foot and train.” Heidelberg is lucky to have her, even though I wish she were here with me. Why doesn’t teleportation exist yet? Her reflections remind me of my wonderful eleven months abroad, and all the lessons I learned through the challenging yet rewarding process. We wish you all the best on your crazy adventures Jess, and we will be sure to check back in in the future.11998939_1003413256367995_8222839048226043113_n.jpg
Question of the Day
Have you ever studied abroad? If you could choose anywhere on the map, where would it be and why?

P.s. Photos from here, here and here.