Sarah Loomis – Point Loma University
It seems a tremendous task to recount what I have learned this semester, not because it is hard to remember, but because we have learned so much. Living and studying in a different country- let alone a different continent- opens your world and enlightens your mind to things you have never considered before. It teaches you of a different history, different geography, different culture, and different collective contribution to the world. Most importantly, however, it teaches you valuable lessons to bring home with you about life, God, and mankind to bring back to those who have not had the same experiences as you.
What I Have Learned
The first area I have greatly grown in knowledge of is Germany’s history. Before coming, I would be lying if I said I knew anything before Germany in the mid 1930’s, like most people my age, I believe. However, from reading Germany: Unravelling an Enigma to class discussions to learning through travel weeks, I have gained a comprehensive history of this nation. I learned of its trek from a collection of independent city states and tribes, to a world power in the Holy Roman Empire, to its dissolve and re-unification under Bismarck. I learned of its period of calm and grandeur through the Weimar Republic after World War I to the terrible uprising of the Third Reich after the worldwide economic crash in 1929. World War II and the Holocaust took on a deeper meaning, and I gained a greater understanding of the events and the mindsets that led to them through reading our course books, interacting with various museums, and talking to locals. Through our academic tour in Berlin and sections of Unravelling an Enigma, I learned of Germany’s struggles post-World War II during its divided years. We learned of the continual struggle for freedom and Germany’s experience being the oppressed rather than the oppressor. Then, we learned of Germany’s reunification and its extraordinary path since then towards democracy, contribution, and redemption.
Before coming to Germany, I was completely unaware of their incredibly contribution to society and the world as a whole. I knew of the big shots like Martin Luther and Bach, but beyond that, I was truly very unaware. I am leaving with an understanding of Germany’s vast legacy to our world. They have influenced everything from politics, to music, to science, to education, to healthcare. It has been truly amazing to learn about the men and women have done so much for the world and us in America, especially since most of what people know in the west about Germany seems to still be tied to World War II. In the areas of music, Germany has produced masters like Bach, Haydn, and Beethoven. In politics, men like Bismarck- although with fault- united tribes and initiated ground-breaking social welfare systems still used and copied today. Germany was not short of famous theologians, like Martin Luther who initiated the world-wide Protestant Reformation as well as more current men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Paul Schnider who were beacons of light during the Holocaust. Alexander Humboldt, Mendel, and Clausius made great contributions to the sciences through their discoveries in biology, geology, genetics, and physics, while men like Gauss furthered the world’s understanding of mathematical processes. Wilhelm von Humboldt single-handedly set in motion education reforms and school systems that are still used to this day, and Ranke taught the world how to accurately describe historical events in a realistic fashion. During the German Enlightenment, literary heroes like Goethe and Schiller made a name for German literature and wrote books that are still read to this day. These are only a few of the people and a few of the areas which Germany has influenced for the better, and I am leaving with a greater understanding of their importance and relevance to our modern day lives and societies.
Lessons Learned From the German People
As I gained a greater understanding of Germany’s past, it helped me better understand Germany as a country today. It truly is an enigma and an intersection of multiple generations with far different views on the world based on the times each grew up in. On one hand, one will witness the older generation that lived through the war or divided countries and their stricter adherence to rules, order, and tradition. One will also encounter the younger generation that is increasingly being westernized and taking on a new identity of progressiveness and adaptation. The two generations collide to produce a country that is both orderly and spontaneous, controlled and passionate, calculated and free-spirited, traditional and progressive, dedicated and fun-loving, closed off and welcoming. It has been fascinating to observe the citizens of Germany and compare and contrast the multiple generations that are both equally strong yet vastly different.
The country is also in a tension of demographics with groups who desperately want to remain homogenous and true to German tradition as well as groups that want to welcome in other cultures and people groups. While it is creation controversy and debate, it has allowed for interesting conversations with locals and discussions amongst our group. The most important things I have learned from observing German culture, however, are the lessons that I can take back to America. Being in a different country illuminates both things your home country can learn from and things your home country should avoid. Germany has revealed to me a desperate lacking in America for determination and awareness of the outside world. Although the German people need a greater understanding of the countries around them due to their membership in the European Union, I have seen just how oblivious and naive most Americans are to the rest of the world. In the words of my German Enigma interviewee, “Collectively, America only seems to care about the rest of the world if it directly affects them.” While there are people in America who do not fit this mold, overall, I would say it is true. The German people, from learning through experience, have taught me that America needs to wake up to what is going on both in our own country and in the world as a whole. Germany is currently submerged in conversations about the European Union, the Refugee Crisis, and many others. America, as a whole, has no idea of the extent of such issues. How tragic is it that America remains unaware and unconcerned with the conditions and welfare of our brothers and sisters around the world.
The German people have also taught me the importance of dedication and hard work. America is lazy, but because we are so ethno-centric, I had not realized this. Growing up in a country with extreme patriotism can be a good thing, but it can be harmful if we let it close our eyes to areas where we are slipping. Americans are becoming increasingly lazy. I see it more in my generation than in the generations who came before me. The Germans, for the most part, are extremely dedicated and intentional in everything they do. Everything has meaning and purpose, and they know the ramifications of their actions. Americans seem to go through life without such vision. Being in Germany has taught me the necessity to be intentional. As the saying goes, “Everyone ends up somewhere, Some people end up there on purpose.”
Being submerged in German culture has also taught me the importance of looking to the past in order to shape the future. Germany still has the guilt of the Third Reich hanging over their head, and to some extent, they probably always will, but Germany has truly fostered their past in order to achieve a greater good. They have emerged like a phoenix from the ashes and have used their past to propel them forward as a world leader in economics, industry, agriculture, domestic policy, and more. They understand the lessons that the past can teach them for the present and the future. My German Enigma interviewee said this practice of looking into the past also serves them well in the workplace: “If something goes wrong in a German company, fewer people would show up, and they would discuss what is the reason or cause of the problem before they even think about solving it. It would be a much longer process in a German company, and they would not get results as quickly, but in the long run, they would avoid more problems. Americans get quick results but may not avoid similar problems in the future.” Germany goes for long-term health and success; America goes for the quick fix. I think this also ties back in to Germany’s dedication to hard work and intentionality.
Although Germany is a post-Christian nation and is becoming increasingly secular, through our interactions with those who belong to free churches like Lifestream, I witnessed a deeper commitment to Christ than what is necessary in the United States. After learning that Germany has both a state catholic and evangelical church, and that 2/3 of the population belong to it and pay taxes to it, I understand the deeper commitment necessary in order to belong to a church like Lifestream that we have all over the United States. I was floored to learn that if a student does not check protestant or catholic in school surveys, church clergy will show up at his or her house the next day. I also was surprised to learn of the alienation one can experience for belonging to a free church. For the church leaders at free churches, many of them do not get paid for all they do. They have families, full time jobs, and other responsibilities, yet they serve whole-heartedly and work as unto the Lord. They do not do it for pay, for power, or for popularity; they do it because they are passionate to see their fellow people know and love God and know and love others. Because of the greater commitment and consequences of belonging to a free church, I believe those I encountered at Lifestream are far more intentional and serious about their faiths than many Christians I have encountered in the United States. They know exactly what they are signing up for, and they do it with enthusiasm and passion. I have learned a lot from the earnest Christians I have met in Germany amidst a very secular culture. They inspire me to love God deeper and with more intentionality and joy.
Why It Matters
What we AMBEX students have learned over here was not meant to stay here. It was meant to leave an impact on us that will affect how we live and operate upon returning to the states. It was meant to teach us things that we can go back home and hopefully teach to those who have not had the opportunity to observe the world and our country through the eyes of a different culture. It was meant to teach us things about ourselves that we learned from studying other people, observing the German culture, and traveling the world more or less on our own for the first time in our lives. What we learned at AMBEX matters profoundly because it has taught us lessons that we could not have gained any other way. I have personally learned more than I can even express in words. I have learned of faults in my country and my life that I want to go back and be intentional about. I have gained a better understanding of global issues that affect both Germany and my country, whether my country is aware of them or not. I have learned of a type of Christian life that is not stagnant but is forced to be fully lived, fully intentional, and fully personal. I have observed a country that has come from a tumultuous past but has learned how to use their mistakes in order to make a new name for themselves in the present and leave a new legacy. I believe all that we have learned matters significantly because changing a life starts with changing a mind. In Romans 12, Paul says, “Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed through the renewing of your mind.” Changing the mind is the first step to changing the heart and changing the life. As our lives our changed through what we have learned, my hope is that those we know and our collective communities we encounter will be changed as well. I pray they will learn through us valuable lessons that can impact their lives and the lives of the unique community they interact with. Knowledge is the spark that ignites hearts to move, lives to change, and communities and cultures to be transformed. I hope AMBEX is one of those sparks for our lives and the people around us.
What Actions and Practices are Needed/ How I Plan to Apply it to My Life
An important quote that comes to my mind while pondering this question is from a Christian song by Brooke Fraser in which she says, “Now that I have seen, I am responsible.” The first action we AMBEX students need to take is to remember. We must be intentional about remembering the things we have seen, the culture we have observes, and the conversations we have shared, both with the locals and with each other. Remembering is crucial in our path going forward. For me, this will look like spending a couple weeks processing and writing more about how I have personally been impacted by this semester and this class. It will also more likely than not include further conversations with my classmates, as no one else will fully understand what has been experienced like we ourselves will. I think it is crucial that we learn further from each other and engage in more conversations as we transition back to life in the states. Another crucial step for me will be to analyze. I am confident that I will experience a greater culture shock returning to the states than what I experienced arriving in Germany. My goal is going to be to journal about the differences I noticed between Germany and the states in order to fully learn from the unique experience I had in a completely different culture. Another goal I am setting more myself is to stay aware. I have naturally always been interested in current events, but I have always been drawn more to the Middle East than to Europe. However, being in Germany has shown me just about much Europe and the West in general are affected by every event, regardless of location. Therefore, I am going to set a goal to look at the news, both worldwide and European, a couple times a week in order to stay informed and knowledgable about what is occurring outside my own little world in Portland. My last goal for myself is spiritual. While I have been in Germany, I have grown incredibly spiritually both through the classes and through my own devotions and reflections. I want to spend more time reading books and works from the great theologians who have come before me, like Luther and Calvin as well as Bonhoeffer and C.S. Lewis. Being in Germany has taught me the importance of looking into the past in order to know my Christian heritage and the brilliant truth of past theologians and pastors. My goal this summer is to read a book by one past famous theologian per week. AMBEX has reminded me of my love for reading, and with so much extra time upon arriving in the states, I want to take advantage of it in order to further my own personal faith. My other spiritual goal is to maintain a posture of thankfulness. I know that I will have a tendency to miss Germany an extreme amount and forego thankfulness for where I am in the present. However, through prayer and intentionally, it is my goal to remain present in the moment while putting into practice the lessons I have learned from AMBEX and the experiences I have gained.