Blog

Reconciliation

20180929_124138

Last week I had the privilege of attending the European Baptist Federation Council meeting in Lviv, Ukraine. Though I have attended other EBF conferences this past year, this was my first time attending the council meeting– the annual meeting where delegates from many of the 52 member nations from all over Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia gather together as one.

For four days I was blessed to spend time with my Baptist siblings from Spain to Russia, and Norway to Lebanon. It is always a profound and beautiful experience to be a part of such gatherings; to see the diverse body of Christ together.

The theme of the council meeting this year was reconciliation in Christ– a powerful and sometimes tricky subject to broach with such a diverse group of people. But especially relevant, for as we met in Lviv on the western side of Ukraine, war rages in the east where Russia currently occupies two regions of Ukraine.

It was immensely powerful then to see Russian Baptists and Ukrainian Baptists stand shoulder to shoulder to worship and reflect and pray together. A bold act of reconciliation in Christ.

The whole council meeting was a miracle of reconciliation in its own way. Anyone who has ever picked up a history book would see that not only Russians and Ukrainians gathering together is a miracle. Having Poles, Germans, French, Israeli, Palestinian, British, Bosnian, Austrians and so many more all gathered peacefully is a miracle. All to proclaim a kingdom that transcends borders. Gathered to pray for and support brothers and sisters who share a holy citizenship. A beautiful miracle of reconciliation indeed.

Throughout our time together we discussed and reflected on where reconciliation was needed in Europe, in the world, and in the Church.

Paul Msize, the current President of the Baptist World Alliance, spoke on his experiences growing up in Apartheid South Africa. A story of reconciliation that is still unfolding.

He pointed out that Apartheid in South Africa was supported by a theology. That in South Africa churches propped up and encouraged racial discrimination and segregation. To this day churches all over the world prop up and encourage not only racial discrimination but other forms of discrimination and division. These theologies and practices of the church hinder the words of the Gospel and the work of God’s kingdom.

I confess, I sometimes don’t have hope for the Church. It worries me how often churches support bad theologies and are content with the silent suffering of the marginalized. I worry how much the church is getting in the way of the good news.

And I wonder if the scope of reconciliation needed in the world and in the Church is so much wider than we sometimes think.

That the work of reconciliation includes hearing the pain of women, people of color, LGBTQ people, displaced peoples, disabled people, and foreigners. Reconciliation work is expansive and difficult, but it is work that we are called to as peacemakers in God’s Kingdom.

Paul emphasized that our humanity is bound up in the humanity of others. What dehumanizes you, dehumanizes me.

This past weekend I was able to be a part of a conference in my church where we hosted Tony Campolo. He echoed Paul Msize’s words in my mind and furthered them, pointing that our actions towards others are indeed actions done unto Christ as we see from Jesus’ words in Matthew 25.

Yes, there is much work of reconciliation to do in our broken world. I am thankful for a God who forgives and teaches us to forgive as we march and stumble along on in this work of reconciliation.

We ended our time in Ukraine together with worship and prayer. I sat and listened as everyone prayed for one another. A low murmur of dozens of voices joining together in a sea of prayer.

I let myself get lost in the ebb and flow of their words.

Every so often I could hear a word rise above others, crests in the sea: Peace, grace, mercy, love, encouragement, blessings.

God’s spirit glided like a breeze above their sea of prayers.

It’s moments like these that give me great hope for the Church. Where I see Christ’s body taking bold actions towards peace and reconciliation in our world.

I am continually thankful to be present amongst European Baptists. To learn from them, to work with them, and to experience God amongst them.

May we all continue to listen well and fight for reconciliation.

If you would like to hear more about the reconciling work of the EBF, especially in Ukraine check out this article here. Pray for peace and safety in Ukraine.

 

As I hit publish, I am sitting in the Vienna Airport waiting to board my plane back in the States for a few weeks! I look forward to being home, spending time with family and friends, and seeing how God is working back in the US.

Grace and Peace

Will

Advertisements

525,600 Minutes

20180731_211948(0)As I approach the end of my first year in Europe I can’t help but think of the song “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent. It was one of the first songs I heard that made me fall in love with musical theater so many years ago. #sorrynotsorry for making a musical theater reference as I reflect back on this incredible journey I’ve been on this past year.

As an American that studied at a business school, I am constantly thinking about measurements and trying to quantify the experiences of this past year. Have I done enough? Have I made enough of an impact? Have I spent enough hours in a week doing ministry work? Have I helped refugees enough this week? Am I enough?

I think about how I should quantify success for this past year. How do I measure a year in my life?

Is it the number of times I’ve vacuumed the floors or run the dishwasher for the church? Is it the number of times I’ve cleaned the toilets? Or the number of ants I’ve killed in my months-long conquest to keep the church bug free?

Is it the number of planes, trains, boats, and cars I’ve traveled in? Is it the number of countries I’ve traveled to or the number of stamps in my passport?

Is it the number of new Facebook friends or Instagram followers I’ve gained this year? Or the new numbers in my phone? Is it the number of new people who know my name?

Is it the number of Bible studies I’ve taught? Or worship sets I’ve led? Or language classes I’ve taught? Or church services I’ve participated in?

Is it the number of asylum hearings I’ve attended or refugee stories I’ve heard?

Is it the number of blog pieces I’ve written? Or email updates I’ve sent out? Or postcards I’ve mailed?

Is it the number of theological classes I’ve attended or the number of pages I’ve read? Is it the number of new books that I’ve added to my reading list?

Is it the amount of money I’ve fundraised for myself?

How do I measure this year in my life?
To take a cue from the drug addicted, HIV positive, and queer cast of characters from Rent I think it’s best to measure this year in Love.

To measure this year in the quiet moments I felt God stir me in the middle of our Spanish speaking church service.

In the wine-soaked bread that I’ve shared with countless people from dozens of countries.

In the cheers and applause erupting as another person breaks from the water, baptized and beaming.

In the hysterical laughter that ensues after someone misunderstood an acronym in the best and most inappropriate way possible.

To measure this year in ice cream shared with new friends and long walks shared with old ones.

In the driving beat of Persian music and the throng of people dancing without a care in the world.

In the sips of wine consumed on the slopes of a winery surrounded by dear friends.

In the exuberance that echoes around the room when someone receives a positive asylum status. In the hugs and prayers when someone receives a negative.

In the words of praise sung in different languages. In the prayers spoken to a God who understands Farsi and English and Spanish and French and German and Italian and Norwegian.

To measure this year in the mountains and the lakes and the seas and the trees and the streams and the wide open fields and the wind. Especially in the wind.

In the unexplainable connection that you sense when you are with others who have encountered a risen savior, even when you are different in every possible way.
Yes, I think I’d rather measure my year in the Love that was woven into the fabric of it, like a gentle breeze sifting through the leaves of a forest; intangible yet somehow vibrantly real. Indeed I know that Love is a gift from up above and it is enough.
I am overwhelmed looking back at the journey I have taken.

Almost a year ago, I said I was setting out on an adventure with God.

And what an adventure it has been.

I cannot wait to continue on this adventure for another year and to see what abundant measures of Love I will experience.

Grace and Peace

Will

Communion

20180616_134925

There are moments that I’m not sure I believe in God.

I went through a pretty major faith transition in university where I questioned the existence of God for the first time. Much of this transition also involved questioning the church, its troubling history, and its often equally troubling present. I would say that I am still rebuilding from that deconstruction, and probably will be for the rest of my life. This faith transition is one of the things I’m most thankful for in my faith walk. It has made my faith more nuanced, rich, beautiful, and real.

I still have questions and doubts and I continue to wrestle with God. But, there are a few experiences that regularly confirm my belief in God and the gospel. Communion is one of them.

The first Sunday of the month all three congregations from my church gather together for a joint service. We do this so that we all take communion as one family.  Together refugees, a smattering of Europeans, a handful of North and South Americans, and others come one by one to receive the elements.

It is a profoundly beautiful experience.

A few weeks ago I was able to attend a missions and evangelism conference sponsored by the European Baptist Federation.

Generally, I feel uncomfortable with anything with the word evangelism in it because I have so much negative connotation with the word, but this conference was absolutely amazing. Three days of hearing stories from around the whole continent of Europe from Great Britain to Belarus; stories of exhaustion, miracles, persecution, and hope.

My favorite moment of the conference was when we took communion together.

About 30 people from 15 countries sat in a semi-circle and passed around the bread and the wine.

Each one taking it and passing it to their brother or sister next to them, quietly uttering the powerful words in their own language,

“Christ’s body broken for you.”

“Christ’s blood shed for you.”

There was an incredible amount of diversity in the room. Diversity of theological understanding, language, nationality, skin color, gender, age, sexuality, and background.

And yet, gathered around the table we were all equal.

At God’s table, our genders don’t matter.
Our sexualities don’t matter.
Our wealth doesn’t matter.
Our status doesn’t matter,
Our skin color doesn’t matter.
Our nationalities don’t matter.
Our background and histories don’t matter.
Our prejudices don’t matter.
Our judgments don’t matter.

All of our baggage and identities fall away in God’s presence represented in the simplicity of bread and wine.

There is profound and bold equality found in the kingdom of God.

Through God’s love and sacrifice on the cross, we are all but beloved, broken, precious children of the most high.

Jesus is the only thing I know that can unite such a diverse group of people in such a deep and beautiful way.

Jesus is the only thing I know that can heal thousands of years of hostility, war, strife, and death in one land. And continues to heal.

Yes, sometimes my experiences with other Christians and the Church make me doubt God’s existence but sitting in that room chewing on some Bulgarian bread and drinking some grape juice, God was real and powerful.

 

I am continually amazed by what God is doing through Baptists in Europe. This ragtag bunch of protestant rebels are doing awesome work and those of us who are American Christians have a lot to learn from European Baptists. Especially in their work with the least of these; the homeless, refugees, migrants, and victims of human trafficking. Baptists here are imperfect, but they are boldly loving those around them and I am thrilled to dive deeper into this work in my second year in Europe. To journey with my European Baptist siblings, to support what God is doing here, and to humbly learn how vast the kingdom of God is.

Check out the “About Page” on my blog for more information on what my second year in Europe will look like.

Grace and Peace,

Will

Baptism

20180520_103717

We left on this church retreat without a secured place to do baptisms. It’s a detail you think would have been figured out before you go five hours from home to baptize people, but my church doesn’t always operate in the details.

And yet, God provided a beautiful space for 14 people to show their outward commitment to Christ.

Alpine lakes seem like tricks of the mind. Your gaze starts at the gentle waves hitting the beach. Your eyes slowly make their way across the peaceful lake disturbed only by a few ducks gliding through the water. And then suddenly the gentle ripple of the water is interrupted by an impossibly large mountain, so high that its snow-capped peaks blend with the plump white clouds in the atmosphere and you can’t quite tell where the mountain ends and where the sky begins.

You are struck with this dichotomy of experiences; of this peace that comes from sitting by a calm body of water and the awe that comes from standing in the shadow of something so huge and magnificent.

Appropriately in this space, we were able to baptize people from all over the world. Where we stand in the peace of a new life and reverence of a magnificent and huge God.

My church floods this beautiful landscape, bringing a joyful chaos to the scene. Children don’t wait for permission from their parents to jump into the cool lake waters. We sit together on wet grass and sing praises in four languages. Four individuals reflect on Pentecost, each speaking one of the languages of our church; Spanish, Farsi, German, and English. Indeed our little service on the lake is a taste of what the original pentecost must have looked like. Individuals coming from every corner of the world hearing the good news of Christ proclaimed in their own language.

And then it was time for the baptisms. The 14 individuals, from Iran, Afghanistan, and Chile come to the front of the crowd. All decked out in the closest thing to white they own. Baptismal robes are optional in this church.

The typical questions are asked of each individual, but one extra question is added:

“Are you prepared to face persecution and danger because of your proclamation in Christ today.”

This is not a question of if you face persecution, it’s a question of when.

And this is not American persecution. This is not a matter of having to serve customers who are gay or offend you in some other way. This is not a matter of having your ten commandments taken down from a public, non-religious space. This is not a matter of losing your influence on society and power in political leadership.

This persecution is death. Prison. Torture. Rejection from children, parents, spouses, and best friends. Rejection from your country, your culture, and everything that was once home to you.

This brief swim in an Alpine lake brings with it heavy consequences.

And every single person standing in that line, enthusiastically proclaimed, “yes.”

For them Jesus, and this new family of God is enough.

And so they wade, one by one through the waters to their loving pastors waiting for them. And one by one they go down into the water and break forth into a new day. A new life.

Witnessing this made me think back to my own baptism when I was just nine years old. It makes me reflect on my own decision as a young innocent elementary schooler. I wonder if I was really ready. I wonder if I really knew what I was getting myself into; if I fully understood what I was signing myself up for by donning an oversized baptismal robe and getting dunked in front of my church.

I’ve wondered if I would have made that decision again had I known the full consequences of my decision. If I had felt the full weight of that act.

A week later at bible study one of the men who was baptized hugged me and with tears in his eyes said, “I am six days old today!”

Yes, I think I would choose this family and this life again and again. Because this love and my savior are enough.

All praise to our huge, magnificent, peaceful God for this expanding family.

Grace and Peace,

Will

The Donauhof

20180107_180039It’s a really quite a remarkable space. Currently very dusty, but even layers of concrete dust can’t hide the character of the space.

Most know it as the Donauhof, or Danube court in English. Throughout its history it has been known as a hotel, a mechanic’s shop, and a woodworking warehouse.

Now, my church just wants to call it home.

The pale yellow building in Vienna’s second district sits just a block from the historic Danube river. The second district was historically the Jewish district of Vienna, so it’s no surprise that the Donauhof’s first life was as a hotel run by a Jewish family. You can still see fingerprints of this hotel in the present day building; Gorgeous original parquet wood floors, nicotine stained ceilings in the old bar, and the space’s main feature, a cavernous ballroom framed by two huge fireplaces.

Walking around the dusty building, you can almost feel the life that once animated the space. Unfortunately, like many things, World War II stole life away from where it had once thrived. Once Austria was annexed by Hitler, it became illegal for Jews to own property and businesses. And so the Donauhof, like countless other spaces across Europe, was seized by the Nazis.

We don’t know what became of the family that owned the hotel, but after the war, like most other seized properties, the first floor of the Donauhof was sold. After all, families had already moved into the newly refurbished apartments that once acted as hotel rooms. How could you kick out a dozen good Austrian families to return property to one Jewish family?

Walls were torn down, concrete poured over the wood floor and soon cars were driving into the old ballroom for routine inspection. Eventually, cars gave way to saws and woodworking equipment and piles of axe handles and hobby horses began to litter the space.

And then it came time for a new opportunity. In 2014 the Donauhof was yet again up for sale. Numerous national grocery store chains pounced on the opportunity for the prime real estate in the growing second district.

And another group put their name in the running. A relatively small community of refugees, students, toddlers, and theologians who had only recently officially been recognized as a church by the government. A motley crew showed up to the fight empty handed, facing giants.

And yet, somehow, through divine providence perhaps, a small, crazy bunch of Baptists won the fight.

Suddenly this rough, broken, tired, storied space became ours.

The past three years the Donauhof has been an ongoing project, chipping away at the concrete and walls to unearth the lively space it once was. To see past the rubble to what the space could be. To breathe life back into a space where life was snatched away.

I love the vision that my church has for this space. We aren’t shoving it into a cookie cutter church mold with lights, a stage, a cross, and pulpit. No, our Donauhof will be so much more than that.

It will be a cafe, where refugees will work. Where the whole community is welcome to gather for coffee or a beer. And it’s profits will support our refugee integration work in the church, blessing refugees for years to come.

It will be a co-working space. A space where young entrepreneurs can rent a desk and dream. Where new ideas are born and become something beautiful.

And it will be a big amazing ballroom open as a conference space. A gathering place for all people; for a feminist businesswomen’s conference, a Baptist missions conference, a fancy birthday party.

And yes a church too. But it will never look like what you think a church should look like. There will be no Austrian flag hanging next to a christian flag. There will be no cross or crucifix on the wall. There will be no pews or incense or hymnals or flowers.

In fact the only way someone will know it’s a church is by the people who gather there. And isn’t that a truer representation of a church than any space could ever be?

And so, a building that once held life and belief and God will once again live. Because the living God will dwell in the hearts of those who worship there. And our praises and prayers and love will seep into its walls so that everyone who walks into the Donauhof will encounter the Spirit of God.

I love that my church lives by faith. That it goes up against huge corporations to follow the path that God put them on. And how at every step of this project we have collectively learned to live more and more by faith.

God has brought us again and again back to God’s feet, empty handed, exhausted, and uncertain.

And God has provided at every step. As I know God will do again now.

We find ourselves yet again here at God’s feet, empty handed. A few weeks ago we hit a significant roadblock: we are not permitted to use the space for any purpose for the foreseeable future. This includes services for our growing church and any events that could bring in desperately needed funds. And without funds we can’t finish the remodeling work, the most important of which include fire doors, smoke proof glass in the skylights, and other things required to get the proper permits.

Regardless of the obstacles in our path, we will not give up. We refuse to give up, for we believe that God has called us to this space. And while a couple hundred thousand Euros is daunting to us, we worship a God of abundant miracles.

Who takes a few fish and feeds thousands.

Who turns some water into an excess of fine wine.

Who tells his disciples, “try the other side of the boat” and overwhelms them with abundance.

And who defeats death over and over and over again to breathe in new life.

Help us breathe new life into this space, so that God’s glory may be magnified.

If you are interested in supporting this project financially, please email me at wmcumbia@email.wm.edu for details.

Grace and Peace,

Will

Climb Every Mountain

 

IMG_9925

Some of my favorite moments I’ve had in Europe have been while hiking. From the quiet mountains jutting from crystal blue lakes in Austria to Arthur’s Seat in the middle of bustling Edinburgh, I’ve seen some amazing vistas in my time here.

It’s quite astounding to look back towards the path from which you came. To see how the winding path that didn’t seem to lead to the summit suddenly make sense from the top of the mountain. Life is similar sometimes, isn’t it? Often our path can seem sporadic and random. As a young-twenty something, I’ve wondered how all of my experiences could possibly lead to any one clear place.

Yet, standing on one of life’s summits, it’s amazing to look back and see the path I’ve walked. To see how so many of my experiences in the past have unexpectedly prepared me perfectly for what I am doing right now.

To see how my love for singing and musical theater prepared me perfectly for singing at an elderly home in London. I was blessed to watch everyone in the room light up and sing along with me to “My Favorite Things.”

To see how my dealings with anxiety in the past prepared me perfectly for the moment a woman on the brink of homelessness shared with me her own experiences of anxiety. I was blessed to look into her eyes and tell her I knew exactly how she felt and for her to have someone understand her even for just a moment.

To see how my time as a conversational english partner in my BCM’s international ministry prepared me perfectly for working with people from different cultures everyday. I am continually blessed to learn from people from around the world.

To see how my nine semesters of foreign language study in college, though not in German, made me more comfortable being around people I couldn’t understand. I am blessed to use whatever words I know to connect with others, even to lead worship in a language other than english.

To see how my experiences doing short-term mission trips prepared me perfectly to put myself out there even when I was uncomfortable. I am blessed every time I push myself out of my comfort zone and meet God halfway.

To see how a life lived in the Baptist church prepared me to connect with other Baptists from all over the world. I am blessed beyond measure by this quirky family even when I disagree with them.

So somehow, “The Sound of Music” and mental health issues and hanging out with Chinese people and learning French and adventures in Puerto Rico and being Baptist all somehow combine perfectly.

There is beauty in looking back down the mountain to see the path that we’ve taken. To see how God takes our gifts, talents, and experiences and uses them in unexpected ways for our present moment.

Each day is an adventure in Vienna and I can’t wait to see how God is preparing me for whatever adventures come next.

Grace and Peace,

Will

Where in the World is William Sandiego?

Hey y’all. Sorry for the long absence of posts, but the past weeks have been extremely crazy. Here’s a quick re-cap of my adventures!

As a part of my year abroad, my church sent our interns out to other parts of the world to gain a bigger picture of church. I was extremely blessed to spend two weeks in Romford, England, a town a part of the greater London area. It was a wonderful and busy time of fun and ministry. I shared musical theater classics with 90 year olds, ate tea and toast with homeless people, sang two offertories, ate cakes with an adult special needs group, and even played the devil in a short drama. In my spare moments I snuck up to London to explore royal palaces, cavernous cathedrals, lush green parks, and treated myself to an early 24th birthday present seeing Les Misérables (It was flawless and breathtakingly beautiful). Also, an important note, I ate Chipotle twice. Anyone who knows me well will know I am a Qdoba man 10,000%, but the Chipotles of London briefly satiated my deep yearning for Mexican food that hasn’t left me since I departed from America.

 

Suffice to say, my time in London was busy but absolutely incredible. The people of Romford were splendid hosts and they will forever have a place in my heart.

Then the real adventure began. I jumped on the Hogwarts Express at King’s Cross station(I did take a train that left from King’s Cross, its end station may or may not have been Hogwarts, let a Hufflepuff  dream a little) and found myself in Scotland a few hours later. I enjoyed a few days visiting friends in the stunning town of St. Andrews, meeting some great Scottish Baptists, and searching for the childhood homes of my great-grandmother in the neighboring town of Scone, Scotland.

I then hitched a ride down to Edinburgh for few days of muddy and beautiful hikes, royal palaces and castles, and lots of sheep. Scotland is amazing, in case you didn’t already know.

The adventure continued in the charming villages of the Cotswolds as I spent a lovely few days with my cousin in Cheltenham, England. I shot a bullseye with a longbow at an ancient stone castle, had an amazing scone with clotted cream and jam in an old tea house, almost stole an adorable lamb from a field, and immensely enjoyed time with family.

Then back to London briefly for one more church service and I was off on a plane. The UK is an lovely place filled with lovely people. Yes, they drive on the left side of the road and it’s terrifying. Yes, they drink as much tea as you think they do. And yes, their English is quite different. Tell me what your reaction would be when an English woman tells you you’re having “Bubble and Squeak” for dinner.

At this point, you may be thinking, “Gee, I’m tired just reading about all of this travel, he surely must be back in Vienna by now?” Nope.

I then flew to Rome.

Another one of my compatriots from my church in Vienna spent February in Rome. And when you know someone who is living in Rome, you go and visit them. Rome is magical and dirty and loud and, for the three days I was there, snowy. Yes, the Beast from the East was real y’all. Despite the Romans freaking out about the weather, I was still able to hit the highlights of Rome and fulfill childhood dreams of walking in the Coliseum and around the Roman forum. Though I never dreamed of getting hit by a stray snowball in the shadow of the Coliseum.

Next stop was Florence, and I will have to return some day because I left part of my heart there. What an absolutely stunning and charming place. We had one good day of sightseeing and then the Beast from the East did us in. We trudged out in the cold, wet wintery mix to get a good look at Michelangelo’s David, which is astonishingly beautiful, and then barricaded ourselves indoors the rest of our second day in Florence.

The final stop on the scenic route home was Venice. Our train ride to Venice looked more like a ride through the foothills of the Austrian Alps and less like Tuscany, but I am thankful for the unique experiences I am taking away from my time in Italy.

Venice was rainy and cold, but we still enjoyed our time there. The city seems like it shouldn’t exist, especially in the rain. It seems impossible that so much could be built on so little land and that water hasn’t completely taken over the city. St. Mark’s square was completely flooded, as was the foyer of the church.

One of my favorite parts of Venice was the Sunday service of the Baptist church we were staying at. It was a Sunday for international prayer and a rock star group of women were leading the service. They told the stories of women around the world who work in agriculture. The resounding message of the service was that we need to be better stewards of our environment. It was amazing to hear women preach the week before International Women’s day and to hear a strong message of environmentalism in a city that’s existence is threatened by climate change. I was also astounded at how much Italian I understood years after my two semesters of university Italian.

We departed Venice on a night train and finally, after a long and wonderful five weeks of travel, arrived home in Vienna, reunited with my beautiful city, beautiful church, and beautiful people.

I have officially reached the halfway point of my year. I still can’t believe it all. That I am really seeing the continent I’ve dreamed of for so long and experiencing all that I’m experiencing. That I’ve been to 8 countries, met so many wonderful people, and learned so much. And I’m only half-way through.

My time here has been wonderful and surprisingly different than what I expected, but I cannot wait to see what surprises God has in store for me in these next six months.

Thank you for all the prayer and support as I continue on this wonderful adventure.

Grace and Peace,

Will

P.S. Here are some pictures:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.