by Rev. Ron Jetter
When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. -- Matthew 9:36-38
Summer is a time for many to recharge, to get away from it all. Sometimes we do this by getting into it all -- that is, by doing something energizing and exciting.
This was the case for us as we finally fulfilled our dream of taking the kids to see some of Europe's great cities. Among the favorite of many travelers, including us, is a city whose thick, high walls and gothic-style buildings take one back to medieval times: Rothenburg ob der Tauber in central Germany.
Though air reservations were made months in advance, we planned on being flexible once we landed. We would stay with former exchange students part of the time and travel from place to place by train, stopping where we wanted to without hotel reservations. Our experience here had taught us that one can usually find a decent room even without reservations. This had worked well the first two times, finding suitable lodging within a short walk of the train stations. We knew that finding a place inside the walled "Old Town" of Rothenburg might be difficult, but there would be plenty of places in the surrounding modern city.
We arrived at 7:50 p.m., travel-weary and hungry. No sooner had we all gotten off the train than a woman of about 80 years with a smile and bright, sparkling eyes came up to us and asked, "Haben Sie ein Schlaffzimmer fur diese Nacht?" Fortunately, having spent every Monday evening for four years studying German, we knew what she was asking. "Did we have a room to sleep in yet?" I answered, "Nein, wir brauchen ein shlaffzimmer fur vier" (No, we need a room for four."
"Jah, Sie konnen mit mir kommen."
And with that we found our bags being put in the back of an old hatchback car, while we quickly stuffed ourselves in. As our hostess, Ruth Goetz, began driving away with us at speeds unsafe for in-town driving I began to ask myself, "What have I gotten my family into? I should have asked the price. How far is she from the Old Town? Are we going to be taken advantage of?" Questions came out as we drove the mile or so to her "pension" (pronounced pen-see-own). She had eight rooms, four with their own private bath/shower and three that used shared facilities. For a reasonable price she gave us two rooms with two beds in each, both with bathrooms, and provided breakfast the next morning. She even gave us transportation into Old Town so we would arrive in time to take the Night Watchman Tour.
Ruth Goetz didn't wait for people to find her. She had created a clean, safe haven for weary travelers and a hospitality that was second to none. But she went to the extra effort of knowing the train schedules, of going as many times a day as necessary to meet trains, to discern who she needed to approach in order to both fill her rooms (it was her income on which she lived) and serve the need of travelers. She had learned what it meant to go into the harvest as a laborer.
I can't think of a better lesson for me as a pastor and Christian to learn than this one simple one. Our churches are clean, safe places (at least I hope we do all we can to make them so) that have room for the weary, for those who have come here lost, or in need. What does it mean for us to "go" as Ruth went? Where are the "train stations" of life where those in need of God's unconditional love to be found? How can we learn the schedules and rhythms of the lives of the unchurched so as to go out to them, rather than waiting for them to come to us?
Vacations are a time to recharge. For us pastors they are also a time to remember that some of the best lessons do not come from books but out of the lives of God's people.
- Rev. Ron Jetter of Our Saviour's Lutheran Church in Sunnyside.