Where We’ve Landed

Hiking with Timmy and my dad in the mountains  around our new home.

Hiking with Timmy and my dad in the mountains around our new home.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.

John Muir, “The Yosemite”

After a supper of delicious hamburgers with my parents, I leave the chalet half an hour before sunset, turning right to walk up our short road towards its origin at the nearby Interstate. I walk towards a glowing mountain, Guye Peak, its rocks and trees shining in the day’s last light.

Our road isn’t a long one; tonight I’ll traverse every inch of it twice in under half an hour. Settled comfortably among fir and hemlock trees are steep tin roofs and fortified first floors, built to withstand the ten feet of snow that some winters bring to this mountain community, their long gravel driveways branching off of the main road like veins on an alder leaf. Some of the houses are inhabited year-round, and many are not. It’s the sort of place you’d expect to be lonely and quiet, solitude for better or worse.

You’d be wrong, though. Though this year will hold many things for us, some still hidden around corners we can’t foresee, I suspect that solitude won’t be one of them. By the time Luciana arrives in November, we’ll be six people and four generations in this chalet, a green-trimmed house with three bears painted cheerfully on its front. We are sharing space, coffee, the occasional box of peaches, catching rides together for errands to the nearest “big town” and the even bigger city, an hour away.

Timmy splits wood with the neighbors!

What’s more, this street itself is alive with community. Rain or shine at seven each morning, the neighbors gather with dogs and friends to walk to the mailboxes a half-mile up the road, swapping stories of the previous day and sharing plans for this one. Most of these long summer evenings see us gathering again, this time at the far end of the road, a cul-de-sac just a stone’s throw from the thundering highway, where someone has painted a pickleball court for our community amusement. There is a book club, regular movie nights and block parties. Already we’ve been invited to trivia night at the local brewery and a luau that was unfortunately postponed due to July rain.

Halfway through my walk, a car full of neighbors pulls up beside me, all of its windows rolled down. “We saw your sister today!” squeals a tiny voice from the backseat, upon which his parents eagerly tell of their trip to Seattle, which included a stop for cookies and coffee at Holly’s Danish bakery. The boys wave newly-acquired toys and tell of the wonders of the summer day, and the parents ask about Timmy’s trip to Germany and how I’m faring without him for these few weeks.

After five years in the overseas missions community, I’ve concluded that there are as many different kinds of Home Ministry Assignments as there are missionaries. Some spend twelve months traveling coast to coast, racking up the miles and the churches, sleeping in living rooms and sharing meals with far-flung friends, family, supporters and alumni. Others settle in one place, seeking the stability of school and community for their children. No two years are alike.

With Timmy’s internship at the VA hospital starting in September and a baby joining us in November, the scaffolding of our year is somewhat clearer than it was ten months ago, when we began planning for this season. There will still be surprises, we know, places where the expectation and the reality don’t line up as we thought they would. Still, we’re reminded daily that it is the grace of God and the support of many, many people that allows us this time, and grateful with each morning walk, each smile across the dinner table, to share this place with people we love.

The North Cascades

The North Cascades


Our Welcome Home sign at our home for the year, courtesy of two adorable neighbor boys.

Our Welcome Home sign at our home for the year, courtesy of two adorable neighbor boys.

Fernweh: (n.) an ache for distant places, the craving for travel

A few years ago, a small niche of young American women on Pinterest with some experience in German taught me a new word: Fernweh. While its antoymn Heimweh has a direct English translation–homesickness–Fernweh (pronounced FAIRN-vay) claims no English equivalent. The closest approximation, in fact, is another German word: Wanderlust, the proverbial “itchy feet” of habitual travelers. Yet because of its literal translation–“distance pain”–and the Pinterest comments from a few friends who experience this literally everywhere they are, I’ve always ascribed it a somewhat different meaning: “The ache for faraway places.” Geographical nostalgia.

Exactly one month after leaving Germany, it’s this word that I’m thinking of this morning, even as I look out of my parents’ upstairs window at slender, swaying hemlocks and hear little more than birds. I ache for faraway places. But this has been one of them for a long time, and today it’s not. I’m here.

The concept of a Home Ministry Assignment–called furlough by previous generations of missionaries–is somewhat new to me. Indeed, since the transformation from adventurous teacher to long-term missionary was a gradual one for me, the fact that I’m embarking on such an assignment at all sometimes strikes me as surprising, and amazing. A unexpected gift, both this calling and this year away, our time so far unfolds daily with surprises and opportunities.

Fun in Virginia with the Poe family!

Fun in Virginia with the Poe family!

Surprises like the necessity of driving everywhere, which I’d forgotten, or the deliciousness of Chick-fil-A, which I’d never experienced. Opportunities like being blessed with a new baby during this time away, or Timmy’s chaplaincy internship with the Seattle Veterans Hospital. I don’t know what this year will hold, exactly, except that it will be here, not there.

And I’ll miss there. I’ll miss walks through the green hills and cobbled streets, the mental gymnastics of a language not my own. More than those, I’ll miss the clever and curious young people that we’ve been fortunate to teach and serve these last five years. These longings remind me that our work there isn’t finished, that by God’s provision and with the support of many family, friends and partners we’ll be back again.

Still, the danger of the Fernweh that draws me to another home is much like the danger of nostalgia. The temptation to get lost in longing takes me away from the real goodness surrounding me both here and now. I don’t want to miss an afternoon on the lake with our dear friends in Virginia, or the sign that our neighbor boys made to welcome us to our new home in Snoqualmie Pass. I will be grateful every day, whether it is for the friendly strangers at the North Bend DMV or the long-loved faces of my siblings, gathered around a table for the first time since our wedding. There is much to love everywhere, eye-stinging beauty that takes my breath away with the reminder that I’m deeply loved by a good God.

A welcome dinner with my brother, sister-in-law, sister and her boyfriend.

A welcome dinner with my brother, sister-in-law, sister and her boyfriend.

Pray for us this year, friends. Some days I know that gratefulness will be a harder choice, when finding a used car is fraught with difficulty or we’re trying to sort out the expensive process by which German medical records become English ones. In the end, though, I’m thankful, for this home and that one, for the one we’ve just left in Virginia and the countless people who welcome us wherever we go. God has filled our life with a wealth of love and beauty, and I’m excited to see the wonders and meet the challenges that this new year will hold.

July: News, Thanks and Prayers

Timmy and one of our recent graduates, all smiles on Graduation Day!

Timmy and one of our recent graduates, all smiles on Graduation Day!

News and Dates:

  • July 13: Return to Washington State
  • For those who haven’t yet heard, we learned this month are having a baby girl! Our daughter, Luci (short for Luciana), is due mid-November, and we couldn’t be more excited!
  • Timmy will be traveling to Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, doing his service as an Air Force Chaplain in late July and early August.

I’m Thankful For:

  • The Class of 2015, who graduated with flying colors in June, and for the few seniors who dropped by in the days afterward to help us pack and move!
  • The Poe Family, who have generously opened their home to us for the last few weeks in Virginia Beach.
  • Virginia Beach Community Chapel, which has opened its doors and heart to us during our time in Virginia Beach. So thankful for this church home!

Please Be In Prayer For:

  • Transition (and wheels). Though we’re on the North American side of the Atlantic now, we’re still very much in moving mode. We’re currently in the process of looking for a car, preferably one with all-wheel drive that will see us through a snowy winter living at Snoqualmie Pass. (Feel free to email me if you know of one for sale!)
  • Connection. Pray for us as we reconnect with friends, family and supporters here in the U.S. Pray for meaningful conversation, and that God would give us the right words with which to share our experiences in His ministry for the past five years.

Lately, I have been overwhelmed with gratitude for the support and encouragement that you have shown and this ministry over the last five years. Please continue in your prayers as we enter this new chapter of our lives. If you have a prayer request or questions about ministry in Germany our our next steps, or if you’d like to become a financial partner in our ministry, email me at kristi.dahlstrom@gmail.com.

Peace in Christ,

Kristi & Timmy

Our Villages

Timmy got to preach at Virginia Beach Community Chapel this Father’s Day.

“Raise your hand if you ever taught me in a Sunday school class,” Timmy requests on Sunday morning.

I’m sitting in the front row of a fiercely air-conditioned sanctuary, shivering while outside the temperature climbs to 90˚ F before 9:00 AM. I’m not in Germany anymore.

Where I am is Virginia Beach Community Chapel, Timmy’s home church since he was ten. It holds a special place in his heart and his story, a similar place that Bethany Community holds in mine. Today–Father’s Day–he is giving the sermon, a call to missional living lived out within the context of family and hospitality.

“Keep your hands up,” he continues. “Now, raise your hand if you ever worked with me in youth group, or came alongside me as a mentor. Or really, even just had me over to your house, ever.”

I turn around to see a forest of hands waving back, a multitude of men and women who have invested in my husband’s life.

That is missional living,” he tells them. “I’m here because you poured into me.”

It’s a powerful moment, more than a mere illustration of his point, that living missionally isn’t tied the going overseas, evangelizing or church planting that we associate with the title of “missionary.” Looking at those hands, I’m reminded of the adage that “it takes a village” to raise a child.

Aside from the fact that we’re preparing to raise a child, eventually in a literal village, this phrase has proven as true in my life as it has in Timmy’s. Even in relatively isolated parts of rural Washington–San Juan Island and the Upper Skagit Valley–my childhood was a collage of friends and mentors, people who taught me not just German words and how to play t-ball, but what it meant to love and know Jesus.

My years in Seattle were deep and rich with such relationship, mostly at Bethany Community Church, where I found Christlike models of adulthood at every step, with their hospitality and time investment guiding me towards living out my faith in a way both personal and connected to our community. I’ve had many villages.

Timmy’s sermon reminds me that even titled missionaries like myself need to remember to be missional. My heart, my mind and my front door need to be open to the young people who fill my days, as I walk a few steps ahead of them on the journey of faith that they’re choosing, or trying to choose. As I’ve written about countless times, these last five years have turned out to be about much more than teaching. They’ve been about becoming part of a village, and in turn helping to invest love and life into the young people around me.

For now, though, it’s time to revisit our own villages. It’s truly a gift to spend these weeks in the East, visiting the places and people who have made my husband the incredible man that he is. And I’m excited to arrive in Seattle in mid-July, and Skagit County in September, eager to engage with gratitude in the communities that have spurred me onward in this journey.

Full Hearts, Empty House

Our living room, all ready for its next residents.

Our living room, all ready for its next residents.

The couch and chair left on Saturday, driving away in a van to Maugenhard. The remaining armchair we kept for a few more days, taking turns sitting in the last piece of furniture in our living room. The kitchen packed away in boxes at our future apartment, we ate pre-washed lettuce and pre-cooked chicken with pre-made salad dressing, off of plastic picnic plates. Monday, someone came to take away the last of the lamps, the armchair and the coffee table, and the transformation was complete.

Still, our last night in Germany for a while is quiet but not empty, even in our echoing living room. Two students ring the doorbell after our grocery-store salad supper, so now the four of us are sitting on the floor against the living-room wall. We talk as the room goes from the bright of late evening to twilight, finally and reluctantly turning on the garish overhead lights when it’s too dark to see each others’ faces. Recent graduates, they tell us stories from the past few days and years, and speculate about the future. College will take them–along with most of their classmates–an ocean away from our quiet village, but they’re savoring every moment here, living fully even into the pain of goodbyes as their hometown empties of familiar faces.

It’s a fitting last night for us, I think later. Not the fanfare of graduation, or even the glowing beauty of a walk through the vineyards or forests. Those things are truly spectacular gifts, moments that we’re privileged to enjoy in Kandern. In our darkening living room is community, discipleship, friendship, years of mentorship between my husband and these students, hours I spent with them in the classroom on the intricacies of reading and writing in English. It is simple and quiet, this evening, but profoundly good.

Twelve hours later we’ll close the door behind us on our first house, this first season of our life together. We leave for a year in America, which I’ll be writing about in the coming months, a year that will bring beauty, learning and adventures of its own. But for now, I’m thankful for this last season, for the comma that is this next chapter, and for all that lies ahead, known and unknown. Our house in Kandern may be empty, but we leave with hearts full of love and memories, eager to return again.


Bigger Places

Our valedictorian speaks to BFA's Class of 2015.

Our valedictorian speaks to BFA’s Class of 2015.

“There are bigger places out there than Kandern…. And thank the Lord for that.”

BFA 2015 Valedictorian

Talisman headshot, circa 2002. Photo: Courtney Irby

Talisman headshot, circa 2002. Photo: Courtney Irby

The morning of graduation day at Black Forest Academy, I received a message from a  former BFA student. “Did you go to Ballard high?” he had written beneath a picture of my alma mater. After confirming that yes, this was my high school, I had a few seconds of nostalgia. Like, 9 seconds. I thought of a day when the staff of the Ballard Talisman newspaper posed next to that sign in Brady Bunch-style photos. (See photo left. You are welcome.) It was a bright spring day my senior year, so bright that I had to wear sunglasses because my prescribed angle put me smiling directly into the sun. With middle-parted hair, sunglasses and silver hoop earrings, I gave a demure smile to the top left, even as my bright future lay in stunning non-mystery just three miles southeast of that point.

Then I moved on, leaving that day behind for the many that came after. I was more mesmerized, honestly, by the delightful twists of fate and design that have led one of my students from this high school in Germany–a student who is now studying what I studied at the university where I attended–to be having dinner across the street from Ballard High School. The world is big and small, I thought.

Hours later I sit near the back of BFA’s auditorium, already hot on a day that promises to break 30˚ C, and squinting again. This time I’m trying to make out the face of a young woman in my small group, this year’s valedictorian, as she confesses guilelessly that speechmaking stresses her out and that her billowing robe makes her “feel like Voldemort.”

I often cry at graduation, and this year is no different. I’m proud of these students, whose names and talents and handwriting I’ve come to know, and eager to see what they’ll make of life beyond the narrow borders of our little town. Four years ago, when I played viola in the Seussical pit orchestra, I watched many of these students as ninth graders, animated onstage and a little clumsy off of it. They are and aren’t those same people this morning. It’s hard to see them go, but we, their teachers, knew this would happen. We hoped it would happen, even. Maybe not as soon as it’s seemed, but this triumphant crowd of robed graduates was the goal.

Now they’re ready, primed for adventure beyond the blue doors of Black Forest Academy. As I scan their faces, so tiny against the wave of blue, I try to imagine them in six months. Making friends, signing up for lab time, going to get slurpees at 7-Eleven at midnight. Or in ten years, finding jobs, homes, and families or continuing in their wandering. Just as I was unable to see a decade ahead when I was seventeen, that day I peered into the sun outside of Ballard High School, I can’t quite imagine their futures. Surely they’ll be as different as mine was from what I expected, and I pray that they’ll be just as beautiful.

“There are bigger places out there than Kandern,” our valedictorian is saying. “Bigger than Holzen, Wittlingen or Marzell, bigger than Schleingen. Even bigger than Basel. And thank the Lord for that.” The reminder is as much for the rest of us as the graduates themselves, I realize. They know that the world is enormous. Though I traveled just three miles from Ballard High to Seattle Pacific, all of them have already come much farther, just to be here in the first place. They’ve always existed far beyond our borders, and my daydreaming takes me to their other homes, to India and Dubai and Russia, places that are already part of their wide worlds. Now they’re traveling again, either back to where they’ve come from or onward, for brand-new shores.

Our valedictorian finishes by encouraging her classmates to serve and love Christ wherever they find themselves, in whatever they do, and that’s my prayer also. Whether in college or working at Canadian Tire, at Capernwray Hall or on a ship sailing around the world, I pray that our students would seek Christ in new ways, and discover more deeply what it means to love him, wherever he takes them.

I’ll drive by Ballard High in a month or so, and doubtless then it will bring more memories with it than this morning’s photograph unearthed. But so will SPU and Bethany Community Church. So will Oak Tree Starbucks and Ingraham High School. And so does BFA, every day, pleasantly haunting this small town with all the people who have called it home, if only for a little while. High school was grand, a place of growth, community and discovery. But as our valedictorian reminded us, I thank God often that it was only one of many such places for me, and that growth, community and discovery never end as we follow Christ throughout our lives.

The Adventurous Class of 2016

Another Period Six, tiny and genial, on our last day of classes for the year!

Another Period Six, tiny and genial, on our last day of classes for the year!

Five students are finishing their final on this cool Monday morning, and I’ve already taken down all the posters and curtains, collected the books and graded my final coursework for the quarter. Nothing left for this teacher to do but post this year’s end-of-year letter, finishing nine hilarious months with a truly unique group of students. I will miss them, very much.

3 June 2015

“We shall not cease from exploration.” 

T.S. Eliot

My dear students,

On this fine June day, I am delighted to wish you a very happy Last Day of School. There is still plenty to do, of course; you won’t be having a homework bonfire at the beach tonight, like I did in high school. But it’s the last day for us, this group of people with whom you’ve shared a few good stories, deep conversations, and the tribulations of essay-writing throughout the year. I can think of no more fitting way to end our time together than this, sitting out in the sun and talking about books.

This is my ninth Last Day as a teacher, and something like the thousandth overall. And while the days and lessons blend together now, each class stands out for something. Some groups were wild and intractable, years that I held my breath and kept teaching my 150 students until they poured out of the building one day. Other classes were warm and genial, deeply loving each other, if not the homework I assigned. Your class, both wild and genial, is a class of adventurers.

Your journeys have taken you far, both geographically and intellectually. Since this is BFA, of course I see the adventures outside of the class as well, as you build playgrounds in Greece, take sudden trips to Malta and spend a few days “in the French woods.” Yet in the classroom I see your exploratory nature just as clearly. You are the students who diligently read nearly every page of the books I assigned, even The Scarlet Letter, afraid you’d miss something if you didn’t. Your thesis statements are bold and dramatic, reaching for risky and new ideas instead of settling for the easy ones on the surface. You write better discussion questions than I do, often, and have sorted through the controversies of the year—Is Gatsby a good person? Should George have killed Lennie? What on earth happened with Oskar’s grandparents?—with cordial grace and honor. You’re not always right, but you’re willing to stretch, risking a wrong answer in order to learn. I love this about each of you.

At seventeen, my expectations for the future were modestly interesting, but the reality of the last thirteen years of my life has been far richer and deeper than any of my expectations. There were tamer paths to take, ones that might have kept me in Seattle, with a good job as a public school teacher and friends I’ve known for ages. But I said yes to a journey, reading every page of this new chapter. This spirit of exploration can take you far, in learning and in life, but it comes with a warning. With the love and strength of Christ as your foundation, I’m confident that your adventures will take you beyond where you can imagine now. Just know that not all risks are worth taking, and not all adventures are worth having. To be a proper explorer means using your heart and your mind, and listening to Christ with both. From there, you can expect challenge, like this year of Honors English, but also growth and joy and love.

This is the end of a chapter of BFA for me, but not for you. Soon enough you’ll be back here, learning again, reaching for new heights. Keep asking hard questions, writing tricky essays, having great conversations. I may make it back here to see you graduate, but if I don’t, know that I’m proud of each of you, for the journeys you’ve already taken and the people that Christ has created you to be.

Peace in Christ,

Kristi Gaster

College Essays

With "speed dating" interviews, students gather information for their college essays.

With “speed dating” interviews, students gather information for their college essays.

Write a college entrance essay. You will design the essay yourself, based loosely around one of these two questions:

  1. What has made you who you are?
  2. What do you care most deeply about?

College Essay assignment 2015

I’m in the library today, getting in the squats demanded by the pregnancy gurus as I bounce up and down between students, troubleshooting the intricacies of college essays. The library used to be a more daunting place. Back when library days with ninth graders meant keeping thirty fourteen-year-olds focused on one task for almost an hour, I would whirl in busy circles, closing browsers, wheeling chairs back to their original spots and answering the occasional germane question in a computer lab where every giggle echoed across the room.

Today, I’m quite aware that I’m working in somewhat idealized conditions. I have only fourteen students, and they are in the eleventh grade. What’s more, today we’re working not on high-energy literary analysis or research writing, but on the college essay. The last essay of the year, I once dreaded teaching this topic. Nothing worse, I thought, than spending the last few weeks of the year writing pragmatic prose to be read by someone else. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I chat for a while with a student writing about light switches, the difference between American and German ones. He’d suggested it as a joke a few days ago, as a topic that wouldn’t work for the college essay. “Well, I’m not sure,” I’d replied, and the rest of the class nodded in support. Most of us are familiar with the oddity of searching for a differently-shaped light switch in a darkened room, finding instead of the giant square buttons of Europe the tiny levers we remember from childhood. Buoyed by my support, he’d continued, and now was wrestling with the idea, trying to make this light switch manifesto tell more truths about him than about how one turns on the light in various countries.

A few students later, I have a similar conversation with a young woman a little further into the process, who has found a perfect metaphor for her tri-passport existence in the three types of electrical plugs used in the three different countries she calls home. She is halfway through explaining how adaptors are critical, both for electricity and for cross-cultural life. I had no idea that intercontinental electricity could provide such a wealth of imagery for my international students.

I love this essay because of the opportunity for reflection that it gives my students. Though there is a wealth of admission essay questions available, for the purposes of this assignment I’ve distilled the more specific questions into the two broad ones above.

The students seem to prefer the first question, as it lends itself better to explaining their complicated international backgrounds, an acknowledged selling point with North American universities. Yet as soon as they start writing, they realize that for the purposes of introducing themselves they cannot simply explain where they come from; they must also understand how it has shaped them.

“So, what are you writing about?” I ask the next student in the row of computers. He replies with something between a grimace and a shrug. “No really,” I persevere. “What?”

“Um, moving.”

“How are you going to write about moving?”

“I’m going to rant for a few paragraphs about how much don’t like it. And then, I don’t know, come up with some kind of lesson at the end.”

I appreciate his candor, because sometimes that’s how this process feels. I’ve talked with students still so deeply embedded in their complex realities that they’re not ready to write about it, while for others the writing process itself is part of their healing. As I’m not sure what category he belongs to, I press on, learning in eleven grades he’s attended almost as many schools.

“As much as it would probably be good for you to write that essay—maybe you should write it sometime—it’s probably not going to work for this, right?”

He nods. We talk about how the transience of his prior education led to a moment of feeling that he could finally engage here, at the last of his many schools. I leave him thinking about how to express that sense of engagement, and what it might mean to him.

For some of them, this is the first time they’ve written reflectively about themselves. I place a somewhat higher value on writing than most people, so as I walk around I’m tempted to wonder if it’s the first time they’ve even thought this way. Who knows? What I am sure of is that we all need to be writing more college essays.

What if we considered these questions—What do you care about? What has made you who you are?—at every crossroads, not just this one that marks a rite of passage into adulthood? I imagine we’d discover that what we care about has grown up with us, has expanded as we’ve seen and lived more. We’d probably realize that yes, the factors that shaped us when we were eighteen are still important, but to that list we’ve added more. Entering college, I probably wrote about being a pastor’s daughter, attending public and private school, and growing up in rural and urban Washington. That’s not my college essay anymore.

If I were graduating from high school in eleven days with our seniors, I would write about learning what it means to live in community, about an expanded definition of “home,” about the identity formed by stumbling through life in another language. I would write, in short, what I’ve been writing here for the last five years, and for four years before that on another blog. We all need reflection, because we never stop growing.

What would be in your college essay?

June: News, Thanks and Prayers


My beautiful small group at the Senior Girls' Tea

My beautiful small group at the Senior Girls’ Tea

News and Dates:

  • June 3: Last day of classes (and Holly and Noah Dahlstrom’s birthdays!)
  • June 5-6: Small Group Sleepover
  • June 5-10: Exam Week
  • June 7: Timmy returns from America!
  • June 12: Graduation
  • June 21: Timmy preaching at Virginia Beach Community Chapel

I’m Thankful For:

  • My husband, Timmy, who turned 30 last week, and who daily brings joy, truth and adventure into my life.
  • Five amazing years at BFA, and the joy and growth they have brought, professionally, spiritually and personally.
  • My German doctor, who has seen me through a healthy (though not always pleasant) first trimester of pregnancy with warmth and competence.
  • Timmy’s training, which has provided him with useful and thought-provoking material as he continues his service as an Air Force Reserve Chaplain.
  • College essays and the many questions that they ask, bringing this good school year to a close with reflection and joy.
  • My studentsboth current and past, who have made these past five years rich and exciting, and make me look forward to our return in 2016.

Please Be In Prayer For:

  • Ending Well. Both practically and interpersonally, this will be a busy end of the year. Between wrapping up classes, bringing closure to relationships and packing up our apartment for the last 18 months, there remains a long list of things to do before we depart Germany.
  • Summer Travels. I’ll post a summer schedule soon, but for now pray for the first legs of our journey, happening in the next few weeks, that we would have health and safety, with all connections made and all flights smooth.

Lately, I have been overwhelmed with gratitude for the support and encouragement that you have shown and this ministry over the last five years. Please continue in your prayers as we enter this new chapter of our lives. If you have a prayer request or questions about ministry in Germany our our next steps, or if you’d like to become a financial partner in our ministry, email me at kristi.dahlstrom@gmail.com.

Peace in Christ,

Kristi & Timmy


Our chefs for Independent Living Brunch!

I run to the Independent Living classroom from the Bible class where I’ve spent first period giving a test to sophomores. The room feels full, even though there are only the normal number of students, because everyone is running in frenzied circles trying to get ready for today’s final cooking project, the Tea Party. I am here to help grade, an extra set of eyes, ears and taste buds for one of the two teams preparing a small party for themselves and few staff members.

Independent Living, this generation’s Home Economics, is a required course at BFA, sometimes over the protest of students trying to get into Yearbook or a third AP course. Since many of our students spend high school mostly out of their parents’ homes–places where presumably cooking, home maintenance, sewing and personal finance instruction might take place–we seek to provide them with these critical skills before they enter the big world of college life. The hope is that no college freshman is forced to subsist on ramen or to throw away the shirt that has lost a button. All complaints aside, students generally agree in retrospect that Independent Living was important to their quality of life after high school.

The team I’m observing has set their table with a travel theme, festooned with hand-painted international flags and little paper airplanes for place cards. At precisely the right time they greet their guests and introduce their fare: Swedish meatball “boats” with cheese and toothpick sails, deviled eggs, blueberry scones and tiny cheesecakes. Once the guests have eaten, I take a few bites of each treat, and record on my grading sheet that they are universally delicious. These students have been well taught.

I’ve sat in on a few Independent Living classes and hosted many of their community dinners, in which a pair of students plans and prepares a meal for a family. Though taking the class would have meant dropping one of my eight semesters of orchestra, I confess that there are times when I’m almost envious of these students, getting to spend class time learning something of such practical value to their lives. Many of the truisms that they patiently write down and reproduce for quizzes I had to discover by trial and error, a few mistakes at a time.

Still, I have to wonder what we mean by the title: Independent Living. Are our students truly “independent” once they’ve mastered this course? Or do we just hope they are? Certainly, many of them will touch down in foreign cities–foreign either by passport or lack of experience–in a few months, ready to take on a host of new impressions, procedures and expectations. Have we prepared them, we wonder, to meet these challenges?

A few months ago, a senior girl exclaimed to me that she would make the “worst wife ever” because she didn’t know an arcane detail about the proper storage of garlic. “I would just put it in the refrigerator!” she wailed. “How should I know that it’s supposed to be a room temperature, with air circulating around it?”

I laughed then, and reassured her that I didn’t know it either when I was her age, and that even if she never learned about garlic she still wouldn’t be the Worst Wife. I did, however, tell her and the students around her that learning–independent life skills–don’t stop accruing. Ever. As long as you’re paying attention, you can keep learning for the rest of your life.

Yes, I learned to use a sewing machine when I was eight. But I never  mowed a lawn or changed a tire until I was 21, and such skills were necessary to maintain the house and car I’d suddenly acquired. I mastered pizza dough at age 25, and salad dressing the next year. What I eat now is almost completely different than the things I prepared for myself when I was twenty years old, living in my first rental house and eating tuna melts and pasta with jarred alfredo sauce.

At this time of year, we’re eager to get in our “last words” to the graduating seniors, and in many ways this is fitting. There is supreme value in words of blessing, this benediction that they carry with them to their next chapters. But the contents of their final exams, the last lessons that we teach? We can see in their sun-soaked eyes that those aren’t what they’ll remember.

The students are victorious when they finally start to clear the table, aware that their job was well done. And it was, I tell them. I’m not their teacher, so I resist telling them that what they’ve really learned here is not how to make deviled eggs, a trick that they’ll drag out for parties once a year, but how to follow a recipe. Our students are truly independent only when they have the tools to keep learning, when they can follow a recipe, research a topic, ask a coherent question, have an intelligent discussion.

Perhaps they’ll graduate, these seniors, without remembering exactly who Henry David Thoreau was, just quite the formula for discovering the volume of a sphere, or the proper method for measuring butter exactly. If we’ve done our jobs well, they’ll still be fine; their journey is just beginning, and we’ve taught them how to read the map.