DSC07410{Day by day, I am writing in Lent 2017, and I gain inspiration from the mugs I find in the Kellam kitchen cupboard. Inspiration so far…but by the end of these 40 days, desperation may be the right word.}

European villages don’t get much more quaint that the one pictured on this photo mug. I have previously written of a mug showing a village in the Netherlands that my ancestors called home. But this is a photo Joan took when we visited her ancestral roots in Germany. This is Mittelbuchen, a few miles from Hanau and a few more from Frankfurt.

The familiar phrase “It takes a village…” was played out there when we visited. We were staying in nearby Hanau where Joan had explored some family history. Her great grandfather had lived there. But his father was from Mittelbuchen, so we wanted to take the bus there to explore the village and look in the cemetery for any evidence of Joan’s heritage. First problem: knowing where to get off the bus. There was more than one stop.

A woman sitting in the seat just ahead of us overheard our conversation, and knowing some English, she had understood our minor dilemma. She asked what we were looking for, and then said that her stop would be the best one for us. She even offered to walk us part way to the road we’d want. She offered helpful directions, and wished us well as she went off to work.

We didn’t quite understand everything, but did find our way into the village you see on the mug. The next step was to find the cemetery. As we took a couple of photos, a man was parking his car nearby, and we approached him, asking if he understood English. “A little…” he said. Now Joan had taken German in both high school and college, but hadn’t used those language skills in many, many years. So, with her little bit of German and his little bit of English, the idea got across that Joan’s family tree had roots in Mittelbuchen, that her second great grandfather had lived there, and that we were looking for the local cemetery. The man got everything, except the word cemetery. Ah, graveyard! That did it.

He even thought that Joan’s German family name, Maisch, sounded somewhat familiar. Let’s ask around, he said. And with that he led us down the street a house or two, and knocked at a door. He explained to the woman who answered what was going on, and she too knew the name Maisch, though no one by that name lived in the village now. She joined the hunt. She took off her apron, made a quick phone call to a neighbor, left her house, and now four of us walked down the street and around the corner.

She found a neighbor who was tending to her small children in the yard, and in German she explained who we were, where we were from, and what we were looking for. While they conversed, one of the children bit Joan on the upper leg. Playfully, I guess. But… (no pun intended).  We saw that everyone was eager to help, but couldn’t come up with answers. They did give us directions, though, to the graveyard. After expressing our gratitude with the familiar “danke schon,” (that much I knew), we headed down the street. More pictures along the way.

I saw a picturesque home and attached barn there in the village and was shooting some video when a  car pulled into the driveway. I felt the need to explain to the woman why I had been taking video of her home, and she smiled and introduced herself. We told her our story, and she suggested that the pastor of the village church might help us find some baptism or burial records of the Maisch family. Then she too walked us a couple of blocks to the minister’s home adjoining the church property. She buzzed an intercom, and explained our search to the pastor. Now at least seven villagers (more if you count kids with teeth) are involved.

The pastor told us (via our friendly neighbor interpreter) that the church records from that time period were destroyed in WW2 bombings. She was sorry she couldn’t help us more, but we were free of course to explore the church grounds, though the burial ground was still some distance away. Having explored other German and Dutch cemeteries, we suspected that grave markers from so long ago would have disappeared by now, so we were content to enjoy the quiet village and its church, the one that towers over Mittelbuchen in the photo.DSCF3236The lesson for today obviously involves hospitality and welcome. Every villager we met in Mittelbuchen offered us a warm smile and a friendly greeting (except that one little kid). Everyone had time for us, expressing a sincere desire to help find some evidence of Joan’s family link to the community. The scriptures are clear: God’s people are to welcome strangers, treating them with kindness and generosity, even giving them legal rights as well. In the New Testament we find this admonition: Don’t neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! (Hebrews 13:2)

Joan and I weren’t exactly angels here. We kept interrupting peoples’ day. And maybe the reason we were treated so kindly wasn’t just because the village is kind to foreigners generally. It may have been the possibility of that Maisch family connection from generations ago. Still, we continue to hold those folks in our hearts with gratitude for their warmth, and we smile at the thought that it did take a village to help us in our quest.

If we are to avoid temptations in Lent, maybe we could learn to avoid suspicion. Dispel fear. Abstain from judging those we do not know. And don’t let the devil block the way of angels.

And when you are bitten…don’t bite back.