While I was serving as a Mormon missionary in Germany, I was called to serve in a small town called Unna that lies a few miles east of the much larger city of Dortmund. I’d served about 6 months and was starting to feel comfortable with the German language although topics outside of church doctrine were still a challenge. But I loved tiny Unna and its friendly residents, great Bratwurst and cobblestone streets which wove through the town.
One afternoon, my companion and I walked into a tiny bookstore where we struck up a conversation with the bookkeeper. She invited us over to her home to meet her boyfriend; a guy named Kai. I remember the first visit well. Instead of presenting our prepared lessons about our church, Kai asked me to explain the rules of baseball. The four of us sat around a table while I took out a piece of paper and pen and began by drawing a baseball diamond and attempting, as best I could, to explain each position and its responsibilities. It wasn’t long before I asked to swap out my pen for a pencil because I was making a mess. I did the best I could explaining the basics of of the game and thought I was doing well until Kai asked me to explain the infield fly rule and what a balk is. I had about as much luck explaining the nuances of baseball as I did teaching them about my church.
We became good friends with Kai and Barbara over the few months I was assigned to Unna. We’d regularly stop by the bookstore to visit Barbara, and she would invite us over for dinner often. The only thing they asked of us was that we spend half the visit talking about our church and and the other half discussing sports and music, Kai’s two favorite topics.
I didn’t exactly hit a home run with my baseball rules on a napkin diagram so we spent much of the visit listening to and discussing music, specifically Simon and Garfunkel which is Kai’s favorite. I’d heard a number of their songs by this time and began to like them a lot.
A mission is a strange thing. Although I was happy to be serving my church and making my family proud, I was often very lonely. Few people wanted to speak with me about the church which means most days were filled with rejection, slammed doors and a good dose of humility. Most Germans were very kind although the college age kids could be brutal and many harassed us every chance they had. As much as I wanted to jump off my bike and defend myself, doing so would earn me with a one-way ticket home. A mission is a two year exercise in restraint.
Meeting people as kind as Kai and Barbara was a treat for sure so I was bummed when I found out I’d be transferred to another city in less than a week. We spent a lot of time together during those few remaining days. During our last visit, I heard the song, “I Am A Rock” off Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits album. When I told Kai how much I enjoyed the song, he made a cassette tape I could take to my next town.
The day came to say goodbye and continue my service in a new area. Kai and Barbara took the day off to see me off at the train station. I had some rough days on my two year mission but this easily ranks near the top of crappy days. I said goodbye to my friends and boarded a train for Fulda. I sat down on the the squishy train seats with my headphones on listening to “I Am a Rock” watching my friends wave goodbye as tears streamed down my face.
A winters day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island
When Kim and I were discussing names for our soon to arrive baby boy last fall, I told her how much I liked the name Kai, and was surprised when she didn’t veto it because she had done just that with another German named liked: Hans. We named our son Kai which is a tribute to my friend who came into my life at exactly the right time. I loved his positive attitude and joy for life, and I hope we can raise our son to have those same attributes.