Christian, my boyfriend and later my husband, and I came to Atlanta in the summer of 1991. Cindy and Ted Runyon arranged for us to lease an apartment in Decatur. Our neighbor was an elderly lady to whom we introduced ourselves when we moved in, as is the custom here in Germany. A wonderful friendship developed with her, one which lasted for many years until her death. She took us to her church, the First Baptist Church of Decatur, whose Sunday School class and services we attended regularly. The memory of the friendliness and warm atmosphere with which we were received still remains.

Much was new to us and impressed us in ways we will never forget. First of all was the great warmth with which we were received. Indeed, everyone was very anxious to make us feel welcome. Then there was the weather. In my memory the sun was always shining, it was always warm (often quite hot), and the one time in the winter when a few snowflakes fell, the whole world stood on its head. 

Candler was quite a strange world for us. I remember our first official meeting at the beginning of the semester: we were completely surprised by how many older people were studying theology there. This was so different from Germany where all our colleagues were, like us, in their early to mid-20s. Also, we always were asked question, “Which denomination do you belong to?”  We could only answer, “Protestant,” as in Germany we knew Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians only as marginal phenomena of the Protestant Church.

Also strange for us was the question that often arose as to the extent to which our vocation had influenced our understanding of the parish. “Vocation”—to talk about it was rather frowned upon among German students or, at least, unusual. After all, our studies were very independent of what we later wanted to do professionally. People in our program liked to flirt with the fact that they were studying theology out of personal interest but did not know yet whether they really wanted to become parish priests later on. But at Candler we met people who already provided for congregations during their studies! Then there was the very different way in which students and teachers related to each other. It is unthinkable in Germany to address professors by their first names and to meet them outside of lectures and seminars.

While at Candler, it was important for us to take courses that were not offered in Germany. We listened to lectures on black and feminist theology; José Miguez Bonino, who was spending a sabbatical year at Candler, offered courses on liberation theology; and, of course, a lecture by Ted Runyon on John Wesley was not to be missed! Most memorable was the program “Supervised Ministry,” that included a practicum which I spent in the soup kitchen of St. Luke's. Our supervisor was Palmer Temple, from whom I learned a great deal. The people in my Supervised Ministry group worked next to me there and we had a wonderful time together.

We were also happy to take part in the events Emory offered to the international students. These made it possible us to get in touch with people we wouldn't have met otherwise.

I would like to tell so much more because, as I reread this, I feel that it does not even remotely reflect the good memories I have of that year. But a description of all the many impressions and experiences in writing is, and unfortunately necessarily will remain, a patchwork.

My three children and I now live in Gütersloh, a city of 100,000 inhabitants in North Rhine-Westphalia. I serve two churches, the first as a "city church pastor" at the Martin Luther Church, built in 1861. This is where I spend 65% of my time. The remainder of my time is spent at another church in Gütersloh, where I have a congregation of about 1,000 people.

My contact with Atlanta remains strong because of a friendship that has lasted over all the long years: Steve Alper, who studied at the same time we did at Candler, is the godfather of our eldest son. He and I are determined to preserve our friendship and agree that we will visit each other at least every two years either in Germany or in the USA.

I am very grateful to Ted and Cindy Runyon for having made this exchange experience possible for us and for so many other students, and that they accompanied us during our year in Atlanta in a benevolent and supportive way. I will always remember Cindy and Ted with gratitude and affection!

Top photo: Wiebke Heine (second from right) with her children.