Our guest today is Heidi Viars, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and follower of Jesus. Originally from Germany, she now lives in Wisconsin where she writes on her blog about her rescuing Savior and posts photos of the beauty he’s created.
When I saw the cover of the German version of Remarkable Hope, I contacted Heidi to ask her to translate. There was a campfire drawing on the cover, and I was a little confused. But as soon as Heidi translated the title for me, I understood. And you will too after reading her story below.
Translations can be tricky.
When I first came to the United States over thirty years ago, I had my share of translation mishaps. Some were hilarious, others embarrassing. Some misunderstandings were downright dangerous, like the time I didn’t grasp the concept of “hard” lemonade and opened one in the store parking lot. I bought the expensive treat on a grocery errand, and I thought “hard” meant organic. I stuck the bottle in my cup holder and sipped on my ignorance all the way home.
When we move thoughts from one language to another, the meaning and original intent can easily get lost. However, I found the opposite to be the case when I saw the cover of Remarkable Hope in German. In reading the title, Leuchtfeuer der Hoffnung (Beacon of Hope), powerful images flooded my mind. The German word “Leutchfeuer” is a compound noun. It’s made of light and fire. While the meaning is translated into “beacon,” the word-for-word translation, light-fire, has much more depth.
I remembered Samwise in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and how he climbed the side of a mountain, intent on setting a fire to communicate hope to allies far away. Then, I thought of Simone, my wonderful German friend. I wished we could have read this together. Within the short time we knew each other, she challenged me to let God use my knowledge of German as a beacon of hope for her, to set a light and a fire.
I met Simone a little over a year ago at an outdoor church service during the pandemic. In the previous months, many of us had grown weary of the church’s live feed on Sunday morning. We longed for an in-person gathering. Now, the park was filled with strangers and regular church attendees. Despite the awkwardness and distance, we all enjoyed connecting with people in face-to-face conversations.
I was about to sink into my camping chair when a friend waved me down. Six feet behind him followed a stout woman I did not recognize.
“Hey Heidi, have you met Simone? She is from Germany,” he said.
Simone, a mature blond, politely waved her hand as if to shake it and smiled, “Hallo. I am Simone.” Her words were wrapped in a strong German accent. “You know this church is not very friendly,” she whispered. I felt a tinge offended. I had been on the welcoming team for years and prided myself in making newcomers feel at home.
However, I admired her straightforwardness and that she did not care about her accent. I had always felt insecure when people asked me where I was from as soon as they picked up on my mispronounced words.
We decided to talk more after church.
We talked a lot. Over the course of the following year, our relationship grew into a deep friendship. We were grateful to share life in our native heart language. Simone, in her early sixties, told me about changes she wanted for her life and her deep desire for God. She was curious about our church and what we believed. She had endless questions about the validity of the Bible, doubt and faith, and most of all, salvation.
Her questions made me dig deep into my own beliefs. When she came to our mid-week Bible study, she found women eager to make her comfortable. Eventually, everyone came to love her for her honesty, her sincere questions, and her kind and generous heart. We gladly ate the German treats she brought to our study. With sticky fingers, we helped her peel open the tightly stuck-together pages of her new Bible.
Then one day, while sitting at my dining room table, over some German cake and coffee, she decided to give her life to Christ. It was the first time I had prayed in German with anyone who wanted to surrender to Jesus. I came to faith in my mid-twenties while living in the U.S., and I learned about a relational God in English, my second language. I had to dig up German vocabulary, which had been tucked away in my heart all those years. Visiting with Simone challenged me and made me think about how to communicate faith in my mother tongue. The more I spoke, the easier those words came. Soon I felt something break in my soul–a deep understanding of God’s desire to use my knowledge of German.
About six months into Simone’s new life in Christ, things unraveled for her whole family. Her husband also had come to faith in Christ just before their lives were turned upside down. As if the script had been taken straight from the book of Job, bad news seemed to come daily. Family and home, jobs and pets, all were affected.
“Why is this happening? We just gave our lives to Jesus? Is it because we trusted Him?” Simone asked. I had no answers to her questions.
One day, after some medical tests to find out why she had been experiencing severe pain, Simone heard the worst news yet.
Liver metastases. Secondary liver cancer. Stage four colon cancer.
The prognosis was grim and brought even more questions. I had fewer answers. During those days, we both were driven deeper into the Scriptures and closer to the heart of Jesus. We spoke and prayed in German even more frequently than before.
“It feels good to speak from the heart,” she said in German. Her doubt, like her cancer, was trying to consume her.
Slowly I saw God’s plan of hope unfold. He was using my faith and our common language to do a greater work in both of us. I realized it wasn’t what we had in common that brought her comfort, but who we had come to know. We saw how God had drawn her and her husband to Himself to prepare them for the trials ahead. Before her suffering began, Jesus was well aware that Simone and her husband needed to know the God who was with them. By his grace, God had revealed himself at just the right time.
In the last chapter of Remarkable Hope, Shauna invites us to travel alongside two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The friends leave the city of Jerusalem heartbroken, believing their master is buried in a tomb. They have more questions than answers. Hadn’t Jesus said he would never leave them? Why did he have to die? How could he be the Savior if he couldn’t even save himself?
While they were walking away from uncertainty back to what they knew, Jesus appeared to them. The Scriptures say they were kept from recognizing him. In his supernatural disguise, Jesus spoke to the friends about himself and how he is revealed in all the Scriptures. After he ate with them, they saw clearly who this stranger was and they were overcome with joy. Looking back on their conversation, they realized his words and presence had set their hearts ablaze—he had set a light and a fire by his presence.
When I remember Simone’s hard, painful walk, I realize I have limited answers. But while we were all trying to understand, Jesus made himself known to us through the Scriptures. He gave Simone a friend who spoke her heart language. He used my insecurities and questions to point to himself. He surrounded her with a group of loving friends. And through his word and work, Jesus was present in the trial with Simone. What a God! He takes the smoldering disappointments in our hearts and sets them afire – not only for our own good but also for the good of anyone who watches.
I think Simone would have loved reading Remarkable Hope in German. I smile, thinking about how we could have read it together. But she is gone now, experiencing what I long for, namely seeing Jesus face-to-face. I am left to look around at a world that needs light and fire more than ever. It still needs Jesus and his people to bring his remarkable hope – in the U.S. and in Germany.
I have lived in the United States for over three decades. In that time, I have learned much about the English language. But through my friendship with Simone, I have also learned that God is willing to use whatever we offer him, even our greatest insecurities about how we speak and which language we use.
I’m grateful Simone helped me embrace my first language and share Christ through it. And because of Jesus, I have a light-fire of hope—a distant beacon of assurance—that someday Simone and I will visit again in the presence of Jesus with people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.