Lessons from Berlin: the God of the city

One of the things that I have learned from living in this European city for the short while that I have been here is that God is here in this city. Ok, I can tell that some of you are already confused. 🙂 Let me explain.

As I mentioned previously, Berlin is a city that invites searching, and holds tolerance and exploration in the highest regard. One of the staff members put it like this: “There is nothing that is weird or unacceptable in this city. This is a city of “weird”. No matter your thing, you will find someone else in this city who is like you.” But one of the things that is incredibly rare in this city is Christianity. I had a team member who, while having a conversation with someone during one of our events, was told: “Aw, you poor girl! You still believe in God!”. This is the reality that my team has experienced, and it can be very draining. But there have been a few stories and sights that I have seen that have been incredibly encouraging in a city that has walked away from God.

The first one, is the Rathaus building in the distrikt of Pankow (and no, I did not spell those words wrong!). This was originally the building where the state of of government was housed for the town of Pankow, which is has since become a part of the city of Berlin. And if you look at the picture of the building below, you may be able to make out the words inscribed above the doors. They mean “God with us”. When this building was first established, God was an intentional part of this community’s daily life. But when part of Germany was placed under communist rule, the new leaders hired someone to remove the letters above the doors, because any reference to God was “unacceptable”. For decades, there were no words over the door of the house of government in that area of Berlin. The space above the door was just empty and black. After years of this, when the communist regime was finally removed from Berlin, a man approached the community of Pankow. He told them that he had been the one hired to remove the sign from above the door, but instead of destroying the sign as he was asked, he just covered up the words with plaster. He offered to remove it to reveal the original sign if the community wanted it. The community’s reasoning for restoring the sign may have only had something to do with the attempt to return to normal/how it was before war and politics changed the community. But they had the man restore the sign and now, those words are above this building of local government once again.  The neat thing though is that even when the words weren’t visible, they were still there. One of the pastors that we have interacted with here in the city told us this story and it was a great reminder to me that even when we don’t see God at work, he is here in this city. He’s been moving among the people of Berlin far before any missionaries came, and he’ll be here long after all of them leave.

The second picture below is one of the iconic symbol for the city of Berlin. This is the TV Tower, located in Alexanderplatz (really close to my team’s first apartment here in the city). It’s one of the tallest buildings in Europe. This has been referred to as Berlin’s “tower of Babel”, and is more widely referred to as “The Pope’s Revenge”. The leader of the Socialist Unity Party which governed East Germany decided to have this tower built as a symbol of the party’s power and glory. The tower was deliberately placed in the center of the historic medieval center of Berlin, destroying a huge section of the historic center of Berlin, the capitol of Germany. But on a sunny day, on the main section of the tower, the reflection of a cross can be seen from all sides. And no matter how much they tried to cover it up, or paint a non-reflective paint over it, the cross is displayed across the tower. Those who built it were incredibly frustrated, because the entire point of the tower was in defiance to God, basically saying: “Look at the might and success that we have established, all without any God.” But God would not be silenced, and to this day, his humorous response and beautiful truth is displayed as a reminder for the entire city to see.

These are just two of the stories that I have heard and seen while here in this city. How neat is it that the people of Berlin, whether they realize or not, see very visible signs of God at work? I love the reminder of God’s stubborn pursuit of his people! He will not be silenced, or pushed to the side! What a testimony of the Gospel!

Prayer: We have only a little under two weeks left here in this city, which is really strange. A few of us have been under the weather, and have had to slow down in our involvement over the past couple of days. Please pray for healing and rest, and the ability to be a blessing to those here in Berlin. I would also pray for guidance for each of my team members, as we all are looking for answers as to what the next steps will look like once we finish here! 🙂

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The Rathaus front doors in Pankow. This building ended up being pretty important as it was used to try 13 different members of staff of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp located just outside of the city.

 

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The Berlin Fernsehturm, or the TV tower in Alexanderplatz. If you look closely, you can see the light forming a cross on the body of the tower, just below the striped top.

[through it all…]

During the past weeks in Berlin I have learned a lot about this city, enough to know that I have barely scratched the surface on what there is to know and comprehend about these people that I walk past and share the many trains, trams and buses with everyday. One of the themes that I have very quickly learned and felt keenly is the lack of people with a personal faith in Jesus Christ. The fact that many Berliners go their entire lives without meeting one Christian is so foreign to my North American-trained brain. I don’t know who said it first, but there is a well known quote that many of the staff here have said and that is that “the people of Berlin have forgotten that they have forgotten God.” The city of Berlin is an unreached people group, with less than 2% of the population identifying as Christian, and unfortunately, one of the cultural aspects of living in Berlin is that you have to earn the right to speak. Relationships move slowly, and people are not ready to receive the Gospel until you have earned the right – proven that you care about them as a person, as a human being, and that your love for them is not conditional on their response to it.

In this reality, it can be very easy to be discouraged. The people of Berlin are not asking the same questions that I’m used to such as “Is God real?”. Instead they’re asking questions like “So what if he is real? Why should I care? How does that really affect my life?”. I’ve been walking all over this city, seeing a people who are desperately searching for answers, but on principle, will never allow God to be among the possibility of answers. This is a city that cultivates searching and experimenting to find “self”. You see people searching, discovering, and promoting “self”. The question is very much “what’s in it for me? Is this going to bring pleasure or benefit to me?”. A few of the fellow believers that I have met while in Berlin have expressed how they handle this reality with caution – not to hide their faith, but instead to build a relational foundation that allows for those deeper conversations and exchange of opinions on both sides.
So I’m currently wrestling with that line. I can see how easy it would be for me to despair because things move so very slowly here, it can be hard to see and be reminded that God is at work in this city. As I think through these themes, I’ve been having that refrain from “It is Well” (Bethel Music) playing through my head. “Through it all, through it all my eyes are on you. Through it all, through it all it is well!”  It IS well. I’ve needed to remind myself often that it is not our responsibility as Christians to save. It is our responsibility to make disciples and build relationships with intentionality, and unfailing patience and love. God is the one who saves and moves in people’s hearts.  Man, is that ever encouraging! And so cool to hear those stories – God is moving powerfully in this city and it is incredible to witness!

Prayer Requests: Please pray for continued health and safety for the team as we head into the last two weeks here in this city for this trip.

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The town of Wittenberg – This year is the 500th anniversary of Luther posting his 95 theses on the doors of the church in this photo.

Hello from Berlin!

Hello all!

I am so excited to share with you my first update on this trip from Berlin itself! The Apex Berlin team landed on Saturday afternoon after 22 hours of straight travel and little to no sleep. But that’s thankfully the worst part of the story – we had a great couple of days of travel. Don’t get me wrong- it was exhausting but truly one of the easiest experiences that I have had in traveling internationally, ever. Security and customs were not a hassle and we were able to find where we needed to go without any problem!

Sunday, we went to our first church service at the Berliner Dom (pictured below), which was an absolutely breathtakingly beautiful old cathedral in the center of Berlin. Unfortunately, it is a state church, which means that the gospel doesn’t have to be believed or preached. Priests or pastors are not required to believe in Christ or in his Word in order to go through the training and do the job. Therefore, this particular church exists to provide Berliners with ways to feel good – about themselves, their circumstances or the world in general. Jesus is not pointed to as the one and only Savior of the world, but instead good behavior is preached, and biblical passages twisted to fit the theme as deemed necessary. We ended up attending a confirmation and communion service which was both really interesting and incredibly sad at the same time. The sacred pews were jam packed with families in all manner of dress from three piece suits to tshirts and shorts, carrying flowers and pineapples as gifts for the kids who entered ceremoniously, dressed to the nines.  These kids, aged from about 6 to 17, who had gone through the 9 month class to prepare them for confirmation were blessed and told that they were now a part of the Christian church and as such, they had security for the future. You could tell they had practised how to stand and walk during the ceremony, and many of them looked bored or just excited about the celebration after the service. And when the ceremony was finished, the sermon that was preached made me want to cry. The words being spoken were not at all the truth of the Gospel of Christ, promoting personal relationship and faith in Christ, but rather took a passage, twisted it and explained how God is displayed as a horrible God in the passage, and then said that we need to interpret it in a way that allows for righteous living and trust in a benevolent, loving God. The way that the Lord was described had me picturing a jolly, Santa-like figure who was rarely interested in the affairs of his creation. 

For the rest of the day, we walked around the city and saw a few historical sites that were also heavy and hard to witness (Berlin Wall, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe), but somehow, the moment that saddened me the most was the way that this city values the church as a symbol of tradition and goodwill, not as an alive and flourishing community, dedicated to serving and loving their Savior. 

Prayer Requests: Please be praying for the team as we settle into our first of three “wohnungs” or apartments that we’ll be staying in over the next six weeks! We’ve got a really full schedule ahead of us, and there is definitely a tendency for me to be overwhelmed and a bit nervous about my ability to serve effectively. Please pray for good conversations and learning opportunities as well as the ability to build friendships among the team that is here full time in Berlin. 

Berliner Dom

Berlin Wall


 

Berlin: Q & A

I have received a few questions about my ministry trip to Berlin, Germany this summer, so I thought I would write an update with a bit more information and a few answers to the questions that you all may have. If I miss anything, or you have more specific questions, please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email at azipprick@hotmail.com, or give me a call, or Facebook message. Also, I am collecting emails to send updates to as well during this time of ministry. If you would like to be added to this list, please let me know! I thank you all in advance for your prayer, and financial support in this venture of mine.

Q: How long is this trip? A: I will be in ministry from June 19th, to August 4th. The trip will be roughly 6 weeks long in total.

Q: Will you be in Berlin the entire time? A: I will be starting the trip for three days in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the EFCA headquarters. This time is set aside for intensive training so that we are fully equipped moving forward. The remainder of the six weeks will be spent in Germany!

Q: How much will you be needing to raise for this trip? A: $3,100.00 + Travel Expenses. I’ll be responsible for both my flight to Minneapolis, and the flights to Berlin and back. Right now, it’s difficult to say exactly how much that will end up being, but I’m estimating a total of about $4,000.00.

Q: How can I support you financially? A: If you click on this link to my personal donation page, you can see a bit more information, and you can donate online this way. If you would like to send me a cheque, or another form of payment, let me know and I can give you my address to mail that to.

Q: Is financial support tax deductible? A: Yes!

Q: What are the deadlines for raising support? A: My first deadline for the first portion is due on April 1st, 2017.

Q: Are you going by yourself, or with a team? A: Both! I will be joining a group of other individuals who will be doing the same experience as me, and from what I understand, we will be working both as a team and as individuals throughout the time.

Please consider supporting me, both financially and through prayer. I cannot do this on my own, I need people to partner with me in ministry, in following God’s call moving forward. Again, if you click on this link , you’ll be at my personal donation page!

life update: Berlin

Hi all! Most of you who read this blog are my dear friends and family in real life, so I thought I’d let you all know what’s going on with me as far as future plans are concerned.

Over the past year or so, God has been placing ministry on my heart again. After doing my internship with ReachGlobal almost 4 years ago, I didn’t really feel a draw to return to ministry. I’m growing to understand that the Lord removed that desire in me during this time so that I could focus on my degree. But this past year, my heart started to feel that desire to be in ministry to others again, that desire to fight for and with those who are exploited. I started hearing other people’s ministry stories and feeling overwhelmed with excitement and this draw to be involved again. The Lord started really pressing on my heart the need to follow and trust him in this.

With all of this, God has place Germany on my heart. I am German, I have a German father, and I have grown up surround by the German culture in some respects. But I’ve never been to Germany. On top of all of that, I am extremely passionate about refugees and victims/survivors of human trafficking. Berlin is a spot where many in those two populations are located. So I began to look into options to go to Germany for a while. I came across an organization called Apex, which is through the Evangelical Free Church and offers ministry trips of different time lengths.

Soooo….. after completing my degree this April, I will be pursuing a ministry trip to Berlin this summer! I’ve been accepted as an Apex Individual to go on a 6-week trip to Berlin and work in the city with the full-time team that’s already there. This trip will serve somewhat as a vision trip for me so that I can see if Germany would be a good fit for me to be on a longer term scale in the not-too-distant future.

Prayer/ Challenge: I am incredibly excited about this opportunity in my life, and would love to chat further with anyone looking for more details. I am also looking for people to partner with me in this trip moving forward, both in prayer and financially. You can find more information HERE! Please consider praying about this with me!