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! 🙂

IMG_4356

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.

 

IMG_4380

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.

Advertisements

[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.

IMG_4538

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.