Roped In

Serving God in Germany

Ending a wonderful chapter

James and Beth at Porquerolles, an island off South of France

With our time here in Berlin quickly coming to an end, we want to give you all a much-needed update on how things are going here. Sincere apologies for not sending an update sooner, but we have and still do appreciate your continual support and prayer. Without your prayers, and the grace and power of God, we could not have done many of the things we were able to during our time here in Berlin.

James has been doing really well in his job and has had many opportunities to share his faith with his colleagues. There have been many occasions where colleagues have come up to him saying they have stumbled upon his personal blog all about our journey of serving God here in Berlin. These people were very interested and some said they could not stop reading it. This has lead to some great conversations between James and some of his colleagues. We believe God is paving the way in these people's lives. The respect James has had in his workplace has lead to many conversations where people would be genuinely interested in why a senior software engineer would move to the other side of the world to help plant a new church. Praise God that he has used James in his job, as well as in his personal blogging to be a witness of God. The numerous times James would come home and share stories of the conversations he had with people at work and the ease at which he felt he could do it has simply been the powerful work of God. Thankyou for those who have been praying specifically for this. James has gradually built up some friendships at work, however it has taken almost a full year to develop these friendships. The German culture makes it even harder to make solid friendships at work, as the German people tend to be more private and to separate work and home life a lot more than Australians. Despite this however, God has still enabled James to build relationships that have the potential to continue to grow once he returns to Australia, with a few of his colleagues. In the meantime, James has enjoyed his job and has enjoyed working here in Berlin. It has been made clear that if we were to return to Berlin, he could easily return to his current job. Praise God for this offer as it keeps doors open for us here if we were to decide to return to Berlin in the future.

James has also been an active member of the music team during his time here in Mavuno Berlin. His presence in the band has been a true encouragement and blessing as he has been able to use his musical giftings regularly in this ministry. Despite some challenges in the music team, James has continually shared how he has been learning humility and meekness, being a valuable lesson learnt and one he can use in ministry in the future. The church have certainly appreciated hearing James' music each Sunday, whether they were in the forms of guitar, bass or keyboard.

We have also been able to enjoy and be fed spiritually in the regular Thursday night prayer meetings. The meetings involve meeting at Dan and Nancy's house with a small group of people who have moved to Berlin specifically for the church plant. Being able to share openly, be fed through the Bible and through fellowship has been a continual support for us both.

Children in the English camp

Beth has been very busy this year as a full-time intern at the church here. Her role mostly involved working for the children's program in helping come up with creative ideas for the program and outreach events. This opportunity to work as an intern came up after Beth was in conversation one day with Daniel, whilst nannying his son Ferdinand. Beth was sharing her ideas for the kids program and her desire to see it grow and develop. Daniel and Nancy then thought and prayed about the opportunity for Beth to join the Mavuno Berlin staff team as a full-time children's worker. Beth was then officially invited to join them on staff. This was very exciting and a natural progression as Beth had previously been taking care of Ferdinand for the previous 2 months and had given her many opportunities to share her thoughts and ideas with Dan and Nancy whilst being in their home. Her role would involve travelling to Dan and Nancy's (pastors of Mavuno Berlin) house each weekday and working under the supervision of Nancy, in their home. Beth was given the same intern requirements as the Mavuno Kenya interns, and since she had travelled to Kenya in January of this year to see the church, Beth had quickly discovered how exciting it was to join the staff team in the overall mission of the Mavuno church.

Children in the English camp

Beth's role as an intern was quickly put into practice as she later developed a 12- week Sunday school program called "Mission Possible-step by step with Jesus". It had a secret agents theme and focused on discipling the kids by reminding them of the basics of what having a relationship with God involved. Topics throughout the program included: choosing the right path, perseverance, living through the spirit, understanding your purpose and having a servant heart. Praise be to God who worked in the hearts of the kids during the program, as 4 kids gave their lives to God after being given the opportunity during on one of the weeks. This was a huge answer to prayer and a great encouragement for Beth and the children's leadership team. Beth also ran a 3 day English camp which was a practice run for further English camps to be run by the church in the future. 12 kids attended, and 1 child gave their life to Jesus and another recommitted their life through an alter call. Praise God for working in these children's lives. Each day consisted of worship and a Bible talk, English lessons and games. It was a great time for Beth to get to know the kids and despite it only being a practice run, it has paved the way for future English camps that will be run by the young American missionaries who have recently joined the church plant.

Children in the English camp

Other activities Beth was involved in included a Blessing Day where volunteers from the church came to help revamp the kid's room by painting, decorating, cleaning and tidying. It ended up looking a lot more kid-friendly and colourful-a great result for all. Another activity was a filming day where Beth spent one Saturday with the kids making a secret agent episode series that would be shown weekly throughout the program. This was a big hit amongst the kids and helped them engage a lot more in the Sunday lessons.

Our German speaking skills have continued to increase each month. We are now able to converse easily with German speakers and have good conversations. Beth has especially enjoyed learning the language, so praise God that this interest has made it a lot easier to learn. James continues to learn also, and we are at a point now where learning vocabulary is our focus, now that we have learnt a lot of the grammar and structure. Beth's role as an intern in the church has given her many opportunities to use her German-especially writing emails and speaking in regular meetings. Beth now also prays in German at prayer meetings, being a big milestone in her learning. Being able to connect with the German's through our language has significantly enabled us to form deeper relationships, this being a big answer to prayer.

Moving onto everyday life here in Berlin, we have felt very blessed by how God has given us some solid friendships with people in the church during our time here. Families have been very hospitable and welcoming our entire time here, with the atmosphere in the church being very warm and friendly. Some highlights have been having dinner at people's houses, travelling to Dresden with a lovely couple over Easter and the continual interest in our well being by members of the congregation. Praise God for how he has cared for us in this way.

James with the Vatinel family in Toulon

Despite so many positives, life hasn't always been easy here in Berlin. Around April this year James and I were finally hit with culture shock and a pretty bad bout of homesickness. It meant we found it harder to be motivated; we lacked energy, our awareness of the cultural differences became more heightened and we were really missing home. But God provided for us yet again and we were happy to welcome John Gray to Berlin at the end of April. Seeing a familiar face and having many encouraging conversations with John was a welcomed encouragement for us both. We were so honoured to have John come all the way to Berlin to visit us. Having the minister of our church patiently listen to us and give us well-needed encouragement and advice was a true blessing. We will always be thankful for his visit. Recently we have also had a few friends visit us from church and this was a well timed blessing as we have been in Berlin for almost 11 months now so seeing more friendly, familiar faces was very uplifting.

Beth's friendships with the people she met in her German class at the beginning of her time in Berlin have continued to grow and have been a great help in allowing Beth balance away from church activities. The many fun times spent with this group has been a breath of fresh air away from the German culture, since the group come from various different backgrounds such as England, Spain and America. Beth has been able to have some good conversations with these people, so please pray that God will work in their hearts to bring them to him. James has also befriended this group and enjoyed many a time together with them, as well as spending time with new work friends.

In June, we decided to take a well-earned and needed holiday. We travelled to France where we both have friends. A highlight was reconnecting with friends in the South of France, who are a great Christian family. This was an encouragement to us both as we are constantly blown away by how God works in people all across the world. Coming together with this family was a reminder of how we, as Christians, are united under God's love. The family took us sightseeing, including a trip to a gorgeous French village off the beaten track. Our holiday concluded with a two-night stay on an island off the coast of the south of France. This was a great time for us as a couple to reflect on a big year, and to enjoy each other’s company with no distractions.

Welcoming the Americans

The latest update in the church is the arrival of an American team to help with the church plant. The team comes from North Carolina, from a church called Chapel Hill Bible Church (CHBC). This church has similar connections with Nairobi Chapel like St. Paul's Castle Hill. The team is lead by Roddy Dinsmore, the young adult/music pastor from CHBC. The team consists of Roddy, his wife Katie and their 2 kids, as well as 6 university students ranging from 19 to 23 years old. Their presence is very encouraging in Mavuno Berlin church, and the team is very gifted in ways such as musically, artistically and with kids ministry. We have already formed good friendships with people on the team, especially Roddy and Katie, as we spend many a weekend with them and their 2 young boys. If you want to follow their journey, here are links to their blogs:

To end, our final 3 weeks here in Berlin have finally approached. Our last weeks will consist of packing, tieing up loose ends, meeting with people from the church and farewells with friends. It will also be a time of reflection as we look back on a year of joys, challenges, many blessings and lessons. We have felt very blessed by God the entire time here, so praise God that we end our time here so positively. Please continue to pray for us as we bring this chapter of our lives to a close.

Thanks again for continually praying for us, and we thoroughly look forward to reconnecting with you again in person.

The contrasts of snow

What runs around like all its Christmas' have come at once while everyone else around it is groaning? An Australian when they see it snowing in their city for the first time! On Saturday last week Berlin got 2cm of snow, and another 3cm fell on Thursday night. Our street when it first snowed While everyone else is bemoaning the cold and increased work that the snow presents, we have been running around like tourists, taking photos, having snow fights, kicking up snow and making right royal fools of ourselves. We've learnt a few things over the past week:

  • It's actually true that snowflakes are 6 pointed stars with intricate patterns, and can be quite large.
  • Snow is not always hard and wet. As long as it's cold enough, it is soft and powdery, and will stay that way on the ground for as long as it stays cold.
  • There are magical elves that come and sweep the snow off the paths and road within hours of it snowing. We haven't seen any yet, but that's the only explanation we can think of for how the snow is so promptly cleared after it snows.
  • If your ears are hurting, it's not cold. Cold is when you stopped having any feeling in your ears a long time ago, and talking is getting hard because your cheeks are hard and numb.

Of course, the reality of snow is that while it may be beautiful, it is also very cold. This morning we went for a walk in a beautiful forest. It was sunny, but there were just enough clouds for snow to be glittering through the sunlight as it fell, landing on our jackets where we could marvel at the intricate patterns of the flakes. A snowflake on Beth's jacket Everything was silent but for the creaking of trees as they swayed slowly back and forth, and the atmosphere was magical. However, we couldn't enjoy it for too long, because it was so cold, -14°C!

This contrast of beauty and hardship is similar to some of the experiences we are having in church at the moment. This Sunday we are starting something new, a course called Mizizi. Mizizi is the Swahili word for roots, the course was developed by Mavuno to show new Christians and to take old Christians back to the roots of what it means to be a disciple. When Mavuno first started, it was done by every member of Mavuno, and since then it has been the first step for everyone to get involved in Mavuno. The course has been translated and adapted to German culture, and it is our hope that this course will help inspire people to get out of the church and into the culture around them, shining as bright lights on tops of hills.

In order to emphasise the importance of this course and ensure that everyone does it, we are doing it on Sundays. Every second Sunday, we do it instead of church, in our homes, and every other Sunday, we do it as part of church. This has been met with considerable resistance. Many people are worried that without a church service every week we will lose our commitment, and others are worried about what will happen if visitors come on the weeks that we don't have church. Most weeks we do get some visitors, but they are always Christians. Our church Jesus said that it's not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick. If only healthy people visited a doctors surgery, there would be no need for the doctor to be there. Similarly, if only Christians are visiting our church on Sunday, there is no need for us to be there on Sunday. Those Christians that do visit will be more than capable of finding another church, and we consider it no loss that a Christian that might have joined our church didn't — Christians swapping churches does nothing to build the kingdom.

Please pray for our congregation, that they will understand the reasons behind why we are doing what we are doing. Please pray that the Mizizi course would inspire them to engage the society outside the church; we would love nothing more than the result of doing Mizizi to be that our church as one, stops and says "Hang on, why are we spending all our energy running church services when no one is coming to Christ as a result? Let's stop, focus our energy on engaging with people outside the church, and draw them into church, and then start putting energy into doing church services again." If that were to happen, it would be a miracle. Fortunately, God is in the business of miracles, so please pray!

Beth and James in the church carpark

Beth and James in the church carpark.

A glimpse of summer

According to our German friends, this winter has been a warm winter. This time last year there were periods of weeks where the temparature never rose above -10°C, some days the maximum temperature was -20°C. This winter we've been braving sweltering temperatures hovering around 0°C, and much to our dismay, there has been very little snow, and none that has settled on the ground. Nevertheless, it's cold! At a time when we're supposed to be having BBQs on the beach, and sitting back watching the cricket, beer in hand, the cold drizzle of Berlin weather takes its toll on our morales. So what better thing to do than to head down to Kenya for a couple of weeks to thaw out!

The view from our balcony

Mombasa

Our primary reason for going to Kenya was to join the Mavuno staff retreat. Mavuno has about 80 staff members including interns across its campuses. We made the 12 hour overnight bus trip (including a change of buses and a ferry) to Mombasa with the team, and stayed at a lovely resort on the beach. But don't think we were relaxing! A packed program each day starting with breakfast at 7am and activities all the way through to the night kept us very busy. In between activities we did have some brief chances to swim on the beach, and try out full contact water polo which the Kenyans play like their lives depend on it.

The theme for the staff retreat was change, with Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson being the main reading. You would think a church like Mavuno, that has redefined church in such a way that unchurched young adults feel right at home in it with no awkward church culture to get used to before they feel comfortable, wouldn't have to worry too much about changing. Church at Mavuno In fact it's change that has made them who they are, and as they become a large organisation, they more than anyone else need to be ready to adapt to change as the culture around them progresses forward. Pastor Muriithi posed the interesting question to all his staff, "What if I fired all of you today, what would you do?" He wanted us to think outside the box of our roles in our churches, and see where God has given us passion to serve and flourish.

For us, the big take away was that we need to step up our thoughts for making a night club church, and turn it into a reality. Mavuno has some big visions, they want to plant a culture defining church in every African capital city, and all the gateway cities of the world, by 2035. We shared with the Mavuno team our vision, and now we have the whole Mavuno staff team watching us, waiting to see how it goes. It's exciting, but at the same time scary and overwhelming. We've got no idea what such a church will look like, but at least we know what we want to achieve, we want to create a church that the people of Berlin's clubbing scene will feel 100% at home in.

Leisure

While the purpose of our trip was to join the staff retreat, we weren't going to pass up the opportunity to see the best that Kenya has to offer... wild animals! The cheetah making its kill We spent three days in the Maasai Mara, observing lions, elephants, rhinos, hippos, giraffes, and the highlight, a cheetah searching for, stalking and then killing a gazelle. Our accomodation was the so called "outdoor" Kenyan experience. For seasoned trekkers such as ourselves, it was a little underwhelming compared the expactions the name conjured up, a better name would be a luxury hotel with canvas for walls. That said, it was very nice, we've never had a hot water shower and flushing toilet en-suite in a tent before!

We also had the chance to go where the tourist buses don't usually go to, that is, to the slums. We visited a Mavuno initiative called Maono, which sets up groups of people that do village banking, so each group has rolling funds that can be used to make micro loans to each other. These groups teach their members discipline and money management skills, as well as give them access to capital for business investments that they wouldn't usually have access to. We also had an opportunity to visit a school that Mavuno supports, and serve the children lunch.

Praise God that:

  • We had a safe and enjoyable time in Kenya
  • We made some lasting friendships with the very warm Mavuno staff team
  • God has fired us up for continued work in Berlin

Pray that God would:

  • Help us to not be overwhelmed by the tasks ahead of us
  • Give us wisdom on what the next steps forward are
  • Help us to settle back into a daily routine

A few more safari pictures, because who doesn't want to see pictures of wild animals!

Beth on Safari

Beth on Safari

An elephant eating some shrubs

An elephant eating some shrubs

Beth's favourite: some giraffes

Beth's favourite: some giraffes

A lion cub

A lion cub crossing the road

New Thinking in a New Year

It's a new year, and we are thinking that a good new years resolution will be for us to write more regular updates. It's been over 3 months since our last one. So this is going to be a long update!

Highlights

In early October we attended a conference called "Gemeinde Neu Denken" in Wiedenest, not far for Cologne. A literal translation of the name is "congregation new thinking", however the same conference in English might be called something like "Rethinking church". It was a conference for German church planters, one of the speakers was Muriithi Wanjau, senior pastor of Mavuno in Nairobi. We were both very inspired by this conference, and felt that God was giving us a new sense of vision for our future in Berlin, which was greatly encouraging because we came here with no expectations of how we would fit in, and now feel like we have a purpose.

Beth finished her studies at the Goethe Institute, and has since been volunteering full time as a nanny for Ferdinand, the son of Dan and Nancy. She has really enjoyed not only the work, but also learning from Dan and Nancy in the runnings of a church, and has been mentored in her Christian walk by them.

It took us a while, but in November we found our own apartment. This apartment was an amazing answer to prayer, we didn't really know what we were looking for or what we needed - when you are in a different culture in a different country, priorities for accommodation are different, from heating to location to size to appropriate furnishings to price to what sort of contract etc. But this apartment has turned out to be perfect for us. The building was built in 1904, but like most German buildings, it is more solid than a newly built Australian apartment. It has an amazing staircase up to it, high ceilings and large windows. We are only 300m from the S-Bahn (the train that James takes to work), U-Bahn (underground trains), and a major bus stop (from where Beth catches the bus to Dan and Nancy's each day). The apartment came partially furnished, and many people of the church donated very generously things like saucepans, crockery and cutlery, towels etc, so that in the end the only thing we really had to buy was a bed and bed linen.

Our first German Christmas was an experience. Unfortunately, unlike the previous few years, it didn't snow before Christmas (and still hasn't snowed). However, we were still able to enjoy sipping Glühwein (mulled wine) at Christmas markets and enjoy all the wonderful Christmas tradition that Germany is so famous for. James went with a few men from church and cut down a Christmas tree for our place. We were joined by Beth's parents for Christmas, and on Christmas day had roast goose, a very traditional German Christmas dinner.

Finally New Years was yet another entirely new experience for us. New Years Eve in Berlin is something that has to be seen, we can't do it justice with words, but everything we ever thought about what makes good fireworks on New Years was turned upside down. Fireworks can be legally purchased and let off in the streets in Germany on New Years. From 6pm to the early (or even late) hours of the morning, there is a constant sound of fireworks going off, from bungers to rockets, not a single second goes by without hearing a crack, near or far. We were in the city at midnight, and it was absolute mayhem, with fireworks going off everywhere around us! We bought some of our own, and fired rockets into the sky, which were hard to track because there were so many other people firing their own rockets. Afterwards, the streets looked like a riot had happened, with rubbish from the fireworks everywhere.

Language

We are progressing well with our German. Someone told us that when they first moved to Germany, after about 4 months, something clicked, and suddenly they were able to understand people. Our 4 month mark was quickly approaching, and nothing had clicked. However, we both found a few weeks ago that something did click. Before, even if someone spoke to us with only words that we knew, we wouldn't understand them, until maybe 10 seconds later, once we had processed everything they had said. However, now if they use words we know, we understand them, and if they use words we don't know, we're able to make good guesses at what those words mean. This is quite exciting for us because it means we can now start learning at an accelerated pace through ordinary every day conversations.

Church

The church is continuing to learn and work out what it means to relate to 21st century German secular culture. The Christmas Eve service was a highlight; everyone, including non Christian visitors, loved the music, and Dan and Nancy gave a very down to earth sermon.

Our biggest prayer for the church now is continued energy to think outside the box, and recognise what parts of our church, not just our services but also our lives within the congregation, are relics of a culture that todays secular Germans no longer understand, and what parts are the gospel. The former we must discard, however discarding is not easy because those parts are familiar and comfortable, and it's the only way many people have ever known how to do church. It's also very hard to know what these parts must be replaced with, this involves getting outside the church and interacting with the community, joining local groups and understanding what modern secular Germans are looking for in a community. The latter is the foundation on which the church will grow, and cannot be compromised. We believe strongly that Christianity itself is not a culture, but rather expresses itself in every different culture in different ways. We must be careful not to try and take our familiar church culture to the world, but rather to take just the gospel. People don't want or need a new culture, but they do need the saving grace of Jesus. Our challenge is to work out how the gospel can be expressed through modern German secular culture.

Future

We are feeling that God has more in store for us in Germany than being here for a single year. Our intention now is that we will come back to Australia, but then return to Germany for a longer period of time. During that time we will be primarily focussed on trying radical ideas for reaching young Germans. For example, we are currently investigating the feasibility of running a night club style church service, late on Saturday nights, in a bar. Details are still sketchy, but Berlin culture is something very special, and we believe there are huge opportunities for innovative application of the gospel to it.

Beth has also been asked by Dan and Nancy if she would start an internship in the church this year. This is a very exciting prospect for us, and we are praying for guidance from God on whether it's the right thing to do, and how it should be executed.

On the 5th of January we are heading to Kenya for two weeks, to attend the Mavuno staff retreat, and to see and be inspired by Mavuno church. We are really excited about this, and the African warmth should be a welcome change from the Berlin cold.

Praise God that:

  • We have found an apartment and have settled into life in Berlin
  • We have a vision for what God wants us to do in Berlin
  • Our knowledge of German and understanding of German culture is coming along well

Pray that God would:

  • Guide us in whether and how Beth should undertake an internship in the church
  • Give us more direct inspiration for our future while we are in Kenya
  • Guide our church forward with innovative ways to reach the people of Berlin

Video from the restart service

Pastor Kyama from Mavuno has put together an awesome video of scenes from the restart service, we hope you will enjoy it, and get a feel for what we are doing with this congregation!

About

Hi! We're James and Beth, we are a couple that helped plant a church in Berlin, Germany. This is our story.

You can read more about us here.