Roped In

Serving God in Germany

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

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.