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!
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.
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.
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.
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