Practicing Patience in German Church Planting
Fifty-six-year-old Carsten gazed with curiosity at the small gift and the invitation he had just collected from his mailbox. The signature revealed it was from a young woman in her mid-thirties who lived in his apartment building. He hardly knew her! Why, then, would Hanna think of him at Christmastime and invite him to church with her?
The thought crossed his mind that perhaps she had some kind of crush on him, though that seemed unlikely since he didn’t consider himself particularly handsome or charming. Embarrassing though it may be, he was going to have to just come out and ask her.
Soon enough, Hanna had to explain to Carsten that he had misinterpreted her gesture. The young German woman attended an evangelical church in her city of Cologne, and she often boldly invited people to visit there with her. “In fact, I gave small gifts and invitations to everyone in this apartment complex,” she told Carsten.
Although the older man might have felt a mixture of relief and disappointment at this revelation, the invitation to Hanna’s church intrigued him. He hadn’t been inside a church in years! Why not check it out? He took his neighbor up on the invite and accompanied her the following Sunday. There, she introduced him to her pastor Manni and GEM worker Jim Budlong.
The serious, bespectacled newcomer with the crew cut struck Jim as extremely quiet and reserved. At first, he preferred to stand back and observe what was going on.
Carsten had grown up attending and even playing the organ in his local state-run Lutheran church. But that experience had been more about ritual and had lacked any kind of emphasis on knowing Christ personally. It didn’t take him long to notice that the evangelical church was different. It felt so alive, and the people in the congregation took their faith seriously in a way he had never before seen.
It was all so new and interesting that Carsten kept coming back every Sunday.
“He is still seeking and hasn’t found Jesus yet,” says Jim, “but he’s experiencing Christianity in a whole new way.”
Jim has been studying the book of 1 John with Carsten, showing him how to search the text and analyze it to pull out the true meaning. Carsten’s excitement at learning how to find the theme of a Bible passage has been a pleasant surprise to Jim. This seeking unbeliever shows an incredible hunger to understand God’s Word.
Both Jim and Manni have talked to him about taking a step of faith. Yet Carsten insists that he needs to take his time in deciding whether to follow Christ. “This is a big decision, and I am not going to just jump into it,” he says.
So, Jim faithfully and patiently persists in the relationship. Carsten had a stroke a few years back and is trying to retrain the left side of his body. During worship practice at the church, he often comes in and plays the piano in an adjacent room, trying to regain mobility and strength in his left hand. One of Jim’s goals is to eventually play a duet with him.
Manni has also connected with Carsten outside of church. Both men are avid table tennis players, and they often play the sport together.
Carsten has a strong respect for the elderly people in the church and often sits next to them during the Sunday service. Perhaps they remind him of his parents. His mother lives far away in the eastern part of Germany, and he has a son he rarely sees, who lives with his ex-wife.
He is constantly seeking ways to be involved in the church, even helping to organize men’s group meetings. He regularly looks for opportunities to help others. Recently, he purchased a bunk bed for the daughters of a Ukrainian refugee family that has relocated to Cologne, sponsored by the church.
“I see a joy in Carsten that was not there when he first began coming to church,” says Jim. “I think there is a new awakening in him, and he is realizing that faith is about more than just going through the motions.”
Motivated by 1 John 1:3, which says, Like John we can share what we’ve experienced in Christ so that they can also have fellowship with Jesus, Jim plans to continue to be there for Carsten until he is ready to take that leap of faith.
It is something worth waiting for.
Between Hanna’s willingness to step out in boldness and risk an awkward misunderstanding and Jim and Manni’s hopeful, steadfast presence in Carsten’s life, a man who might otherwise never have set foot back inside a church is now regularly attending one and learning how to study the Bible.
About the author:
Jenny Garrity is a storyteller with Greater Europe Mission. Jenny and her husband Kim joined GEM in 1984. They have served in Germany, Belgium, and most recently, Greece in response to the refugee crisis.