A Time To Make Friends

Many first time visitors to Germany are surprised by the cosmopolitan picture that presents itself in large cities such as Berlin, Hamburg or Frankfurt. This is not only seen on the menus of restaurants and coffee shops, but right on the high streets. Döner kebab stands have moved next to Bratwurst Grill, the corner bar has been transformed into an Italian restaurants and one finds a Sushi bar in every major shopping mall. Berlin is an ideal place to discover these varieties of cultures. ‘Promote variety and strengthen unity’ is the slogan of the senate and it is trying hard to work on that with more than 185 different countries represented in Germany’s capital.

The reasons why Berlin has such a variety of cultures are manifold and complex. Some migrants have come voluntarily with the hope to have better access to the Western economical market or to get one of the many degrees in German universities. Others have come in search for help and refuge as they had to flee war, civil unrest or nature catastrophes in their home lands. Already 15-18 % or 15 Million of the German population have a migrant background. In Berlin the figures are slightly higher.

Although many of the migrants in Berlin have been here for two or three generations already, the average German does very little to befriend his/her African or Asian neighbour. Many of these migrants have had little or no exposure to the Gospel nor have they heard it in a cultural sensitive way so that they can relate to.

Racism and racial prejudice are still part in weekly columns of the gazettes. Politicians and the media talk about integration and mutual understanding but accomplishments are far from ideal.

This is the time to make friends for Christians and churches with people from other parts of the world. The political slogan ‘Promote variety and strengthen unity’ is echoed in the Bible in different passages such as ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ which can be the Asian shopkeeper around the corner or the Turkish mom across the street.

Building bridges by Christians and churches has never been more important than today in a time when multiculturalism and multi-ethnic societies are part and parcel of globalization. The message of the Bible, which commands the peaceful human co-existence between people of different cultures, is something which needs to be lived out daily by Christians and modelled by churches across Europe.

Churches and mission organizations have started to see these vital opportunities in Europe but there is still a lot that needs to be done. Many of the new faces in Europe come from the most under-evangelized parts of the world, countries where sharing the gospel is often severely restricted.  God has brought these immigrants and refugees to Berlin and Europe, giving them greater access to the gospel. Here, in countries and cities with freedom of religious expressions, they can have access to the Gospel that is for all nations, cultures and languages.

Christians and churches in Europe have an awesome opportunity to play a part in World mission like never before. By reaching those people from so called ‘closed or restricted countries’ their witness in Europe has influence right inside these countries as most of them keep family ties with their respective home countries.

‘There is a time for everything’- but there was never a better time to make friends and to share the Gospel with migrants in Europe then now.

Berlin The ‘Quiet’ Capital of Buddhism in Germany.    

It’s a quiet and hot afternoon as I walk up the steep natural stairs that lead to the old Buddhist temple in Berlin. A sign, next to the stone carved entrance, has the name and date of the founder inscribed. ‘Paul Dahlke’ 1924 – physician, writer and founder of the Buddhist house Berlin’. As I open the wooden door that leads to the temple, I smell the typical incense fragrance. Flowers on the floor and in vases decorate the Buddha statues and pictures in the temple. In the quietness I ask myself the question: How many people in the last 55 years have thought peace and answers to life’s questions in this room and have not found it?

It’s not the only Buddhist place of worship within Berlin. In fact some 53 places are registered that cater for up to 12 000 Buddhists in Berlin. Half of them are Germans, who look for answers within the Eastern Religions that have become so fashionable in the West. The other half come from a number of South Asian countries such as Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, China, Tibet and others.

Berlin, the capital of Germany with its 3.5 million people, has become a melting pot of cultures and religions. Over the last several months I have come across a number of communities that are virtually unreached by churches and mission organizations. One of them are the Buddhist people of Berlin.

Take for instance the Vietnamese people in Berlin, a community with about 15 -20 000 people of which half are illegal, that have only two small fellowships with not more than 50 believers. These churches are struggling to survive and with little interest to reach out to their own people. Berlin gives great opportunities to work with unreached people groups right in the heart of Europe. Many of the Vietnamese people have fled and came as ‘Boat-people’ in the 1970’ during the Vietnamese war. Now they are trying to settle, mostly in the eastern part of Berlin but have hardly any contact with Germans and Christians. 

The biggest migrant group are the Turks. Nearly 200 000 live in several parts of the city. With their distinct identity, they have left their marks within Berlin. Whole streets and areas look like ‘little Turkey’. In the past several groups have started and work with the Turks in Berlin yet the numbers of believers is still quite small and fellowships are struggling to survive. The needs and the opportunities are big especially with the young Turks, who are at a crossroad in their identity struggle between western modernity and their parent’s culture. Sports ministry, youth clubs, cultural relevant home groups are just a few ideas how they could be reached with the love of Jesus Christ.

Berlin has tremendous opportunities to work with one of several unreached people groups as there are more than 190 different nationalities present. Who will pray for Berlin and its migrant communities and who will come and be a part of what God is doing in Berlin?