Missionary Diary: pastoring a new church in the Mecca of Berlin

Ali and her husband Rich are missionaries with European Christian Mission based in Berlin.

When we reach September in Berlin everyone knows that summer is soon to end. It feels like everyone wants to soak up these last warm days for all they are worth. The outdoor swimming pools are full to the brim of people seeking out coolness as no one has air-conditioners in their apartments.

These pools will all be closed in a couple of weeks. The nights are loud with people from the bars spilling out onto the pavement and the odd fight. Arabic pop music blares out from car speakers. Car horns go into overdrive as Turkish wedding convoys claim the streets. It won’t be long before the evenings will become silent again and people here retreat into hibernation mode. Winter is coming!

We came to Berlin from Sydney eight years ago, sent by European Christian Mission (ECM), with four kids and eight bags. Now we are down to two kids, with the older boys in Australia, and have a decked-out apartment, as well as two dachshunds. We are now very firmly in the stage of seeing an established church, ‘Kiez Church Wedding’. We have, for the most part, taken off our ‘missionary hats’ and have put on our pastoring ones.

Rich and Ali lead Kiez Church Wedding, a bilingual church in Berlin.

I’m sure our lives now are quite similar to pastors of new churches everywhere: the sadness of a family leaving because they didn’t like the preaching style (or was it the content?). Persevering with a young man with a drug addiction who is struggling to get out of his apartment on Sunday mornings. Yearning for people to just be present at church. Praising God for those who prioritise midweek small groups. Thankful for people who help out with kids, not because they feel they are very good at it but because they know how important it is. Dealing with the Western phenomenon of having many more mature Christian single ladies and hardly any young men.

Having spent many years as pretty standard missionaries, it’s a whole new ball game leading a bilingual German/English church. Everything becomes a whole lot more complex as we discuss church finances and the legal obligations of the church, all in German! Thankfully, we have a small leadership team who go above and beyond to deal with administration that is way beyond us.

We know we won’t be doing this work forever (it’s much better when a local leader can take over), so we are stepping slowly into the background.

Because the church is in its early days, Rich is preaching … a lot. Almost every Sunday for three years (apart from the summer holidays). A couple of the young men in the church have expressed an interest in preaching, so Rich has started a preaching course. It’s very exciting to see these young men stepping up to this responsibility.

We are also at the stage of making relationships with Bible colleges in Germany to see if we can bring in some young Bible college students to support the work. We know we won’t be doing this work forever (it’s much better when a local leader can take over), so we are stepping slowly into the background. It’s God’s church. What a relief that is!

People at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

We recently learned that our area of Berlin is called ‘The Mecca of Berlin’. That doesn’t mean it’s a mecca for coffee lovers or a mecca for music enthusiasts. It is simply where the most active Muslims are. We had the privilege to host a team for dinner from Operation Mobilisation (OM). They have been doing street evangelism throughout Berlin in the summer. Some of the Muslims they meet revel in arguing with Christians about all the flaws of the Bible. There are others who are open to having friendly discussions and some who are blatantly angry and intimidating. We struggle to know how to connect with the people here beyond friendly casual interactions, and we are grateful to be connected with this OM team who are at the coal face of evangelism week in and week out. And they thrive on it!

There was even a group of Turkish believers who had come from Turkey just to talk about Jesus with the Muslims in Berlin. One of the ladies couldn’t tell me about her church, but she gave me her number to call her if I ever visited. Then, she could give instructions about how to find their church. We should never take for granted the freedom we have to simply meet as believers.

Rich and Ali enjoy summer with young members of their church.

Rich is off tonight as he has been invited to play music at a new jam session in Berlin. The great thing about mission is that in doing what you love doing, you are also connecting with others for the sake of God’s kingdom. We hope to finish soon a new jazz album based on the Psalms. Praise God that one of the biggest jazz clubs in Berlin has offered the venue for us to launch the album. Many people we know would never dream of coming to a church service, but they would certainly love to have a glass of wine and listen to some great jazz in a club!

The whole world has come to Berlin. It is a city full of people escaping. Escaping war. Escaping a religious upbringing (the Christian kind or the Muslim one). Escaping family. Escaping conservative cultures. Escaping broken and pain-filled relationships. We pray that people here will find the freedom they crave – completely, in the arms of Jesus.