Frank

     I went to Germany, recently, to determine my purpose in the Dresden initiative. To do this, I needed to observe, learn, pray, and process what God was doing in Dresden. Events, like the DASS Camp (Blog) were part of that process. I hoped to begin friendships with teenagers and to be a part of what God would do through camp.
     DASS Camp went smoothly. One family even had us (the American team) over for dinner when camp was finished, to thank us. Rico was a teenager who attended camp. His mother Jule attended the Evangelical Free Church of Dresden. The man who grilled the pile of wurst we consumed was named Frank. He is Jule’s boyfriend. Of the three, Frank spoke English best. During dinner, the Ingrams translated for me and for Roger, but Frank willingly spoke to us in English.
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     Frank was very outgoing, open about his thoughts, and willing to answer just about anything we asked him. It wasn’t long before Frank told us that he was an atheist. This was a little surprising at first, as Rico and Jule both seemed to have faith. However, in the context of Germany, where religion is often seen only as history, this fact and declaration were not surprising at all. Like other atheists I had met, Frank was comfortable discussing God with curiosity rather than contempt. His curiosity about our culture grew, while our curiosity about his story grew.
     After 11pm, Frank brought his prized alcohol and did just about anything he could to get us to stay. We thanked him for his generosity, but reminded him that we had church the next day. Not being content that this departure would mean “goodbye,” Frank arranged to take me and Roger out on the following Monday. We happily agreed.
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     To our great surprise, Frank came to church the next day. I believe that he had never been to the Evangelical Free church of Dresden before. Wanting to hang out with us again, Frank came willingly. Roger caught up with him right away while I found a seat with Jule. Unlike the previous Sunday, Roger and I chose to sit apart from translation, since I wanted to experience the German service fully. For a short time, Frank took a crack at translating for us, but this quickly became awkward among the silent members on every side. Instead, we told Frank to listen carefully and share the sermon with us later.
     As soon as the service was over, I asked Frank what he thought of the message. He smiled and said that the message was very important for him. Not wanting to discuss it further at that point, Frank promised to discuss it with us the next evening.
     The next evening, Roger and I met Frank outside of the church. Together, we hopped on a tram heading to the part of the city nobody else cared to show us- the Neustadt, or “new city”. Quite honestly, this part of the city was known for its bars, which was exactly why Frank was excited to take us there. Most of his favorite places were at the Neustadt. Excited to experience a different side of the Dresden culture, we followed Frank’s lead straight to a hole in the wall pub, with a small garden seating area.
     Eager to find out what Frank thought about the sermon, I jumped into my questions right away. I wanted to know why he had found the sermon particularly applicable for him, and what had caused him to say that it had been important for him. I had recognized some German words during the sermon, which lead me to believe the pastor was reading from the book of Isaiah. Frank explained that the service had been about our purpose.
     When I asked Frank about his purpose, he launched into a series of humorous and surreal stories about his past which truly seemed meant for a movie. If you message me on Facebook, I will share my favorite story of his days spent as a “security guard” and “collections agent” for a group he says were not technically the Russian Mafia, whatever that means. Other interesting stories included Frank winning and losing large amounts of money through online poker, and so forth. Now Frank is a high school math teacher, which he finds very fulfilling.
     Frank shared with us that he desired to be a teacher in the juvenile prison system. He said that he wanted to do this because it was important that somebody believed in these teenagers and taught them that their mistakes didn’t have to determine their future. This was Frank’s purpose. I was stunned by his beautiful sentiment. I couldn’t decide where to go with conversation, though I had hundreds of responses to choose from. We discussed Isaiah. We discussed the gospel. We discussed what our calling/purpose was. Since our conversation was limited by language, we weren’t able to go too deep. Frank was sharing his heart though and I was overwhelmed by the fact that Roger and I were given such a privilege.
     Finding the right way to end our evening was difficult. Roger and I were tired. We had been through a lot in 3 weeks, but Frank had become very important to us.  If we had the energy, we could have easily stayed out all night talking with Frank. Yet, 1am came quickly and we were spent. We exchanged hugs and promises to stay in touch.
     Since that evening, we have all kept in touch through email. Frank is gracious and writes to me in English. I just received an email from Jule today, in English. I almost cried because I knew how hard it was for her to put it together. Google Translate does not help as much as you might think it would. I have a thank you card that remains blank because I am still trying to properly translate a few paragraphs for someone who hosted me in Germany.
     I am overjoyed by this growing friendship with Frank and Jule. I am also frustrated by the way we always close our emails to each other: “I hope you return soon” and “I hope to be there soon.” I want to be there! I want to get started on language learning, so that I can be the one to speak outside of my comfort zone. Friendship can only go so far through email. I want to be with these people.
     This is my calling. This is my purpose. I have many ideas about reaching out to the youth culture of Dresden. In reality, I want to reach families with the Gospel and to build the church through them. My prayer is that one day Frank will be the church. God has given him the desire to offer hurting teenagers hope and redemption. This is Frank’s purpose. Mine is not unlike his.
If you would like to hear more about what God is doing in East Germany, please email me: leximcnair@gmail.com
I would LOVE to get together to talk.
To read my personal prayer requests, join my Facebook Group: Lexi’s Germany TEAM
A Quick Look at Dresden
(Including a glimpse of walking through the Neustadt with Frank)

Jan

My second Sunday in Dresden, I attended the Evangelical Free Church which the church planting team is working with. Unpredictably, everything about the FeG felt comfortable and familiar. This was most surprising because the entire service was in German, and the church held its service in a modern reconstruction of an old ballroom. I could just feel the love of the community.  

After church, the bass player introduced himself to me and to Roger. I complimented his impeccable talent immediately and struggled in deciding whether or not to mention that I pretended to play the bass, compared to his talent. (For the record, I believe that I did). Jan was very friendly and well spoken, in English. After a short chat, he told Jeff that he would like to show us around Dresden. We gladly accepted the invite, expecting Jan to have a different perspective than Klaus.

Klaus had taken us to the old part of the city and explained its history. Jan took us out to what locals call the Switzerland of Saxony- beautiful gardens, rock formations, and scenic views of the Elbe River. Along the way, Jan happily answered all of my questions. I’m sure I wore him out with conversation. 

Surprisingly, Jan offered a perspective on Communism that I had not yet heard. He had been a young man during the time of Communism and became a Christian in the same year that the wall came down. I believed that he too would have a story of suffering. Instead, Jan said the limitations of Communism really pushed him creatively and mechanically. Not having access to anything from the west, or basic parts in some cases, Jan had to build things on his own. He wanted a computer, so he built one. If his bike needed a repair, he had to make his own pieces. Limitations helped him to grow intellectually. The German word for this state of being without is “mangel.” It means “shortage.”

As a school teacher, Jan said that he didn’t see this in the lives of teenagers today. He said that they were meant to be “consumers, not inventors.” Ultimately, Jan believed that the oppression produced good character and creativity that is lacking in modern culture.  

On the other hand, Jan didn’t speak positively of the DDR (Deutsche Democratic Republic). The system, in general, was terrible. People had nothing to gain by working hard, but they had a lot to lose if they didn’t. So, Jan and his friends made plans to escape the east and move to the west. They never went through with it, but the idea was tossed around a lot.

Jan wouldn’t say that Communism was good, but he didn’t seem to have the rough experience others spoke of. It may been a matter of perspective. Like Klaus, Jan had also ordered his Trabant car from the government. The wall came down before he got the car though. He shrugged and laughed when he said this, but I think most people would be pretty mad about waiting years for a car they would never receive. Like he said though, more important things were happening. In that same year the wall came down (1989), Jan heard and accepted the Gospel through, what I gather was, a revival meeting his friends had invited him to.

When Jan returned home, he joined a state/Lutheran church. Having new life, Jan had a hard time with the state church. People didn’t have a relationship with Jesus and didn’t know how to answer his questions. The state church did not preach or reflect the Gospel message, but Jan chose to stay and to do everything he could to change the church from the inside. He didn’t feel like leaving the church was the best option. 
Around that time period, however, he spent a year in the states- where he attended an Evangelical Free church. The difference was like night and day. He grew in his faith there and desired to be a part of a church like that in his home country. Frustrated with the state church, he joined the FeG (Freie Evangelische Gemeinden/Evangelical Free Church), when he returned to Germany. 

Jan’s Comparison of the German and American Church

Jan wrote a paper, comparing the Petri-Nikolai-Kirche (Church) of Freiberg with the Crystal Evangelical Free Church of Minneapolis, for an English course. He was happy to share his paper with me. Finding his comparison fascinating, I have posted some excerpts below. 

My experiences in Crystal Evangelical Free Church in Minneapolis and my long experience with the German system of state churches led me to the following questions which became the starting point for the project:

1. How do the fundamental differences of the American and German church systems influence individual churches?

2. Which differences and which common aspects can be seen in the work of the two individual churches?

For individual members, the German system is characterized by the following aspects: 

1. Baptism marks the beginning of membership. Since most of the people are baptized as infants, they become members of the church without a conscious decision about their own membership.

2. Besides offerings and donations, the churches major financial receipts are taxes and are imposed on the members by the state – similar to the states taxes.

3. Every member belongs to a local church according to her/his place of living. This placement is carried out by the state authorities. Every time a church member moves to a different home, the member has to register and is subsequently assigned to a local church. Only recently however, have there been new regulations established allowing members to change churches.

It is undoubtedly true that large numbers of church members have no personal relationship to their church. Tradition is the only reason for their membership.

The following questionnaire was completed by members of each congregation.

Question #1 demographics.  

Question #5 demographics. 

 
Asked for the reason for membership, it was option 2 in Freiberg (I am assigned to this church by place of living) and option 4 in Minneapolis (I like the services and other activities of this church) that were chosen by majorities.

Question #8 demographics. 

 Question #9 demographics.

  

Just as I had expected, almost all German interviewees are members of the church in Freiberg, while only about two thirds of the interviewees and Crystal Evangelical Church are members. Since I know from experience that it is quite unusual for Germans to attend worship services without being church members, one can assume that most of the 8% non-members attended the service as guests although they actually are members of another church.

One can clearly see that membership is interpreted differently in the two different systems. While it is mainly considered a traditional feature in Germany, which millions of German received as infants, it is connected to a clear statement of faith in the USA.

Question #10 demographics.  

Question #11 and #14 demographics.   

Question #17 demographics.   

While 88% of the American interviews read at least frequently, only 12% answered sometimes or rarely. A comparatively large group of Freibergians answered they read every day 28% and frequently 20%, while many more people then in Minneapolis use to read only sometimes 27% or rarely 25%.

Question #18 demographics. 

 
While not as much emphasis is put on baptism and loving one’s neighbor, much more importance is attached to developing a personal relationship, to prayer and to reading the Bible by the interviewees in Crystal Evangelical free Church. In Freiberg, all options scored relatively evenly. With this result, this last question of the questionnaire again seems to reveal a stronger consciousness about individual faith with the interviewed people in Crystal Evangelical free Church. There seem to be many people in Freiberg who are not as conscious about their faith in who attach greater importance to all sorts of things. 

Conclusion

I’m unable to hide my sympathies for the structures and activities of the American church. If one considers the fact that both churches do not only have the same biblical assignment, but also nearly the same number of members, it is amazing to see how difficult things are in Germany, while the American church seems to be very dynamic and full of life.

When Pastor Rodquist called it his church’s actual task to spread the gospel and to live for outsiders, it made me very concerned about the situation in my church where internal problems are predominant and nobody seems to care about outsiders. The determination to live the Christian faith which has an impact on all aspects of life can be experienced much better in Crystal Evangelical Free Church, while in Freiberg the church’s status is often that of a traditional ritual.

Für den König

German Folk Worship Song, performed by the worship band Jan plays in.

  
Johnson Grass

The German folk band Jan plays bass for.

Klaus

Huddled over a mound of dirty clothes and unpacked suitcases, Roger mumbled: “I don’t like this.”

After spending a week in the woods, our leadership team returned to Dresden with about an hour to spare before our debrief dinner. Within that small window of time, Roger was to get ready for dinner and repack a  bag for an overnight stay with a German couple he had never met. Previous to this moment, Roger had: endured a very long trip from South Carolina to Dresden, spent his first night in Europe with a German couple (whose English was limited), and survived a challenging week of sports camp. You can imagine that it was hard for him to pack, with a moments notice, for another stretching cultural experience. The couple he was to stay with only spoke German. Roger would be joining a teenager who had also helped at camp that night, at the home of Klaus. Luckily Micah spoke German, which meant that he would become Roger’s interpreter.  

   

At church, the next day, I was eager to catch up with Roger. I couldn’t wait to find out how his stay with Klaus had been. That night, Roger and I would be switching housing situations. Micah was to leave for the States and my friend, Katrina, was to fly in. 

Roger reported that the apartment was very “East German.” He described the apartment as small, with a strange layout. The furniture was old and the apartment was slightly cluttered. Operatic music lingered in the background. Stranger yet, Roger explained the art he had seen on the walls and the trinkets that sat around the apartment. He was surprised that all of these things were Jewish. I too was surprised by that fact, but I figured that I would get the story later. Having just finished a long week of camp and a heavy dinner, Roger admitted that he faded in and out of the conversation that night. Not trusting his observation skills in that condition, I wasn’t at all sure what I was walking into. 

  
When Katrina and I walked into the apartment, I couldn’t keep myself from exclaiming “Chagall!” It’s true, I have a rare condition. I can’t help but yell the name of artists that I spot work from across the room. I can keep the volume in check in museums, but it’s harder in situations where I am not expecting to see a masterpiece. Covering my mouth, I felt embarrassed about my outburst. Klaus smiled and confirmed that many of his pieces were Chagalls. Originals (!!), in fact. His wife, Annette, scrambled to get a book from the exhibition where they had purchased the paintings. From that point on, the books and the stories kept coming. Fighting the heat and my nagging exhaustion, Katrina and I kept Klaus and Annette talking for 2 to 3 hours. 

 

When I asked Klaus and Annette about the Allied bombing of Dresden, they handed me a book with pictures of the aftermath. I cautiously turned the pages. I was surprised by the charred remains that appeared before me. More surprisingly, Annette shared that her mother had been a part of the Bund Deutscher Mädel and that she had come into the city the day after the bombing, to help clean up the victims left hurting in the streets. She described her mother wiping the ash from the eyes of those suffering. About 25,000 Germans died in the bombing. Annette then told us about the 100,000 Jews that were spared because of the chaos. They were to be taken to camps by train one week later. 25,000 Germans lost their lives but 100,000 Jews were spared.

Klaus told us about the town he lived in, outside of Dresden. His great grandfather had been the mayor of this town and was well loved. In WWII, the Nazi party approached him with a “request” for his support and participation. He refused at first, but conceded when his family was threatened. Similarly, his grandfather was pressured into joining the Communist party. So when Klaus was growing up, his father told him that he was free to be whatever he wanted to be. Klaus chose to be an atheist. 

Annette, however, gave us quite a different account of her own life. When she was a young woman, she had seen advertisement about a meeting that was going to occur by her apartment. Curious about it, she followed a small crowd into the meeting. The gentleman running the meeting was a preacher who wanted to begin an Evangelical Free church in Dresden. Annette was intrigued. She went back for the next meeting but she was the only person who had shown up, other than the preacher. Thinking that this Evangelical Free church could turn into something, she decided that it would be good to stay and be a part of it from the very beginning. Annette did not speak of any kind of conversion experience. She said her journey to becoming a Christian was long. I’m unsure about the conversion of Klaus. I only know that the faith of Annette was they key factor that brought him into a relationship with Jesus.

When Klaus and Annette met, during the time of Communism, they had very little. The guest bedroom we were staying in had once been their entire apartment. It had a separate entrance from the front hallway. Many years in their marriage passed before they were able to afford the whole apartment. 

  
Klaus shared how rough Communist times were. He told us that he ordered a car, which was the only way that you could obtain one, and it arrived 10 years later. I asked him if he was ever paranoid about Communist spies. He didn’t say that he was, but he told us that the #1 way that they spied on people was through the telephone. So, he and Annette didn’t get a phone until the 90s. In their entire apartment building, only one person had a telephone. They were suspected to be a spy, of course.  

Listening to the stories of Klaus and Annette was unbelievable. I felt as if I was living in a documentary. Roger’s reaction to this encounter was: “you can’t pay for this!” He was right. This experience was invaluable. To top it all off, Klaus eagerly volunteered to take us around Dresden. Here is a small video clip of Klaus explaining the history of Dresden to us: