By Chris Turner
DUSSELDORF — Statistics will tell you Germany is a Christian nation. Heinrich Derksen will tell you it is not.
“The (spiritual) soil in Germany is very hard,” he says. “It is a post-Christian country and in many ways a pre-Christian country. It has drifted far from being the birthplace of the Reformation and Protestantism. Martin Luther brought the Bible to the people. We now must bring the people to the Bible.”
It is the task of “bringing people to the Bible” that Tennessee Baptists will have the opportunity to engage through Tennessee Baptist Mission Board Partnership Missions. Tennessee Baptist messengers to the 2018 annual Summit approved a five-year missions partnership with International Missions Board missionaries serving in the Germanic People Group. Throughout this year, TBMB Volunteer Missions Specialist Kim Margrave has been leading vision trips helping Tennessee Baptist churches and associations find places to engage missions in Germany.
“Our hope is that churches and associations will be able to find a place to serve and commit to four or five years,” Margrave said. “The idea is that they would send multiple teams a year. Our previous partnerships show that there is great effectiveness in concentrating effort in a particular area. Relationships are critical in building trust.
The relationship aspect was affirmed by IMB missionary Kevin Sweeny. A group of six Tennessee Baptists recently spent several days with Sweeny who works in the Cologne-Frankfurt region of Germany.
“It is important for people to come and engage Germans in conversations,” Sweeny said. “They seek genuine relationships. They are not hostile about talking religion. Fewer than one percent have a relationship with Christ even though statistically you’ll see a much higher number. Much of that is culturally related. The key to reaching Germans for Christ is building bridges that open doors for conversations. That is an effective way Tennessee Baptist volunteers could contribute to the work here.”
The vision teams have learned that possible inroads into connecting with Germans include prayer walking, English-language discussion camps, sports camps, and special outreach events such as Christmas markets. Ironically, in a country that has wandered far from its Reformation roots, Christmas remains a central holiday in German culture.
Pastor Doug Elders, of FBC Fairfield Glade, believes there is opportunity to make a difference.
“What I saw was a country very similar to what the United States is becoming,” he said. “The people are religiously cynical and skeptical, and there is a willful rejection of the gospel. For our church it would be a first opportunity for our church to get its feet wet in international missions. It would be a great opportunity for our people to see how missions works through the TBMB and the IMB missionaries in Germany.
Jim Twilbeck, Western District Association director of missions, said, “Germany is a dark and spiritually lost place. You see it all around you in the closed church buildings and the apathy toward the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to take the gospel there. We have to reintroduce Germany to Jesus.”
Commenting on the size of teams needed for Germany, Margrave said smaller teams would be more strategically effective than trying to take large groups.
“Teams of five to six enables teams to be focused on specific projects and to be more mobile,” she said. “Teams may have the opportunity to do a couple of different ministry projects while on the field such as prayer walk an area and also engage in ESL (English as a Second Language) training.”
The partnership with Germany comes on the heels of a six-year partnership with Italy where Tennessee Baptists were able to send hundreds of volunteers. There are many similarities in the two cultures, both having established religions that dominate the lives of people. Catholicism and Lutheranism are well entrenched, and most equate being German (or Italian) with being a member of one of the two religions.
However, immigration is a dynamic that has exploded in Germany. In 2015, the country absorbed a significant number of refugees from countries such as Syria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. The country also has a large population of Russians and a representation of Koreans. IMB missionaries have also seen opportunities emerge among these groups and often find them more open to the gospel than Germans.
A number of projects in Germany have been defined and enlistment for teams is open. Anyone interested in finding out more information should contact Margrave at email@example.com.
“Tennessee Baptists have a great opportunity to make a difference in Germany,” Margrave said. “We have a 40-year history in partnering across Tennessee, across North America and around the world. We’ve been able to make a positive impact everywhere we’ve been so there isn’t any reason to think that God won’t use Tennessee Baptists to do the same in Germany. The fields are definitely ripe. Now we need the workers.” B&R