Woke up this morning to the threat (promise?) of cold, wind, & rain… pretty much what the weather forecast (promise?) has offered every day since we’ve been here & looks to offer until we board the plane home from Berlin next Thursday. Instead of worrying about what might be, we’ve made a practice of just “rolling with it,” & trusting God in for our day-to-day.
As has been our pattern so far this week, we took the morning sloooow & had a couple rounds of french press coffee along with our Bible reading & sporadic talks/laughs. TheBean tackled the creation of a breakfast scramble, of sorts, with eggs, a couple types of wurst (sausage) & onions. So familiar & also so different at the same time.
Anna Marie (American missionary of 11+ years & our hostess) has been leading the CFA outreach called “Street Church” since her arrival in Bielefeld 10 years ago. How can I describe it? There’s a place near the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) where those bound by addiction to drugs, alcohol, & other vices common to humanity, gather to indulge, to forget, to have a point of ‘community’, albeit without the love, compassion, & care associated most often with what you think of when you hear that word. People experiencing addiction & (pseudo/practical) homelessness are often subsidized & ‘cared for’ by the state, leading to a vicious & repeating downward spiral from which there is (often, for many,) no escape.
It’s into this world that Street Church reaches & extends the love of Jesus in practical, tangible ways. There is a powerful declaration of the Gospel Good News every week, but not in a typical evangelistic message; instead, the Street Church team prepares salami & cheese (salami & käse) brötchen (bread rolls)… Not on the same rolls, but separately, as, evidently, Germans don’t mix their cheese & meat on sandwiches. They bring canisters of hot coffee, tea, & bouillon, & of course some sweets, & set up a table in the midst of the gathering of humanity, all experiencing varying degrees of the lowest & degrading situations you can imagine… many fallen to the level of selling themselves without regard to the consequences, only thinking of how to stop the craving & suffering brought on by addiction. Rinse, lather, repeat. You can almost touch the hopelessness.
And Street Church sets up a table, open for business, in the middle of this. The volunteer staff man the table & cheerfully offer food & drink with a smile, an encouraging word, & more than a touch of human dignity, worth, & blessings. It’s easy to see that the majority of these people fly under the radar of normal human interactions, tolerated at best, despised at worst by those busily passing by/through/around the swelling mass of humanity. The Street Church staff take the time for conversations, for truly human & divine interactions, treating each person they interact with with an incredible amount of dignity & worth, quietly offering love, acceptance, & forgiveness with a love reminiscent of a mother caring for the wayward & motherless friends of her own children. Truly a joy to behold.
Other members of the team spread out into the crowd & pick up conversations where they are wanted or available. Some days they break up (redirect) conflicts & outright fights; they don’t focus on trying to get people to pray the “sinner’s prayer” but are quick to offer a listening ear, a heartfelt petition to Jesus, & an encouragement to those who want to hear to begin (continue?) to increasingly put their trust & (feeble) hopes in Jesus, looking to obey Him in the middle of the perpetual storms of life they’re living through.
Sometimes they lead a few songs of worship, incorporating guitar, saxophone, & a haunting, soothing, hug-of-the-Savior sounding violin… all without amplification or microphones, a joyful noise amidst the cacophony of human suffering, conflict, & pain. We didn’t play tonight until the very end, not wanting to compete with the boom box held by a couple of the guys as they listened to a selection of German punk, 80’s German rock, & some Bryan Adams (Summer of 69!) You might wonder WHY one wouldn’t do worship if/when there is a boombox playing… I’d say it has to do with respect. We are in their ‘house’ & their place, & it felt wrong to step into this Holy Ground, this place where Heaven meets some of the worst of earth, where the Jesus-question, “What can I do for you?” rings loudly in the actions of the Street Church team, & to insist that WE get to do OUR thing. There are no strings attached to what Street Church does – all of it is an offering to Jesus, to be experienced & hopefully embrace by the ‘least of these,’ who, hopefully, if only for a moment, are reminded that they are worthy of love, care, & compassion, & that the God of the Universe has more for them than cycles of suffering & destruction.
So we served. I felt mostly worthless, as my German consists of ordering food, & (mostly) understanding & singing worship songs. TheBean & I prayed, in English & the Spirit, & helped serve the coffee, tea, & bouillon, hoping we got the number of sugar cubes right for the coffee & tea. The clients love their sugar… it takes the edge off the cravings for their drugs of choice… so 6-8 cubes for a 8 ounce coffee wasn’t unusual.
An anti-war protest of about 300 people gathered at the Hauptbahnhof just about the time we were packing up & heading out… the boom box gang left, & I’d already put the guitar away in the van as the cold wind & rain that had been held back all day began to threaten that it was coming, & soon. A young woman, H, (hard to tell ages. She could have been 25, she could have been 40) took the opportunity of the silence to ask Anna Marie if we would PLEASE play at least one song with her. H produced a small djembe-style drum & I grabbed the guitar from the back of the van & prayed silently that my fingers would be able to A) move coherently & B) remember the chords to some songs.
As I began to strum the opening chords to “Open the Eyes of My Heart”, Anna Marie pulled out her saxophone, & H put her hand on the guitar while I strummed in order to feel the rhythm & the beat of the song. I started to sing, the saxophone began to sing, & the drum slowly emerged, its rhythm skillfully moving in & out of the melody, playing a harmony to what I was playing. H had skills… a distinct & poignant reminder that, though caught in addiction & suffering, there is a gifted, valuable, & tender woman here, longing to play with others, to belong, to be a part of something. One song turned into two, as I willed my fingers to move, my strumming hand to somehow hold the pick. I strummed & sang, “Jesus I Worship You” by an old friend in the NW. We declared the Lordship of Christ over ourselves, over this people, over this place. Simply connecting with Jesus & with each other. My fingers fumbled to a close & we once again packed our instruments, leaving too soon for H, but leaving none the less. I gave her “knuckles” in a gesture of what I hoped was honor & thanks for her playing with me, with us. She gave me a smile in return, communicating that she understood, even as the sadness returned to her eyes & countenance. I could hear her continuing to play the drum as we loaded up the van & waited for the protest to pass us by.
We did a little post-Church debrief, cleaned up the supplies, & said goodbye to the rest of the staff, people we (most likely) won’t see again this side of Heaven. When we do see each other again, it will be a joyful reunion, not bound by language challenges.
Came back to the flat & ate some wurst & a peppers/onions mix theBean had made earlier in the day. After some talks, we said goodnight & headed towards bed. The wind & rain began to howl & to fall in earnest. We thanked God we’d avoided that on the street tonight, while also thinking of those who have no place to retreat to, no respite.
Jesus is close to the broken-hearted. And oh, how we need Him.