A Cold, Cold Climate
Most have known Europe to be a rather ‘cold’ place for the Gospel, and very difficult to get anyone to even listen. The desensitized, extensively secularized culture is definitely a major mark of modern Europe. People can appear to be very independent and radically individualistic. I speak mainly for Germany, but the same type of situation can be found in other nations like Switzerland, Austria, Greece, and England, where I have also visited. Circumstances seem to be a bit different in places like Hungary, Italy, and France, but that’s for another discussion.
In comparison to other places many people understand western Europe as a “post-christian” place and entirely “divorced” from it’s early Christian heritage. Christianity is much perceived here as just history. However in spite of this, somehow Jesus is still alive here. He is not just history. People continue to worship and seek him everywhere.
Getting a Dose of Real Ministry
I have been getting involved with a small church where there is a lot of ministry and outreach to the outcasts of Germany. When I heard about a street ministry going on, I just had to check it out. You may have seen in the media the kind of street punks that the streets of Germany can have prowling around on them. There is a rather eclectic mixture of alternative lifestyles including Goth, dark metal, and drug cultures. I was excited to go out and try making some new friends…
We went out on a rather rainy and overcast day to the “usual meeting spots” of these outcasts of society. Pretty much everything was as one might imagine it to be: tight leather pants, combat boots, well worn rucksacks, lots of piercings, leather jackets with countless gothic, anarchist, or satanic band patches, drugs, and lots of dogs.
What I didn’t expect was humility, openness, very friendly dogs, and ears for listening.
Beneath the spiked leather outfits I found hearts that were open to hearing our words of life and encouragement. They welcomed our willingness to listen to their stories of life on the streets. In fact, they seemed to crave it. They were people desperate to be heard and counted of worth. Danger was the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, it was usually a team of ladies that went out to these folks. Today it was two ladies and I. My curiosity of how they would be doing this kind of ministry by themselves without guys going with them, quickly faded after meeting the street-folk myself. They were harmless, hurting rejections of industrial society who just wanted friendship and acknowledgement in life.
After some police came by to check that things were legal we got into really productive conversations. Soon, because of the rain, we were forced to move underneath a bridge where we provided coffee and juice to these fellow human beings. I noticed some exchanging of drugs which were of some type that were provided by doctors to be used for those with psychological problems. Here, the drugs would be overdosed and mixed with other substances to produce the effects desired. I spent most of my time talking and listening to a 42 year old man nicknamed ‘Ralf’. His wife died at a young age from drug abuse. He lives off of government welfare and has spent the last 20 years of his life on heroin. Consequently, he looks much older than he really is. What fascinated me was that he held a belief in God and even Jesus, yet seemed to be caught in the middle a battle between himself and God. He regularly gets drugs from a doctor because he has bad eyes and cannot see well enough to read or work. These drugs he usually sells on the street. During our conversations some young people, with rather disturbed faces, would pass by asking for drugs. I asked him a question about whether he thought God might have a purpose for him in this life, or if he had any kind of desire to do anything with his life. His response was simply, “No, i’m pretty useless. I’m an idiot.”
He has one son for whom he cares a lot. I spoke a few things to him, though not very much, and he seemed to be struck by my words. Before we parted I told him I would be praying for him and he gave me his phone number.
I’ve made friends with some Tunisians in the language school who were surprised that I knew a few Arabic words. They are incredibly hospitable as well as communal and find it especially difficult with the not-so-hospitable and individualistic culture of Germany. They offered to have me come and stay with them in Tunisia someday.