On December 21, 2013, an Advent party was hosted at Die Brücke, the meeting place in the district of Volkmarsdorf in Leipzig, Germany. Die Brücke is run by Missionary Rev. Hugo Gevers, a missionary with the Bleckmar Mission serving in Germany. He works in conjunction with Rev. Markus Fischer and the members of St. Trinitatisgemeinde as they work to move into the historic Lukaskirche in Volkmarsdorf. The work at Die Brücke, which means “The Bridge,” is focused on children, the poor, and migrants who are in need of help both physically and spiritually. Many of the residents of Volkmarsdorf are on some form of government aid. Many are also migrants from other countries, some from places like Iran. Often, they have never before heard of Jesus Christ, of if they have, they have heard only propaganda and not the true Gospel. Rev. Gevers and his staff, including Vicar Thomas Beneke, work very hard to offer opportunities for the residents such as meals, free German language instruction, sport time for the children, and creative time for the children where they can learn about God and make projects. Many of the people who use these services would otherwise have no access to language instruction, a gym in which to play, creative play or the Gospel.
At the Christmas party, many children and youth were in attendance, along with several adults from the community. Manja Kalberlah, who works with the children’s programming at Die Brücke, helped to organize the event, along with Rev. Gevers and Vicar Beneke. Various musical pieces for strings and keyboard were performed by Rev. Dr. Christopher Ahlman (piano), Christian Kalberlah (violin), and Liesel Beneke (violin). The musical interludes were interspersed between various activities, including a devotion, snacks, and games. The children received goodie bags including woven key chains made by the mother of some of the children who frequently come to Die Brücke. Rev. Gevers noted that while there were fewer children who came this year, they were better behaved than last year. This shows the progress the children have made as they interact with Manja, Rev. Gevers, Vicar Beneke, and other volunteers. Many of the children are not well cared for or have little idea of how to behave in certain situations.
Rev. Gever says of the event,
In our Advent gathering, we open our doors to kids in the neighborhood. We want to share the love of Christ with them and give them a notion of what it means to spend Christmas in a Christian way. That would include singing carols or hearing the story of the birth of Christ. In this event, it was particularly encouraging that Frau Bachmann, a mother of five kids, helped set up the Christmas tree and stitched around 150 friendship bands for friends of Die Brücke. The same Frau Bachmann was also in church at Christmas Eve with some of her children and other friends of the same.
On Christmas Eve, some of the youth and families who came to Die Brücke for the Advent party also came to church at St. Trinitatisgemeinde (which is further from their homes than Die Brücke). The following story about Christmas Eve was written by Rev. Gevers:
Christmas and Christmas Eve have a tradition in Leipzig. Part and parcel is a social get together for people who have no families. Many of these people are refugees. Others are Germans but have also lost contact with their homes and families. We offer these people a place in St. Trinitatisgemeinde where they can spend time together, where they can follow the Christmas narrative and pray about this, or only to be at a place where they would not be lonely. This year was once again set to be “the same procedure as every year.” But, it was not the same. The new kids from the area of Volkmarsdorf were new kids on the block in our congregation. Eight of them to be exact. Most of them can count the times they have been in church on one hand. Yes, not only Persians would follow the call of the Wise Men to the manger. Germans do the same too. All of them come to hear the special message of Christ born for us. The Nativity set was very moving, because it was simple and followed the Luke narrative without any frills. As the Gospel was read, the partakers of the set illustrated Mary and Joseph, the Wise Men, the Shepherds and the Angels. The Shepherds on their part could not resist smiling at the Angel. Had the shepherds of old done the same, I am sure the Angel would not have proclaimed “Fear not!” More something to the effect of: “Stop laughing; this is no joke!”
The German newcomers from Volkmarsdorf were at their best. They followed the service with interest and even said their “Amen” at the right place. After the service everyone met for a delicious Persian meal. During this time one of the German kids received a phone call from his mother. This went something like this: “Ja….Hallo Mama” ……”I am in church”…….”No, not in the pub…in church” ….”No, I did not drink…I am in church”…..”NO, I did not smoke….I am in church.” After a long pause this answer was shouted, so that everyone could hear: “Mom…..I am praying here!”
Praise be to God that this child was brought to say, “Mom, I am praying here!” The reason for so saying was simple: The people of Die Brücke had demonstrated God’s love to these eight residents of Volkmarsdorf and more throughout many months. Through this, they had come to Church to hear simply the message that brings us all to open our mouths in prayers of praise and petition: “Jesus Christ is born for you!”
- Pray for Manja Kalberlah, Rev. Gevers, and Vicar Beneke, as well as all other volunteers, as they continue to serve the people of Volkmarsdorf in tangible acts of mercy coupled with the proclamation of the Gospel.
- Pray for those who attended the Advent party, as well as Christmas Eve service, that they may continue to open their mouths in prayer and praise, and that they may return to Gottesdienst where the Lord serves them.
- Share this story with others you think might be interested!
- To support this project with gifts towards the renovation of Lukaskirche you can send your gift to: The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, P.O. Box 790089, St. Louis, MO 6310-79-0089. Note that it is for the Germany Leipzig Church Plant.
Tags: Advent, children, Christmas Eve, Christopher Ahlman, Die Brücke, Germany, hugo gevers, Jesus, Kalberlahs, leipzig, Life Together, live nativity scene, Mercy, migrants, outreach, party, poor, pray, St. Trinitatisgemeinde, Thomas Beneke, Witness