On October 25-27, 2013, a retreat was held in the Harz Mountains for the staff of Die Brücke, the mission house associated with St. Trinitatisgemeinde in Leipzig, Germany. Die Bruecke offers programs for children, adults, and seniors who live in and around Volkmarsdorf. The area of Volkmarsdorf is characterized by many immigrants and native Germans with few resources. Many live on some form of government assistance, and many of the immigrants are waiting for legal permission from the state to work or live permanently in Germany. Die Brücke offers activities such as sports days for the children of the neighborhood, Bible studies, free German language lessons, and coffee circle for seniors (including a short devotion with the pastor), choir rehearsals, and more. Die Brücke is organized and run by Rev. Hugo Gevers, the missionary for Iranian immigrants. Rev. Gevers explained why a retreat was needed for the workers: “After a very hectic and busy 2012, which saw the inauguration of “Die Brücke” our volunteers were in desperate need to recuperate and to reflect on past experiences. Our main goal in the Harz weekend was to spend time with fellowship and contemplating about God’s Will with our different plans and our goals which lie ahead. However we also needed to structure our work in “Die Brücke” Different people are working at different times. In addition we are reaching out to very different people in the neighborhood of Volkmarsdorf and beyond.”
The retreat included Rev. Hugo Gevers, his wife Jutta, and their youngest son, Phillip; Vicar Thomas Beneke, the vicar for the mission to the immigrants; Rev. Markus Fischer, the pastor of St. Trinitatisgemeinde; Christian and Manja Kalberlah and their children — members of St. Trinitatisgemeinde –Manja works with children’s programming while Christian helps with the website and communications aspects; Rev. Dr. Christopher Ahlman, his wife Elizabeth, and their two sons Thomas and Matthias — Dr. Ahlman is the LCMS missionary assigned to the Leipzig church plant/relocation; and Samuel Abkenar, who coordinates the German class offerings, assists in translating the sermons into Farsi, and translates the newsletter.
The group arrived at a Catholic Retreat Center in the Harz mountains on Friday night. The scenery was beautiful, and the cabins were very nice. Everyone had a late dinner, put the children to bed, and then had a late night meeting with a devotion by Pastor Markus Fischer. They discussed the main theme of the retreat and the new theme for Die Brücke in the coming year. The theme for the coming year is “we are a letter of Christ.” This comes from 2 Corinthians 3:3: “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (ESV). As Christian expressed, “The definition of one spiritual main topic for the next year [was the most important aspect of the retreat]: Jesus Christ sends us out; what we spread is God’s; we all belong to HIM – no matter where we come from; everybody “can read us.” I am sure that these Bible words can bind us together, focus ourselves toward the really important aspects of our work and give us strength for the coming year.”
On Saturday, the group enjoyed breakfast together and then spent some time enjoying the outdoors. The day alternated between meals cooked and eaten together, recreational time, and meetings discussing ideas for the coming year. The meetings discussed future planning and events, how to involve more volunteers, and how to better communicate the work of Die Brücke. Rev. Gevers says that some important things to come out of this discussion were “the realization that we need to focus on the members of St. Trinitatisgemeinde to get them inspired for God’s great commission and also to get them on the boat in our different projects. [Additionally], we succeeded to draft a proposal for a spiritually uplifting theme for 2014 and also to draft a proposal by which the St. Trinititatisgemeinde Newsletter and Die Brücke would become one joint venture. Both proposals were subsequently agreed upon by the church council.” Additionally, it was important to prioritize the events hosted by Die Brücke, including current events and possible future events. To that end, a tentative schedule was designed for a typical week, and it was also discussed how to use current events to build a larger volunteer base, thereby reaching more people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
On Saturday night, the group enjoyed one last feast with everyone, as both Rev. Gevers, along with his family and Samuel, and Rev. Markus Fischer had to leave early on Sunday morning to celebrate Gottesdienst at separate churches. The feast consisted of South African chicken made by Jutta and Rev. Gevers, handmade Persian bread baked in the brick oven by Samuel and German Hopfenkaltschale. As Christian pointed out, “the exotic but indeed very delicious dinner [was] enjoyed with brothers and sisters from four different continents!”
On Sunday morning, those who remained had an intimate Gottesdienst led by Rev. Dr. Christopher Ahlman and Vicar Beneke. Dr. Ahlman was the liturgist for the simplified service while Vicar Beneke preached the sermon. This was another highlight for participants. Manja and Dr. Ahlman both saw this as the highlight of the weekend. Manja Kalberlah also noted that the retreat with its devotional and worship components was also helpful in that “The retreat has been important to spend intensive time together with all co-workers of the project in an inspiring environment. Additionally, we spiritually braced ourselves.”
In the end, said Dr. Ahlman, the retreat was important for many reasons:
The retreat was important, as it 1) afforded time and tangible opportunity for “backbone” individuals to offer and assess ideas, in an intentional way, to and for each other concerning the upcoming year, and 2) communicated both to the retreat attendees and to the sponsoring congregation that a project such as this is worthy and important enough to receive exclusive attention. I would also like to highlight the retreat accomplishment of learning the mentalities and perspectives of others concerning activities and goals. Often, people have just enough time to fulfill their activity in the midst of their personal and professional lives. Learning and reflection about the thoughts of others was the most valuable, in my mind.
Finally, the whole group would like to recognize Manja Kalberlah, who worked so hard to organize the retreat from housing arrangements to meals and more, all while loving and caring for her three wonderful and energetic boys. Thank you Manja!