Montag, August 01, 2016

update August 1

Dear Friends,
The contacts and work with refugees continues to consume a large part of my daily routine.  In a previous letter we recounted the typical (and horrifying) journey of H and M with their four small daughters from northern Syria to Germany.  Knowing that H is a professional musician, we invited him to sing a song of lament that he had written about his home city of Kobani before the prayers of petition at our June worship service.  He consented to this request.  It was an extremely moving experience and lent a much deeper dynamic to this prayer time.  H and M are still waiting for a proper apartment as they continue to make due with a tiny studio.  As I am trying to aid the expedition of this process, H regularly comes in to ask if there is any news or to make a request.  He came to the Atelier once again with his friend, M, who is also a Syrian refugee and speaks English quite well, with the ability to translate.  H is concerned about where to enroll the girls for kindergarten and school without knowing exactly where they will be living.   After discussing his concerns, both H and M expressed their sadness and, yes, shame over the latest terror attacks in France and Germany.  They spoke of how they have experienced Christians as good and kind compared to the horrors that are being carried out in the name of Islam.  And so it was natural for me to talk about Christ, who is called the Prince of Peace.  Christ, the one who not only must be the source of world peace but peace within their hearts and souls.  It was a very engaging conversation and they gladly accepted the Arabic NT that I gave them, with the suggestion to begin reading in Luke.  Pray for continued opportunities to speak with them and read Scripture together and that God would open their hearts and minds to receive the forgiveness and peace that he is offering them.

 It's amazing what happens - or what God is doing - while you're busy doing other things.   About a year ago E, a German-Turkish man, walked into the Atelier with a great need to talk.  Recently separated from his wife and two sons, he was distraught about his family situation.  He was also dealing with a load of other personal consequences, including a period of time in prison.  At that time I was able to calm him down and he allowed me to pray for him.  Since then he has stopped by on occasion to talk with me about his struggles. A few weeks ago he stopped by again.  Once again I talked of his need for forgiveness through the blood of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to guide him in his daily life.  He agreed to my suggestion that we both kneel right there and pray.  In full view through the large storefront window of the Atelier, he prayed a prayer of repentance as I guided him.  I have to admit that I was uncertain about his understanding or commitment to what he had prayed.  But he has been attending our services and our weekly small group regularly, participating with longing and enthusiasm.  Several times he has recounted how the sign that I had put on the stoop in front of the Atelier door after the doormat had been stolen was the impetus to walk in and talk to me.  It was a simple message for the person who had taken the mat stating that I had forgiven them and they should consider it my gift to them – and please stop by for a cup of coffee sometime.  E had never seen such a gracious offer of forgiveness before!  Please pray for E, that the God of all hope would continue to reveal himself to him, that he would grown in his love and commitment to Christ and that the Spirit would guide and aid him in unraveling and dealing with the many issues in his life.

Thank you so much for standing with us in prayer and with your financial support.

Jason and Sue

Mittwoch, April 06, 2016

April Update

Dear Friends,
God has answered our prayers and we finally have a new location for our church plant. We are sharing the space with three other churches: a German church, a Russian church and a Spanish church - all of us having our worship services at different times of the week. Although we still have a few small organizational issues to work through, we are thankful for this change and finally have extra rooms for our children’s church.

We had a joyful Easter celebration followed by brunch in a nearby restaurant. We were so thankful to have a Kurdish family from Kobani, Syria, accept our invitation to the Easter service and to be our guests for brunch as well. M, reserved and soft-spoken, was pregnant with their fourth daughter when they fled Syria. They have been in Germany for about 6 months and are participating in the German classes we offer at the Pastorenatelier.  Their daughters are well behaved and appear to be happy. They warmed up to us immediately and wanted to hold our hands as we walked to the restaurant. H is a handsome and winsome man. He’s a musician and it turns out that he is kind of a rock star in Syria. Some of his YouTube videos have 50,000 views. They had to bring the baby along to German class recently, and as I don’t actually teach -  I am just the host - I offered to hold her when she was getting a little fussy. She fell asleep in my arms about 15 minutes after this selfie was taken.

Our favourite little Italian restaurant around the corner from us has changed hands. Anita and Franco are retiring and Salvatore, who has been making their pizzas for 22 years has taken over. Last week they hosted a big celebration for all of the regular customers from the neighborhood. There must have been 60-70 people there. We were engaged in an interesting conversation with a couple we had never met before when I had an idea. I went back to the kitchen and told Salvatore and he agreed immediately. We went back out into the restaurant and he asked for everyone's attention. I introduced myself and mentioned the Pastorenatelier. Then I prayed a prayer of blessing on Anita and Franco and their family, thanking the Lord for all the good food through the years. Then I prayed God's blessing on Salvatore and his family as it was no small thing for him to take this step - but something he had always dreamed of. After I said amen, there was a spontaneous applause and several people came up to me to thank me for my words.

Sue is thankful for several opportunities to present seminars on intercultural competence in February and March.  A presentation given to a local secular audience focused on the meaning and process of integration, a current hot topic in Germany.  A second seminar focusing on honor/shame cultures was presented at the Intercultural Church Planting Conference in Rotterdam, Holland.  She has several more seminars planned in May and June, both in secular and ministry contexts.  Misunderstanding, fear and rejection characterizes the reaction of many Germans/Europeans in response to the waves of refugees that have poured into Europe in the last 12 months.  She would be thrilled to have her calendar full of these seminars so please pray for many more opportunities to share, inform and mediate in regard to intercultural exchange.

Jason and Sue

Sonntag, Dezember 27, 2015

december update

We cleaned and decorated, cooked and cooked, set the table, and waited in anticipation.  Would the two refugee families we had invited for Christmas Eve come?  Had they understood the meaning of our invitation, the day, the time, through the language barriers?  Did they have the courage to enter a stranger's house in a strange country?  We prayed and hoped. 

And then they came.  Hope fulfilled.  What a glorious evening we shared together!  As you look forward to 2016 we pray that by the power of the reality of Christmas, Immanuel - God with us, you are filled with hope, and that by the work of the Holy Spirit you might experience hope fulfilled.

Blessed Christmas, Hopeful New Year!

Jason and Sue

Donnerstag, November 19, 2015

nov 15 update

Dear Friends,

In the last few updates we have reported on how the refugee crisis in Europe has significantly impacted Germany.  After asking God how we might respond, he led us to facilitate and lead German language classes for immigrants/refugees at the PastorenAtelier.  The classes, on Wednesday evening and Friday morning, have been running since the end of August.  Like the flow of refugees, the attendance fluctuates and some faces seem to have disappeared.  The reasons for this are numerous, such as being transferred to a different shelter or deportation.  Still, we see God's blessing on this effort, as there is a core of faithful attenders that we are slowly getting to know and building relationships with.  The week before our first church service in November we invited the helpers and language class attendees to worship with us at KoelnProjekt.  Our eyes filled with tears and our hearts with praise as we watched a family from Armenia, a couple with their son, descend the stairs into our meeting room.  Just this last Saturday, two families attended the jazz concert at the PastorenAtelier.  

That we were reaching out to refugees was clear to us from the beginning.  However, God, in his infinite wisdom, appears to be making much more out of this effort.  Several of the language class helpers are associated with our church but a number of them are from our part of the city, Nippes, or other parts of Cologne and were previously unknown to us.  They simply answered the initial plea for helpers that was sent out.  These German helpers are also watching us with curiosity and asking questions about our church and our faith.  Additionally, two weeks ago Sue received a phone call from a young woman, Judith, who is a member of a small local ministry organisation that goes into two large brothels in an effort to bring prostitutes the Gospel and encourage them to break free of their life-style (prostitution is legal in Germany).  Many of the women are from the former eastern communist countries, are trapped or even enslaved in their working situation, and some of them are illegal residents without residency or working visas.  Learning the German language is one of the keys to breaking free from this bondage and so Judith asked if a young prostitute from Albania could join the class.  We said yes, although we weren't sure how this would affect the dynamics of the class.  We are still uncertain as to how that aspect is going to develop in the long term but we have assured Judith that we will do what we can to support her ministry efforts.  As a result, through the language class for refugees we are now ministering to/with: 1.  refugees; 2. previously unknown Germans; 3. prostitutes, and; 4. a previously unknown ministry group in Cologne.  We are thrilled about this but it also feels like a big responsibility.  Would you please pray that God would continue to bless this effort and give us the help, strength and wisdom that we need. 

As we approach the holiday season and year’s end we want to express our gratefulness for your faithful prayer and financial support. It is through your generosity and sacrifice that we are able to be embedded in the German culture, responding quickly in the face of terrorism and the refugee crisis. We are praying that God would move many of our supporters to consider a special year end gift and/or increasing our support in 2016.

Finally, in the past we have also asked you to pray for a better meeting location for our church so that we have the space to provide an adequate children's program.  This is becoming even more acute with the development of the German class.  Additionally, we see a need for the church to be located near the PastorenAtelier, which is not the case now.  Please pray for God to provide both a suitable location and the financing that will be needed.  

With Thanksgiving, your Servants,

Sue and Jason

Freitag, Oktober 30, 2015

follow up to urgent prayer request

Dear Friends,
Many thanks to all who were praying for the Cologne demonstrations, our church KölnProjekt and the refugee crisis.  We had to pray loudly at the prayer service in order to be heard above the noise of the police helicopters flying overhead.  God was indeed gracious as there was a minimum of violence throughout the day.  The anti-demonstration was much larger than the Neo-nazi demonstration (20,000 to 1000!), although there were also those on the anti-side who are willing to engage in violence.

The situation in Germany remains tense and so we ask you to continue praying with the same intensity for God to reveal himself in this situation as sovereign and the God of peace, for the refugees who are fleeing violence and for Germans/Europeans who are fearful. 

Jason and Sue

Donnerstag, Oktober 22, 2015

Urgent prayer requests

Dear Friends,
Please pray for the city of Cologne this weekend. Last Saturday, the day before the mayoral election, Henrietta Reker, one of the candidates was attacked and stabbed and critically injured by a Neo-Nazi. Frau Reker is known for her compassionate, pro-refugee convictions. Thankfully, she is recovering from her injuries and will be able to begin her duties as our new mayor in due time. She won the election by a large margin. Her attacker told the police that his intention was to kill her and that he was doing the country a favor.
This coming Sunday, Oct. 25, there is a huge radical right-wing demonstration scheduled to take place downtown. The police tried to ban the demonstration because they cannot guarantee security - but the organizers went to court and won the right to demonstrate. Freedom of speech is a highly held value in Germany. Thousands of hooligans and skinheads are expected. There are also counter demonstrations planned by various pro-migrant groups but also left wing radicals. There will be at least 2000 police on the streets as the potential for violence is high.  The downtown church led by Tobias Saenger, a young church-planting pastor who interned at our church and continues to be mentored by Jason, has cancelled its service because it will be too dangerous to meet at their location.
Please pray for safety and that the Lord will cause many to turn to Him in these troubled times.
Please continue to pray for the German language class for refugees.  Sue is the lead teacher for the team of helpers.  We are in the 9th week but are never quite sure what is going to come at us.  There are an average of 8-10 participants plus 3-6 helpers in Jason's one-room Atelier.  Currently, the participants originate from Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Armenia, Iraq, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.  With that constellation we are also asking ourselves how difficult it is for them to be sitting next to each other at the same table - or if they would rather pull out guns and be shooting each other…. We have gotten to know a few of them better over the last few weeks and are starting to hear their stories…and so we have had to provide them with the German words for “bomber, military jet, machine gun", etc., and also the word for "cross", depicted in one of Jason's paintings in the Atelier.  But we are also the sounding board for broad prejudices and we are asking God to help us respond in a gracious way - in a way that might gently offer a way out of the cycle of violence, a path towards reconciliation with God and man.  We are also thankful for the helpers who have volunteered tirelessly in the last 8 week - mostly from our part of Cologne but some from further afar.  Most of them we did not know before we sent out a plea for help.  They, too, are asking us about our church, what motivates us, etc. 
Pray that God would draw both Germans and immigrants/refugees to himself.

Jason and Sue

Donnerstag, September 17, 2015

September 2015 update

A relentless flow of refugees is inundating Germany, which has proven to be the most generous European country, taking in hundreds of thousands. Our hearts go out to these people, all who have an individual story to tell. Very few of them speak German, so we have decided to offer beginner German classes in my atelier. In July I advertised that I was looking for local volunteers to teach German, inviting those interested to come to an informational meeting on July 28. I set up 6 chairs around the table, thinking that would be a great start. I was overwhelmed when in the end 15 people attended! There was so much good will in the room that night. Now we are offering 2 classes a week teaching a total of 20 refugees from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia. Relationships are being built with both the volunteers and the refugees. As trust grows, spiritual conversations have occurred and it is just a matter of time until we can begin inviting people to church. Please pray for strength and stamina and opportunities to share the gospel.
The neighborhood is watching as we connect with so many refugees, treating them with respect and love. Most people are very positive and appreciative that we are doing this. But not everyone. The neighbor directly above my atelier has complained all along - mostly about noise from my concerts. Recently after some of the refugee kids had visited me and started doing some hip-hop and break dancing for maybe 15-20 minutes - he wrote another one of his poisonous emails and took things up a notch - threatening to do everything in his power to get me evicted. It's very frustrating as he refuses to talk with me face to face. He just sends emails. Well, I have since blocked his address so I will no longer be seeing those. There really isn’t anything he can do. He’s never even called the police as he knows I am well within my rights.

Last week another reclusive neighbor who basically keeps to himself walked out of the house as the refugees were out in front taking a break from German class. There was also a volunteer there who heard him let out a string of racial slurs as he went by. Please pray for these men. Also pray for peace in my heart and inner strength to persevere.

In early August, we facilitated an art outreach with former colleague, Leah Heinemann, which went very well resulting in making friends with several neighbors I hadn’t met yet. Accompanying Leah were her daughter Elly and husband Dan Maclean.  Elly and Dan met while doing mission work in Afghanistan, working there for 7 years. They moved back to the US a couple of years ago but feel God calling them to Germany to work with refugees. We felt God drawing us together while they were here.  They recently informed us that they have decided to come to Cologne to work with refugees and our small church plant. We are very excited about this development. Pray that God would enable them to come soon - maybe as early as next spring.
Our search for a new location for our church services continues. We had high hopes about renting the fellowship hall of a catholic church not too far from our present location but the church council voted against the proposition.  This is very disappointing for us since our meeting with the priest was so positive and he seemed to think that we would be approved. Please pray that God would provide us with a suitable meeting place soon where we can also offer children’s church.
Please pray in general for our church plant. We have seen little growth. In fact we recently said goodbye to one of our core couples who has moved out of town and will be looking for a new church home in their area. Please pray that God would draw people to himself and to our church. We long to see men, women, boys and girls come to faith, be baptized and lead others to faith.

In Christ,
Jason and Sue