In Germany’s Cities, Deaconess Bueltmann Walks with the Lost and Searching May 29, 2024

When LCMS Deaconess Kim Bueltmann received her call to serve in the mission field of Leipzig, Germany, her fluency in the German language made moving there less daunting. But little did she know that she’d be witnessing to far more people than the Germans!

In recent years, Germany has become a hub for refugees from places like Iran (also called Persia) and Ukraine. At a time when the European public has largely fallen away from their Christian roots, German Lutherans are taking hold of the opportunity to share the Gospel with the immigrants in their communities.

While it may seem next to impossible to interact in a community with such a breadth of languages, cultures, and experiences with religion, for Deaconess Bueltmann, sharing the Gospel is simply a question of taking one step at a time, at the rate each person is able to go.

“A lot of Persians come [to the church] and they want to jump on board right away. But then there are also the Germans in our neighborhood who maybe don’t want to think about faith matters that much or talk about them,” she said.

Walking with the Persians

Many Persian immigrants are refugees seeking asylum in Germany in order to safely practice their Christian faith. “Even though I came in thinking I know nothing about Iran or Afghanistan or their language or their people, I almost felt more at home with them in the beginning because a lot of them were already Christians or were wanting to become Christians,” Deaconess Bueltmann (pictured above) reflected.

For others, the path to faith looks a bit different. “We have an outreach center in the middle of the neighborhood where a lot of international folks live. They know we speak [German] and a lot of them need help with translation,” explained Deaconess Bueltmann. “So they’ll bring in a letter and we’ll sit down and help them with their legal document or whatever it is. Then maybe they’ll come back and start to learn more in our classes at Evangelical Lutheran Holy Trinity Church in Leipzig. We do classes in Persian (Farsi) as an introduction to the Christian faith. And then I go more in depth, to deepen their knowledge of the faith.”

That’s where LHF books come in very handy! “We have a stockpile of Bibles, but what’s really been helpful is [LHF’s Farsi translation of] A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories,” said Deaconess Bueltmann. “If they’re completely new to the faith and they don’t know the Bible stories, it can be a good place for them to start to get a good overview and understanding. Luther’s Small Catechism, of course, is the starting point for our baptism classes, and we use that to teach the basics of Lutheran doctrine and our faith.”

Lutheran churches in Germany have grown by the hundreds because of Persian converts. She explained that while it’s easy to question the sincerity of their beliefs based on how quickly they join the church, it makes sense that they’re so open to the faith.

“In their culture, they’re more open to the idea that there is a God, and they know it’s not the god of Islam. They’ve seen a lot of hurt caused by the Islamic regime in their country, and that’s why they left; they want to get away from that,” she explained. “A number of them maybe started investigating Christianity already before they left, or were even parts of secret churches there, and that’s why they had to come here.”

Many of the Christian refugees are eager to share their faith with their nonbelieving friends and family.

Deaconess Bueltmann shared the story of two Afghani refugees who were in the same German assimilation classes. One was Christian and the other Muslim. “The Muslim man was suffering from a lot of depression. One of our Persian church members said to him one day, ‘Is everything okay?’

“And the other man shared, ‘Yes, I’ve been going through depression for five years. I keep praying to Allah to take it away, and nothing works.’ And so our member said to him, ‘Hey, you’ve been praying to Allah for five years. Have you ever considered praying to Jesus?’

“Our member invited him to come to our church and pray. He resisted for a really, really long time, but eventually he met his friend and just decided that he was going to pray. And so he said something to the effect of  ‘Jesus, I don’t know you, but if you can help me, I want to get to know you.’ And he said that the moment when he said those words, he felt this overwhelming peace come over him and knew that he was in a good place. He kept coming back and going to class and eventually got baptized.”

Walking with the Germans

Sharing the Gospel with the German people is a much more difficult hurdle, said Deaconess Bueltmann. Like many Europeans today, “they’ve moved on from the church. It’s not like they’re against it; they just don’t understand it. It’s a slow, slow process.

“I have a neighbor who spoke to me at Christmas about wanting to come to church, and then he ended up not coming. Then at Easter, he said ‘Oh, well, maybe I’ll come.’ I thought, you know, he’ll probably end up not coming again, just like before. But he came!”

While her neighbor had been baptized as a child, he’d left the church when he turned 18 and not returned.

“Right after the service, he went and talked to the pastor about wanting to get confirmed. I was blown away! I didn’t feel like I had done that much to try to convert him or win him over except to be his friend, care about him, and talk about my faith. It was shocking to me how all of a sudden he was like ‘Yeah, let’s do this!’ And now he’s started attending our baptism/confirmation class.”

Walking with the Children

Another group needing to be introduced to Jesus are the children in her neighborhood. Over summer vacations, their church hosts a week-long summer camp retreat that children from the neighborhood – German, Persian, and now Ukrainian – attend.

“We have a chance to go more in depth with them, teaching them stories from the Bible and singing songs with them. We go swimming and play games and have campfires, and it’s a really fun week. The majority of kids are not Christian. Usually, none of them are.

“This year was a bit different because we had a sprinkling of Persian kids from our church, and they decided to bring all their friends, and a lot of them were Muslim. So we had [German] kids from an atheist upbringing, kids from a Muslim upbringing, kids whose parents were [previously] Muslim but are growing up Christian, and one of the [Ukrainian refugee] girls brought friends who have some Christian background. It was a very unique mix of cultures and languages!”

At night, Deaconess Bueltmann read the children to sleep with stories from A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories. Throughout the camp, the children would ask questions – “Who is Jesus?” “Who’s God?” “What does all this mean?” Through the generosity of LHF supporters, Farsi-speaking children went home with their own copies of the Bible storybooks.

“We’re just trying to be faithful and follow the Lord and what He would have us do here,” concluded Deaconess Bueltmann. “LHF’s translations are a big, big part of trying to make clear the Word of God to people who have a different mother tongue than us. God is the One who opens the doors and provides the path, and we’re just blessed to be used in some way to be part of people’s journey.”

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