Randy and Katy Smelser

Americans living in Germany but citizens of heaven

An American in Germay, but why?

So why would an American preacher go to Germany? Is Germany not the home of Martin Luther and the start of the Reformation and Protestant church? Has not Germany been reached with the Gospel with over 50% claiming to "Christian"? Germany is not in the 10/40 Window and is not listed as one of the world's Unreached Peoples. Does not Germany send out missionaries to other lands?

These thoughts and questions are for many a reason just to ignore Germany and its spiritual needs. Great history and great traditions do not necessarily equal great spirituality. Let's investigate a couple reason why we are in Germany and have been here since 1985.
1. The calling of God
2. The three E's
3. The need for church leadership

God's Calling

God's ways do not always make sense to us as humans. His calling can be like this. For some reason he sees someone and decides they would be good at doing something or going somewhere that most people would never think of. God often called prophets to go to some other land (Amos, Jonah or the nameless prophet from 1.Kings 13). Why not raise someone up from there? He does that too but he often has called a special person for a special reason.

God is like the conductor of an orchestra. He knows how each instrument combined together forms at beautiful concert if played at the right time in the right way. He calls people from one place to another because He has need for the talents and gifts or He may want to help an individual grow in a special way that would never be done in his hometown or country.

I believe God called me/us to this work. Since I was a boy I prayed for Europe and I was interested in Europe. I was interested in our family history (Smelser is from German - Schmeltzer). My first trip to Europe was Easter 1977 as a high school Senior to Italy as part of National Latin Club. Europe pulled at me. I never wanted to be a preacher but God took my interest and redefined it. God's call is not always painful; sometimes he gives us the desires of our hearts after refining them.

Sometimes we ask ourselves why we are here. Sometimes we ask if it our desire or God's. We have often told God we will go anywhere in the world and He always seems to keep us planted where we are right now. Again and again we have seen how we have not accomplished what we wanted but what God wanted. Those are often two totally different things. We have touched lives who normally would have fallen through the cracks and been lost. God's call is often a mystery but is always good in the end.

The 3 E's

Before I came to Europe, I heard Willard Black speak about the need all across Europe as being the 3 E's: Encouragement, Evangelism, Evidences. These three things are something positive that the USA can offer in church work in Germany.

Encouragement: Just last month a young woman called and asked for help. She started studying at a university in the fall, in Corona lockdown with no presence classroom. Everything was online which as such a social being was difficult for her. She finally had her first test in English at the end of the semester. It was written by three professors over three different aspects. She bombed it. She made appointments to talk to all three; after talking to two she called us. The German professor had berated her for 30 minutes telling her to give it up. The American professor told her what she needed to work on and what to watch for. Guess which one drove her to tears? A woman in one of my English classes a couple of years ago said that she had one teacher in high school who told her she was stupid and worthless in front of the whole class. Some teachers return the tests in high school starting with the high grades going down to the poorest grade, making snide comments about the poor students and publicly shaming them. I could go on and on with examples from school. We call these poor human beings - Schulbeschädigt- School Damaged. We get them in our classes and really before we can teach them English we have to build them up so that they think/believe that they are capable of learning English.

I have had several teachers in my classes over the years who have been very loving and I know they would not do such things. The problem is that all you need is a couple of bad teachers over the years to destroy all courage.

In the church I have experienced that someone will brutally tell someone else something and do not understand why that person is hurt. They were only trying to help - so they think and say. Yet that same person is a snowflake or gets angry if the tables are turned.

Germany makes the best cars in the world because they are picky. They find every mistake and weak point and correct it. For car building this is a very excellent quality but in relationship it is deadly. We have seen and experienced this picking and correcting from strangers, students, and people in the church. It is no wonder that loneliness is a major problem. Once in youth group we were talking about friends and iron sharpening iron. I asked who we should correct, acquaintances or our best friends? They all said acquaintances because you do not care if they get mad and go away.

Americans are known for being friendly and kind. And just as not all Germans are not courage-killers so not all Americans exhibit kindness. But still, especially Christians from America are encouraging. In English for example, they do not correct every little mistake and try to find the good in effort. For Christians in Europe, where true believers are very few, encouragement is vital. I believe the Holy Spirit and years of Sunday School ("Jesus wants us to be kind") has made something that American Christians are good at and can share with Europe.

Evangelism: The first Sunday in my new apartment in my new city, Hannover, and at my new church in 1985, I was invited to someone's home for dinner. Afterwards we took a walk in the woods and talked. Heinz-Jürgen, who would later become an elder in the church, told me, "Randy, you will not be German. People will always see you as American. Use that to your advantage." He was right and that leads me to the second E = Evangelism. As an American I have two advantages.

#1 - If I am friendly and start talking to strangers or people I really only know from sight, they are okay with it. In the first apartment in Hannover lived a woman from the church. She had the idea of hosting a St.Nicholas Coffee and Cake for the entire building (11 units) but she did not want to invite people because they will think that she as a German is after something, some dark hidden motive. But if we as Americans invited them they would come. We invited and they came. Being American has opened many doors and talks. This is, of course, is the first step to evangelism.

#2 - Americans on the whole are still not as closed to religious discussions as Europeans. A man out of a Middle Eastern country was asked what the difference between the Middle East and Europe. He said that in the Middle East religion is discussed and is open and sex is hush-hush, while in Europe sex is discussed in public and religion is tabu to discuss. For German Christians, having grown up in this culture, it is difficult to overcome this tabu and discuss God. Of course this is not always the case but the vast majority of Christians have difficulty saying anything about God until they are very close to another person. Then too for the vast majority of Europeans religion is not a choice but one is born into it. Evangelism is seldom done by either of the two large State Churches in Germany (Lutheran/Reformed or Catholic). We Americans are free from some of this inhibitation.

Evidences: Europe in general and Germany especially has over the last 200 years attacked the Bible and more recently the concept of "Truth". This has led to wide-spread atheism, sometimes blatant sometimes practical every day life without God. Even theology and pastors in churches have been infected by it. There are a couple of Germans or organisations that are "defending the faith" but most people in the pew have not heard of it. Quite often the literature and research that one can read in Germany is a translation from English. "Reasons to believe" are taught quite often in churches, Christian colleges, and by many organisations in the USA. American church workers have something to offer in this area and to combat the propaganda of unbelief that is taught in the schools, churches, and press.

Church leadership need

Germany has had a growing shortage of leaders for all sorts of churches.

Free Churches -
Baptist: Several years ago I talked to someone on a pastor search committee from a fairly large (500 attendance) Baptist church. The church had looked for 5 years unsuccessfully for a fitting preacher. After the Wall fell in the 90's there were 18 American pastors in Baptist churches. By the year 2000 it was reported that for every 20 open churches (from 900 churches) there were only 9 possible candidates. ("ideaSpektrum" 6.March 2000, p.12)
Free Evangelical Congregations: The fastest growing Free Church is the FeG. in the year 2000 they had 387 churches and the number is growing; today it is 500. In 2000 there were 14 open churches and they were not able to fill these with graduates of their theological school. ("ideaSpektrum" 20.March 2000, p.7)

In the State Church -
Evangelical Lutheran in the 1970's there was a flood of Pastors. In 1982 there were 26,000 theology students; now there are 2400. It is estimated that by 2030 one third for the opening for a new pastor can not be filled. In the Northern Germany Synod there are 1700 Pastors for 1.9 million members in 987 churches but by 2030 only 1100 (900 are going into retirement and only 300 are coming up). ( "ideaSpektrum" 25.March 2019, pp.16-18; 18.Nov. 2019, p.28)
In the Pommern Synod in NE Germany in the next 3 years 15 Pastors will be retiring and only 6-9 new pastors will be joining the ranks. ("ideaSpektrum" 01.April 2019, p.29) One pastorate in the Synod has 47 villages and 8 churches to cover. The pastor holds 2-3 church services every Sunday and the other churches remain closed or have limited services. ("ideaSpektrum" 01.July 2019, p.21)
From a conservative Lutheran school a professor said that the demand for theological graduates is giant but the demand can in no way be met. When asked why this was so the reply was that the profession is no longer "sexy", no appeal. At one time a pastor was with medical doctors at the top of the social ladder but that is no longer so. ("ideaSpektrum" 19.Oct. 2020, p.24)

Catholic Church in Lower Saxony more and more foreign Priests are being used to fill the gap. In the diocese of Osnabrück 29% of the priests are foreigners and in the diocese of Hildesheim it is 31% according to the Peine Newspaper (PAZ 3.Jan.2019, p.15) In the county of Peine two different Catholic churches have priests from India.