No one ever bothered to give me an english translation for the word ‘Gemeinde’, I worked it out for myself. It wasn’t hard. The Leipzig English Church meet in the Gemeinde Hall of the Philippuskirche (St Philip’s Church), the Free Evangelical Church calls itself a ‘Gemeinde’, and I stayed in a ‘WG’, the german abbreviation for a student group house, which stands for ‘Wohngemeinschaft’. Gemeinde means ‘community’ or ‘fellowship’. I know what German ‘Gemeinde’ means because I’ve experienced it over the past few weeks.
The MTC mission to Leipzig is all done and dusted. We had our final farewell event last night: a gathering with LEC members to give thanks and pray together followed by dinner and drinks at the local arthouse cinema (and cafe). There was a lot of emotion in our goodbyes. I don’t think I’ve ever been so thoroughly loved and welcomed into a community in such a short space of time as I have been with the LEC and particularly the Uni students with whom I’ve been staying. I’m now sitting in my hostel in Berlin, on a one night stop-over before flying out from Frankfurt tomorrow, and I miss them. I miss our gemeinde.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to be heading back to Australia. I miss home. I really miss my wife. And I’ve learned a lot about the good gifts God has blessed us with in Australia. I’ve got a new appreciation for the biblical fellowship we often take for granted in our churches. But we’ve had a special time with the brothers and sisters in Leipzig.
One of our team members said that she had never experienced the Lord’s Supper in such a personal way as she did in our evening service Good Friday. Pastor Martin called us up to receive communion in small groups. We stood in a circle, received the bread and wine, and remembered again the body that was broken for us so that we could be one whole, united body. Standing in a circle meant we could look into each other’s faces. Behold, your brother for whom Christ died!
On Easter Sunday morning we held a Sunrise service on the Fockeberg (the highest hill in Leipzig). It was freezing cold with a wind that made my ears ache, but it was precious to stand there together, to sing, to wait for the sun to rise (we miscalculated and came too early). It was the beginning of what was basically a whole day spent together as a church family. We went from Sunrise service to Morning Service at the Philippuskirche on to a progressive lunch (walking from house to house of church members), and by the time the lunch had finished it was nearly time for evening church, which was then followed by dinner together at a cafe. It was exhausting (to be honest, I missed a big chunk because I went home and fell asleep – the students kept me awake til after 2am most nights and the sunrise service tipped me over the edge). <img src="http://andersonpost.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/IMG_0956-187×250.jpg" class="right" alt="Martin" />But it was beautiful to see the power of the resurrection in this rolling celebration: to see 50 people crammed into a tiny flat, perched on every available surface, and living out the fact that Jesus has made us one family from all the hostile tribes of the world.
On Tuesday a few of us went out doing cold-contact evangelism on the Uni campus. The Aussies were all paired up with a German student or Campus staff-worker. I went out with the wife of the Campus team leader (while another student looked after their young child). We had some really interesting conversations with people around the campus, but the most compelling for me was seeing this woman’s quiet passion to share Jesus, her sadness when she felt we could have taken better advantage of an opportunity in conversation, and then praying together and comparing our experiences of student ministry. We were able to shoulder a burden together because we have each heard the call of Jesus and been united with him and in him. We had rich fellowship in that short time of sharing the gospel together.
We’ve done so much else in the past few days. Some touristy stuff: visited the BMW factory in Leipzig; climbed towers; walked/cycled around the city. Klaus and David delivered a paper to the Christian theology students society (only a small percentage of all theology students at Leipzig Uni are Christian). Several people attended a Gipfel (Summit) of Christian ministry leaders who are keen to promote expository Bible teaching in German-speaking countries. We deepened our friendships with each other on the team, and with new friends in Leipzig.
Human finitude means that there are always more good things to love in the world than we have capacity to love them. God’s strange superabundance of grace toward us means that eventually we have to say goodbye, at least for a time. We now move from being a face-to-face fellowship into a fellowship of prayer. But no less a real gemeinde. For it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and in you, and in them. And so wherever we live, we live together.