Vision for an ongoing transcontinental relationship between Emmanuel Gospel Center (EGC) and Gemeinsam fuer Berlin (GfB) (Together for Berlin)
I. History of Partnership
The vision of EGC’s Intercultural Ministries is to connect the Body of Christ across cultural lines to express and advance the Kingdom of God in the city, the region, and the world. Building relationships and creating learning environments are essential to achieving this vision. Among its networks with urban ministries globally, Emmanuel Gospel Center is connected with Gemeinsam fuer Berlin a ministry organization in Germany since 2006, whose mission statement is: “Through a growing unity among believers in committed prayer and coordinated action, the Gospel of Jesus Christ shall reach all areas of society and people of all cultures in Berlin, so that the evidence of the Kingdom of God will increase, thus causing a higher quality of life in the city.”
In 2008, among others Dr. Doug and Judy Hall, president of EGC, traveled to Berlin to speak at GfB’s biannual conference, TRANSFORUM. The growing interest in nurturing that partnership to share experiences and start a mutual learning process was deepened at the conference, where the Halls also met Dr. Bianca Duemling. Rev. Axel Nehlsen, the executive director of GfB, has also visited EGC twice to cast the vision of mutual learning.
In March 2010, Bianca Duemling came to Boston for two months to learn about EGC’s approaches to intercultural ministries. As a result of her experience, a partnership has developed between EGC and GfB. Bianca has served in Boston as the Assistant Director of Intercultural Ministries at EGC from November 2010-December 2013.She spent several weeks a year in Germany to enhance learning, through trainings and seminars in both cities. In April 2013, a group from Berlin came to Boston to learn more about Living System Ministries, had mutual learning sessions and were able to share what God is doing in Berlin.
II. Partnership Vision:
Although Bianca returned to Berlin in December of 2013, the desire is to continue the partnership as it is a historic opportunity to connect the experience of two cities. Emmanuel Gospel Center is committed to partner with Together for Berlin specifically in five areas of partnership:
(1) Advancing Intercultural Ministries in Berlin
Germany has never had a good reputation of being welcoming to foreigners. The immigration and citizenship laws make it very difficult for immigrants to feel at home in Germany. Until 1997 the German government denied that Germany is an immigration country despite the fact that more than 19,5% of the Germany’s population has an immigrant background. In the last 15 years, politicians and citizens began to acknowledge the situation as a huge challenge. The history of denial of the immigration reality has deeply impacted the German Churches perception of the demographic change. First, the Church is largely unaware that a considerable percentage of the immigrants in Germany are Christians who gather in vibrant immigrant churches. They are the fastest growing churches in Germany, but largely isolated from participation and involvement in the wider body of Christ. Second, the Church is generally not equipped to embrace the diversity in their neighborhood and reach out in a redemptive manner to the world on their doorsteps.
Immigrant churches play an important role in the deeply desired revitalization of the reformation heritage. Therefore, it is a huge need to connect churches across cultural lines to manifest intercultural unity as well as equip the Church to embrace diversity within their communities and beyond.
In the past five years, a small number of innovative German rooted churches and some Christian networks - including GfB - have started to work toward a growing awareness and advocate for seeing diversity as an opportunity.
(2) Development of the ‘Berlin Institute for Urban Transformation’
In Germany, there is not yet a center for urban ministry education, despite the fact that 75% of the German residents are living in urban areas. In the past year the vision to provide contextualized urban ministry education has become more concrete. This led to a partnership between GfB and the ‘Theologisches Seminar Rheinland (TSR)’ (a non-denominational theological seminary), represented by Dr. Rainer Schacke of Berlin. A working group has formed to advance the idea of the ‘Berlin Institute for Urban Transformation’. Dr. Bianca Duemling has been invited to be a key player in this development. Her experience in Boston, and EGC’s expertise in contextualized urban ministry education and their partnership with the Boston Campus of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS) is a very valuable resource in supporting these developments in Berlin.
(3) Applying and Testing ‘Living System Ministry’
Over the last several decades Emmanuel Gospel Center has developed “Living System Ministry”, a ministry approach based on systems thinking. LSM involves 1) learning the dynamics of key systems through Applied Research, 2) Identifying places (leverage points) in those systems where the church (broadly defined) can make a difference, and 3) equipping leaders associated with these systems and leverage points. GfB has been inspired by this approach and wants to apply it in their context. This gives EGC the opportunity to learn how LSM can be applied in a post-modern European environment and further refine their tools, concepts and best practices.
(4) Mutual Learning
Culturally and politically, Boston and Berlin are very different cities. Nevertheless, there are many opportunities for mutual learning and discovery of what God is doing in their specific cultural context. Berlin is a post-Christian city, especially because half of the city has a communist heritage. The Church in Berlin had to painfully learn how to navigate through this reality and learn to connect with people and contextually share the Gospel. Boston is facing similar challengings presented from a rising post-Christian reality. The Church in Boston can learn from Berlin’s experience and together explore how to engage in post-Christian cultures.
Boston is a diverse city, 80% of the churches have a minority background. The Church in Boston has been learning for the past 50 years what it means to become a diverse body of Christ and is well aware of the challenges and stumbling blocks in the journey toward intercultural unity. 25% of Berlin’s population is migrants.
These are two examples where mutual learning can take place. The vision is to develop a system of team learning through regularly scheduled conference calls, skype meetings and sharing written materials. The transcontinental collaborative would be strengthened through in person meetings and conferences held every 2-3 years in alternating cities.
(5) Other Collaboration Possibilities
Besides the above-mentioned main areas of partnership other possibilities of collaboration can develop depending on grant possibilities. Opportunities for comparative research and training projects can be explored. It has also been noted that other cities in Germany that have a relationship with GfB might also benefit from some of the initiatives listed above.
If you want to learn more about the Boston-Berlin Partnership and get involved, please contact Bianca Duemling.