Nick Howard is a Texas Baptists missionary in Wiesbaden, Germany. He is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church, an international congregation with over 16 nations represented each Sunday.
In Europe in general and in Germany in particular, COVID regulations have been extremely tight. Those regulations made it almost impossible for Immanuel Baptist, Wiesbaden to meet in a way that was healthy for a young congregation with a lot of children. For that reason, we have spent the last 17 months using Zoom as the platform for our worship services. It has certainly been challenging, but God has continued to bless us, and we have even had two baptism services during the pandemic. Nonetheless, we are excited at the perspective of returning to in-person services soon as the regulations have begun to loosen. In addition to our ZOOM services, we have had the opportunity on several occasions to worship outdoors. One of the landmarks in Wiesbaden is a hill that overlooks the city. The hill is called the Neroberg and on top of this hill is a beautiful gazebo and a replica of a Roman amphitheater. It is a beautiful setting that can be accessed via the “Nerobergbahn,” Germany’s oldest water-powered funicular railway.
As our leadership team began to discuss options for outdoor worship, we asked whether it might be possible to use the amphitheater for that purpose. We were both amazed and delighted when the city not only granted permission but allowed us to use that setting at no cost. Over the months we have been in various stages of lockdown, we have been able to worship on the Neroberg on several occasions. We have seen good numbers of people stop on the rim of the amphitheater and listen in on our service. This has led to many conversations about the church and the gospel. Some who were more comfortable with English would even join us for the entire service.
Each time we have had one of these outdoor services, it seems there is at least one significant encounter. For example, at our last outdoor service, I noticed a couple with a young girl whom I didn’t recognize sitting on the stone “step” closest to the floor of the amphitheater. I went over and introduced myself and shared with them how happy we were that they were joining us, but also explaining that the service itself would be conducted in English. They assured me that this was no problem. I also spoke with the young girl, who was probably 3 or 4 years old. She spoke no English but seemed happy to be with us and was especially fascinated by the brief rehearsal of music that was taking place on the floor of the amphitheater.
When the service began, our praise team moved out to lead worship and out walked the young girl as well. She then took the hand of Janet, one of our praise team members, who, though originally from the United Kingdom, also speaks fluent German. After leading us in the first song, the group also sat on the lowest step and the girl sat down beside Janet. As the service continued, one of our leaders from Sri Lanka came forward to read a scripture passage. The girl leaned over to Janet and asked what the man was saying. Janet told her that he was reading from the Bible and reading about prayer. To which the young girl asked, “What is prayer?” Janet explained that prayer was when we talk to God. The young girl had never heard of prayer and didn’t know there was a God to whom she could speak.
The service continued and each time the praise team went forward, this girl was right by Janet’s side, holding her hand. Afterward, the couple thanked us for the meaningful service and for being so kind to their daughter. We invited them to join us online and, at the end of August, to join us for in-person worship in our building. Of course, we have no way of knowing what the long-term impact of those moments on the Neroberg will be, but our hope is that God will use something born out of necessity in the middle of a pandemic to change lives for all of eternity. Somehow, that seems just like something only He could do.
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