I had never been to Berlin before August 2005, yet I felt as though I was returning. Thoughts of Berlin have occupied much thought, study and yes, anguish in my life as a Jew. This was the center of the Nazi war effort. This was where Adolph Hitler gave orders in his attempt to take over the world and annihilate the Jewish people.
My impressions of this city were probably similar to those of many Jews who have never actually been to Berlin—formed from images of the war and the ashes of the Holocaust. I remembered bits and pieces from World War II film clips that showed a bombed-out Berlin, a city reduced to rubble.
Yet that was not the Berlin I visited for three weeks as part of the Jews for Jesus Behold Your God campaign. Upon my arrival, I was impressed to see a modern, world-class city. The rebuilding of Berlin since the reunification of Germany and its establishment as the capital of Germany is unsurpassed in modern times. The architecture—of new buildings as well as the restored old edifices—is beautiful. Berlin sends the message that the past is behind us and we are moving into the future. Remarkably, since the reunification of Berlin, many Jewish people (and not a few from Israel) now live in this city.
Our purpose was to reach out to everyone in the city, but especially to the small yet significant Jewish community with the news that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah of Israel. We partnered closely with several local evangelical congregations and a number of committed Christians to reach Jews and Gentiles in Berlin. The love and concern of these dear brothers and sisters in Christ gave me a new impression of Berlin. Here were people who took time off from work or took their vacation time to be on the streets of Berlin with us. They proclaimed the gospel side-by-side with the rest of our international team of staff and volunteers. Often we relied on them to help translate for us and keep us pointed in the right direction.
The reaction of the people of Berlin to our Jews For Jesus was mixed. Many Moslems from Turkey and the Middle East took great exception both to our presence as Jews as well as our message of Yeshua. Their hostility was apparent and their resistance to the message of Yeshua was strong. They were not accustomed to Christians, much less Jewish Christians, standing on the streets to tell them about Yeshua.
Some of the older German men and women seemed very puzzled about Juden für Jesus.” Some of them asked, “What is it that you people want?” They thought that as Jews, we were asking for something or trying to raise an issue about World War II and the Holocaust. We explained we were there to tell people that you can be Jewish and believe in Jesus, and that the message of Jesus was for all people, both Jewish and Gentile. They were surprised, and some touched, by this message.
The group of Germans aged 30-50 at first mistook our message as singling out the Jewish people to separate them from other Germans. They took offense to what they saw as racism. “Why single out the Jews in regard to Jesus?” they would ask. “All people should believe in Him.” We tried to make clear that we weren’t singling out the Jewish people but that many of our people do not believe Jesus is an option for them. Our message was that some of us as Jews believe in Him, and we think everyone should!
We also encountered many young people who would be called “skin heads” in the U.S. Many identified themselves as Neo-Nazis. These were mostly kids from 16-22 who hung around in groups and for the most part drank a lot of beer and took a lot of drugs. I never expected my heart to go out to Neo-Nazis, but it did. These kids were totally disillusioned and broken in spirit. They seemed drawn to Neo-Nazi ideology because it angered their elders who were desperately trying to put the past behind them. The greatest offense they could cause was to try to raise the specter of Nazism—and in so doing they succeeded in offending just about everyone. They did assure us, however, that they were not anti-Semitic, just pro-German. Since they tended to congregate on the streets our campaigners were able to witness to many of them about the love of Yeshua. Some were looking for help to escape their drug addictions and hard lifestyle.
Then of course there were the Jewish people living in Berlin. Most I encountered had moved there from Israel or some other country and had come to Germany seeking employment. Even though some had been there for many years they didn’t seem to consider Berlin their home—only as a place where they were currently living.
Like many Berliners, most of the Jewish people we met were contemporary and liberal by nature. Some had strong objections to the gospel. Several times I heard people say: “How can you bring this message of Jews for Jesus here, to Germany of all places. Remember what they did to us in the name of Jesus!” Most of us Jews for Jesus have been hearing the latter part of that statement for years, wherever we may serve. It is an attempt to obscure the gospel message and dismiss any consideration of who Yeshua really is.
We had many good and open conversations. Some Jewish people were willing to give us their names and addresses for further contact from our Jews for Jesus staff in Germany as well as our Christian friends in Berlin.
After three full weeks of evangelism on the streets of Berlin, I felt blessed to have been used to proclaim the message of the Messiah of Israel. I wish I could say that all of my feelings regarding Germany have been transformed, but they haven’t. The pain of the Holocaust and the call to remember isn’t easily cast aside, nor should it be. Still, I returned home with a burden for Germany and especially the people of Berlin. And I will never forget my German brothers and sisters in Christ who were willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with us to share equally the joys and the hardships of speaking out for Jesus in that city.
For pics of the Berlin team, go to: http://www.jewsforjesus.org/publications/realtime/26/berlinphotos