It was only about six weeks after we had arrived in Bavaria back in 2015 that the Syrian Refugee Crisis began. Right here and right now, I have no intention of going into the politics of the decision to admit a shade over a million unvetted persons who claimed to be fleeing the Assad regime (hint- not a decision of unalloyed wisdom) in any depth. What I will write about here is what I observed in the attitudes of Germans- including my neighbors and friends- to the situation. They wanted to help.
The Germans, you see, having played the part of villain in the two great conflicts we call the World Wars, subsequently spent decades caught between an unhealthy self-flagellation and a healthy repentance and, where possible, penance for the monstrous deeds of the Nazi regime. They dearly want to be the good guys today. In some capacity. Their country’s role in the Cold War does not seem to have made much of an impression. Yes, there are now 75+ years of history between the end of the Second World War and the current day, but it is most definitely impossible to overestimate the weight of the guilt, shame, trauma, pain and other associated psychological and spiritual evils upon the souls of Germans still. The world is only now seeing a generation of Germans who feel something akin to healthy national pride about some of their history- with four generations having passed since the last major war on west European soil. The Sebis and the Claudias on the street? They really want to be the good guys. So, when the chance came for them to rush to the aid of refugee families fleeing and internecine civil war in the Middle East, they flocked en masse to train stations to receive the new arrivals with bags of groceries, clothes, toys for children…and found that they were not greeting families, for the most part, but mostly greeting men between the ages of 18 and 35.
I won’t delve into the politics and morality of the decision to set the Schengen Agreement on fire by admitting all those unvetted refugees of often unknown origin and uncertain intent into the country. The negative effects have been discussed at length elsewhere. Here and now, I want instead to point out something of the character of the people who responded: They truly believed they were going to be ministers of mercy, coming to the aid of those in need, and they acted on that belief. Christians of all denominational backgrounds were keen to help those they perceived as being in need: Pentecostals, Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists and various other denominations practically queued up around the block to help the refugees from Syria and North Africa. Secular Europe where churches are invisible? Hardly.
Then came the Great COVID Panic of 2020-21. Again, I’m not going to go into the ham-handed overreaction of the German (and other) governments to this admittedly potentially dangerous disease (to certain fractions of the population), but point out the reaction of the faith community in Germany. In spite of government-imposed restrictions on church services and other public meetings, the Christian community of Germany (and Austria, and Switzerland) held public prayer events online to pray for relief from the COVID outbreak. You can view (and listen to) the recording of the livestream from April of 2020 here: Deutschland betet gemeinsam.
As the weeks and months passed, and it became clear that the national and state governments were continuing the COVID restrictions, another online prayer event was held on the Wednesday before Pentecost in 2020, an event called Deutschland betet. It was followed a year later by the event Gemeinsam vor Pfingsten. The response of the secular, increasingly non-Christian Germany to the ongoing series of lock-downs, masking, social restrictions, illnesses and deaths from the Wuhan Flu, and the socio-economic dislocations caused by it, was prayer. And compassion. Here, in the last two years, I have seen how my neighbors, friends, total strangers, have gone out of their various ways to help each other, to support family and friends as much as they were able. And that all seems to have been a warm-up to the massive flooding we have seen this summer.
Summer? Well, 2021 is really looking and feeling like another “year without summer”, in the mold of 1815. Since May, the daytime high temperature has not exceeded 30 Celsius more than five times, and then only briefly. And the rains have hardly paused for more than a day or two. You have probably seen some of the photos and footage of the destruction in the Eifel region of Germany, in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate. The response of the German community has been overwhelmingly good. The prayer movement assembled another nation-wide event, this time something of a telethon and prayer event called Hoffnungsschimmer 2021 (Shimmer of Hope 2021), which also included several testimonies both from people who had suffered material and personal losses in the flood, and from those who had gone to help them in the wake of the disaster. The Real Life Guys, whom I have mentioned on my blog before, have also been a visible presence among the scores of faith-based aid and relief efforts that have poured into the afflicted region. Those who read German can find a brief article on their work here.
Another high-visibility testimony amid this destruction and loss is that of Hubert Schilles. He is an excavator operator working in civil engineering, and has been celebrated as “The Hero of Steinbachtal” for his actions during the worst of the flooding :
The translation of the above reads:
“The Lord God put me in that place. I blessed myself, then drove right in. I was not afraid for even one second. And with God’s help, it worked.”
Risking his life, Hubert Schillers dug out the drainage channel for the Steinbach Valley Dam with an excavator.
And note, if you will, the sources: ARD, one of Germany’s largest television networks, and FAZ– Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung– which is one of the largest and best-respected newspapers in the country. Speaking of which, the FAZ published this story today, detailing the import role that clergy are playing in the restoring the spiritual and emotional well-being of those in the flood-ravaged region. Even if you can’t read German, click through to the FAZ article so that the photos can give you a better picture of the destruction the inhabitants of the Ahrtal and surrounding regions are dealing with. But not alone. There has been a largely faith-driven outpouring- and that is both right word and my point- of material aid and compassion for the afflicted. Samaritan’s Purse has a good video of that organization’s response teams here (in English).. Between testimonies like those above and the actions that have accompanied them, you might get the correct impression that the Body of Christ in Germany has been very active in responding to the crises of recent years. From that you should draw the correct inference that an ethical system very much guided by the principle of „love your neighbor as yourself“, „when I was hungry, you fed me, when I sick, you visited me“.
Thanks for reading.
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