Pastor Horst Engelmann’s Story

Portrait by Madeline Daniels

We sat with Pastor Horst Engelmann, one of our church partners from Germany, to discuss his faith, the impact of the refugee crisis on Germany, and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

Pastor Horst is the Director of the World Missions Department at Forum Wiedenest, a Bible college in Germany that prepares ministers of the gospel with pastoral, missional, and next generation ministry training. He has also organized over 117 missionaries in 25 different countries and leads Jesus Unites, a German initiative of missionaries working to bring together micro-churches, German churches, missionaries from other countries, and cross-culturally raised Germans in an effort to reach Germans and refugees with the Gospel. What he said may change the way you see the church and our role as ambassadors of the Gospel message:

Mariners Church: Tell us about your faith journey.

Pastor Horst: It started with my great-great grandmother. She prayed that her family would be missionaries to the world. It took 80 years for this prayer to be answered. When I came back from Africa for the first time, my grandfather told me his grandmother prayed for me 100 years ago. I was always touched by how God works around the world and I wanted to be a part of it. I was a theological teacher in Tanzania for 16 years with a Muslim background, which helped me understand how other faiths work and how we can relate to them, build relationships and share the gospel with them. When I came back to Germany, this always was on my heart, as well as helping people in Germany connect with other cultures. My calling is to build bridges between German churches and Christian organizations to reach out to Muslim people in Europe and in Germany.

MC: How has the over one million refugees that have entered Germany impacted the church or your personal ministry?

HE: It impacted a lot churches. The refugee policy of the German government is to distribute refugees all over Germany equally in the different regions, so they’re found in big cities, smaller towns and even in villages. Now, many churches have people from other cultures in their congregations. My vision is to help as many church volunteers and staff members have a definite vision of how they can integrate people of other cultures into their churches. It starts with helping them practically, with language classes, filling out forms or going to the doctor, but very quickly it becomes sharing your personal story with the Lord. It’s an opportunity to talk with people who have been through many difficult situations and are looking for something new. When they find Christians who are really committed to the Lord and can explain their faith in a way that is understandable for them, it changes a lot of people’s lives. We have seen thousands of Muslims coming to Christ in the last two years in Germany.

MC: When you look at the American Church, or specifically Mariners, what would you challenge us with?

HE: I feel as Christians we have to have a Kingdom view on everything that happens. There are a lot of political views, and you can have your political view but a Kingdom view is always higher. I feel first it’s a question about our own identity: Who am I? Am I a German or an American or an African? Our first identity is in Heaven. We have to understand that the church of Jesus Christ is not just for Baptists in Germany or Methodists somewhere else. It’s for all people of all languages being together before the Lord and praising Him together. That’s the vision of the Bible in Revelation 7:9. Each local church can be a foretaste of what will happen in Heaven, and change everything because then you don’t see people as a threat. You see people as those who the Lord has prepared to also be before the throne one day. I feel every nation needs to understand the refugee situation from a Kingdom perspective and see people coming from other countries as those who are looking for truth, life, and salvation.

MC: What would you say to people who are questioning whether they should get involved or volunteer or come alongside the German Church?

HE: Obviously, most of the refugees have gone through very difficult times and some have been stranded so they need practical assistance. Food and clothing and all those things are usually taken care of by the German government, which is really good. They all have housing and most are not in camps. The deepest needs are the need to belong to something and the need to have relationships. Many are very much on their own. Few have families with them. The Church can be a new family for people who are uprooted and have lost their daily surroundings, which gave them safety. They really need to be connected, first to the Lord but also to a community. We need people to do this. It’s great to have international teams who are doing this.

MC: Looking at the Church as a capital C larger Church, what do you think the influx of refugees have done in that regard?

HE: The old approach is looking at one culture and concentrating on this one culture. The new approach, I would say, is addressing the group that is coming from very different backgrounds. Ideally, every local church should be a place for a different kind of people. As the Bible says, there is no Jew or gentile, no slave or free, they are just one in Christ and, if this happens, people will be drawn to this.

MC: Being the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, what is that like for you personally or within your ministry?

HE: I’m very touched by how many people around the world are praying for Germany. I feel the whole situation with the refugees, especially the high influx in the last two years has to do with these prayers. Muslim people are open for the gospel, not everyone but a big number. This is really a result of what the Lord has done. I feel Reformation is a good time to remember what the big ideas of Luther were. He helped discover a lot of things from the New Testament through faith alone, through grace alone, through Christ alone and through scripture alone. At the same time, he was always reforming. The church always needs to be reformed by the Lord and by the church itself, and it needs to change and understand what the Lord is doing right now. I feel the biggest challenge of the Reformation year right now is understanding this vision of the church that the Lord has of people from all different kinds of backgrounds being together in unity and diversity.

MC: You clearly have such a heart for refugees. Is there a particular story or turning point where you developed more of a passion in that regard?

HE: It has to do with faith. That’s the foundation. When we came to Africa, we came there to give something for the African people; so we did. But when I look back now, the 16 years we were there I learned so much from other cultures. I learned about hospitality, I learned about relationships, I learned about fervent prayer and how you really worship the Lord by forgetting the time. We Germans are always looking at our watches when we do something, but Africans just share life together and enjoy the time with the Lord. This has changed my own perspective, so being a stranger somewhere else helped me to understand people who are strangers and sympathize with them.

MC: Could you give us some stories of the dramatic call of the Muslim world to Jesus and this great revival that’s happening in Germany?

HE: There is a German-Russian church, which, about 20 years ago, opened up to other cultures, first to the original Germans who reached out to them—and then to people who came from Russia. Seven years ago, they invited an Iranian Christian to lead, and the first time there were Farsi speaking small groups. The group grew from 30 people four or five years ago to about 350 Farsi speaking people since the influx of refugees.

MC: Is there a specific story that encapsulates your “why”?

HE: Once we had Christmas Eve celebrations in our church, and, when we started this, there was an Iranian coming. We made friends with one another and I invited him home. At that time, he couldn’t speak a lot of German and not very much English so it was a fun mixture when I was talking with him—he was speaking Arabic and Farsi and English and I was speaking Swahili and English and German, but at least I understood. He was so touched that he said “I want to be a Christian. Can you help me become a Christian?” It was my funniest way of helping someone because then I explained the gospel and he repeated it and sometimes we had to look at Google Translate to try to understand what a word means. And then we did the prayer of committing your life to Jesus. I prayed and he followed. The good thing was afterwards he could go to this Farsi speaking church for a discipleship course so then he really understood the depth of the gospel. Since that time, he calls me father. For a nonwestern, you usually have more than one father. You have your father that has born you, but also other fathers and mothers who look after you. So, he calls me father and I feel honored to be a father of another son.

MC: What are some of the challenges you’re facing in your ministry?

HE: One of the challenges is politics. Right now, the German government has opened places for refugees to stay, but they just declared Afghanistan to be a safe country even though it’s really not and they’re relocating Afghans back to Afghanistan. On one hand, you know the Lord is in control and He can use those people in their countries of origin. But, humanly speaking, it will be terrible for many of them because in Afghanistan, people can, by law enforce capital
punishment if you change your religion. We’re trying to lobby the German government and now they suspended flights back to Afghanistan because there was a terror attack some months ago. Coping with this situation on the political side is a challenge. The other thing is having the energy for this marathon. Many people think, “Okay, when the refugees are coming it’s like a short sprint.” You do something and then it’s finished. You have to understand it’s not a short sprint, it’s a marathon and you need to prepare yourself for the marathon.

MC: How do you do this?

HE: The challenge is to find people who are able to be bridge-builders between the cultures, because not everyone is fit for this. I feel people who naturally serve between different cultures, like the children of bicultural parents or the children of people who have migrated a generation ago but now they’ve been born in another country can understand the needs of different cultures. They can be bridge-builders. Helping these kids find their calling and their identity in Jesus is important because, for them, it’s even more challenging than for anyone else. On one hand, they feel as they were born in Germany, like Germans, but maybe they look different and everyone sees them as ‘You’re not real Germans.’ But then when they are in their country of origin, they are also seen as strangers from another country. If they can understand their identity is that they belong to the kingdom of God, their passport is in Heaven, then they can freely act as mediators between the cultures.

MC: What advice do you have for us in becoming a more global church?

HE: When I look at churches doing this for a longer time, there are several phases they are going through. The first phase is helping people practically. You have to look first to the needs of the people you want to reach. At the same time, you have to be creative in presenting the gospel. You need to think about ways to evangelize. You don’t ask them as the first question,
‘Do you want to commit your life to Jesus?’ That makes no sense. You have to build up faith first.

The second phase is incorporating strangers into your community. It would be a good thing if church members partner one by one to some of the new people and build personal relationships like meeting at home, eating together. At the same time, you need good teaching tools where they can understand in depth what it means to be a Christian. Even though they might have understood the basics of the gospel, teaching what it means to live as a Christian is different.

The third phase should be people of diverse cultural backgrounds working at the church because then any newcomer will see this is a church where all kinds of people are welcomed. For example, my son’s church started reaching out to different cultures 20 years ago. For ten years, they have had a co-pastor who is Kenyan. They have a youth pastor who is Chinese, and a diverse worship team. When you come into the church, they don’t have to tell you it is an international church. You just feel it, and you see it.

Written by Delaney Kording

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