Since joining the International Baptist Convention community, and particularly Faith Baptist Church in Kaiserslautern, Germany, I have heard the term “American Bubble” spoken in reference to our congregation. It’s true. Ninety percent of our congregation is American. Eighty percent of that 90% are U.S. military or U.S. government contractors. Because there is such a large American presence here, the German community quickly reverts to English when we go anywhere locally. If we are “dying” for our favorite American fast food, we can ask anyone in our church to get us on base for our fix. It seems like a dreamy ministry — no language barriers, no cultural hurdles to overcome.
Well, I hate to *POP* the bubble, but here is the reality. We say goodbye, all the time. A part of our Sunday Service includes the question, “Is this anybody’s last Sunday?” When people visit for the first time, we go through a casual conversation about how long they have been in the area, where are they from, how long before they PCS (military lingo for move). The conversation gets us mentally prepared for how much time we will have to pour into this family before they are gone. Summers are brutal. We lose one third of our congregation every summer. And then we lose several more families in the late fall. And then, a smattering of families move in the winter.
One of the great blessings of military families is that they cherish the moments they have. Those that serve, serve with gusto. The various ministries within the church are in constant flux. Just when a team starts getting into a groove and working well together, someone moves on. This summer a third of the women’s ministry team is moving. The Awana Commanders and a third of the leaders are leaving. The mission’s leader and her Sunday School teacher husband. Gone. The administrator and the lead teacher at our School. Gone. Our financial secretary. Gone. And right now, our personnel team is down to one member. He’s going to be busy.
Our people do the most that they can with the demanding work schedules that are set before them in the European Theatre. We are usually well staffed for mid-week programs. The difficulty lies on Sundays. This community celebrates all of the American holidays. There are several four-day weekends throughout the year, and everyone gets vacation time. We do live in Europe. There are many beautiful places to explore. And they are only here for a few years … . But, a sweet blessing that we are discovering is second assignments. Those are the families who leave but get reassigned here several years later. It’s nice. They know the drill and are willing to step in.
So, upon our one-year anniversary here in Germany, the women’s ministry will again host a “Farewell to Friends” dinner at a local German Restaurant. Last year I was too new to understand the significance of the event. This year it will be different. I’ve made friends. I have to say goodbye this time. Uncle Sam is going to send these families out into the world. Did we disciple them enough? Did we help them connect to this overseas family? Did we pour into them the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I know I will cherish the connections we’ve made, and I praise God for the time we’ve been given to show the love of Christ to these U.S. military families. *POP*