“They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD, for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3).
In an old church graveyard in Scotland, an oak tree grows between two broken slabs of tombstone. How did this happen? A single acorn fell in the grave as it was being dug. Over time, the force of the growing tree broke through the stone slab. This is the power of new life that can crack open the hardest of surfaces.
Since 1993, our team in Germany has referred to its ministry as “plowing in concrete.” The ground seemed impenetrable. Much energy, time, and prayer were invested here without any visible fruit to speak of. Our international director for Europe and former Team Berlin leader, Ken Matlack, recounted that his parents spent a lifetime of ministry in Germany without seeing any converts. The Berlin team also pleaded with God for many years to soften the soil and to raise up “oaks of righteousness,” a new generation of German believers in the dead land of the Reformation.
Today the spiritual landscape looks quite different. Though the numbers still reflect that less than 1 percent of Germans are evangelical Christians, our teams are experiencing a new openness to the gospel. “The decades of prayer invested in this place are finally bearing fruit,” said one of our missionaries. “We’re standing on the shoulders of missionaries who went before, who plowed in the concrete and sowed the Word with tears. We aren’t doing anything different. We’re benefiting from the fact that God is softening hard hearts.”
God called her, via text!
“Roz, an annoying neighbor, kept hassling an immature believer in our church plant,” recounted an MTW missionary serving in Munich. “In order to keep her at bay, the young believer decided to scare her off by texting her Bible verses. But the text messages didn’t produce their intended effect. Instead, the Word of God pierced her heart and Roz gave her life to Christ!”
Roz still struggles in her Christian walk because she has never met any Christians outside her current church. Being a Christian is not easy for this twice-divorced single mom with a Muslim ex-husband and atheistic family who mock her and dismiss anything she says about her faith. But she knows God pursued her.
“I know God elected and called me,” Roz said. “I never would have wanted to find Him on my own. Never!” She now attends Bible study and church regularly and is learning what it means to find her identity in Christ and His love.
Just passing by a church
Ola, a woman of Polish descent, was passing one of the Berlin church plants one evening and walked in right before a prayer meeting. She had questions about God and wanted someone to talk to. She stayed for the prayer meeting and our teammates were able to pray for her and encourage her desire to pursue a relationship with God. She had been reading the Bible on her own for some time and it was clear that the Word of God had already taken root in her heart. In the days that followed, she started coming to evangelism class. Two weeks later, she prayed to receive Christ!
“Ola recently gave her testimony of how the Lord gave her eyes to see her own impatience and judgmental attitude toward her husband, and how she could extend the grace and peace she has in Christ to aggressive customers at the store she manages,” shared one of our colleagues. God is changing her!
I feel like I’ve come home
Carola, a young single mother who grew up an orphan in a children's home, had been attending an outreach by one of our church plants called the Family Café. She’d only been coming a few weeks before she showed up at church. She sobbed her way through the worship service. The next Tuesday she shared at a small group meeting, “I don’t understand what is happening to me, but for the first time in my life, I feel like I have come home. It is as if God was making my heart soft.”
The small group of German believers was able to help her understand what was happening to her using the words of Ezekiel: “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26 ESV). This verse shocked her because it was just what she had experienced.
God is not done with Germany yet. The acorns of new life are sprouting. Like the oak tree in the church cemetery, they are cracking through the concrete of this atheistic place. May they grow up to be the “oaks of righteousness” our predecessors prayed for and provide shade, shelter, and new life for many others who will come after them.
Eowyn Stoddard is an MTW missionary serving in Berlin.