I arrived safely in Germany, this time without luggage malfunctions, and settled down in the accommodation provided by another missionary I had met in Poland, Alena.
In the metropolitan city of Karlsruhe, I was immediately comforted by the presence of Asian food choices surrounding me.
Yet, my agenda in Germany was still very much missional.
God had expanded my idea of the call to plant churches for refugees, something that would take place on a longer time horizon than I had imagined.
I was therefore in Germany to expand my networks by seeking out Christians who had experience serving resettled refugees and, more specifically, those who have planted churches for them.
I was brought around by Alena and a friend of hers, Nadine, who would go on to encourage, journey and pray with me during my stay in Germany.
On one of the evenings we were praying together, God had impressed upon us to minister to prostitutes in the city.
Having heard of human traffickers seeking to take advantage of Ukrainian refugees at the border, and actually seeing an attempt at a train station in Poland, it seemed likely that we would come across prostitutes who were refugees themselves.
Given that prostitution is legal in Karlsruhe, it was not too challenging to locate a nearby brothel.
When we found the right door and knocked, we were greeted by the madam of the brothel, who was definitely puzzled by the combination of characters at her doorstep.
My German-speaking friends asked if we could speak to any of the prostitutes in her brothel, buy them a meal or anything they needed.
She kindly turned down our offers, and asked that we leave unless we were soliciting their services.
However, before we left, we did manage to share about God’s love with her, which were met with replies of “yes I already know this, but I see no issue with my lifestyle”.
We decided to follow up on our visit by contacting organisations that could advise us on how better to reach and help prostitutes there.
Discovering different ways to evangelise
During my first weekend in Germany, I headed down to a church in the Black Forest region of Germany to attend a service as I had heard there would be refugees there.
Given that I had some friends there whom I had met while in Poland, I also decided to stay for a few days.
Although I didn’t get to be involved in any refugee-related ministry in the end, I did get to participate in street evangelism.
On the first night, I slept in a meeting room in the church and was up early enough the next day to help with the set-up, and to learn and pray before we went out.
Originally set up for about 10 people to show up, God must have inspired many people with a zeal for evangelism that morning because we received news that the attendance was probably double that!
While out on the streets talking to people, my group saw one man give his life to Jesus, and we were also able to bless many others with prayer.
Sure, we were politely turned away many a time when we offered to pray for someone, but for some of those who were open enough to let us pray, we saw excited people rejoicing in the streets when their bodies were healed as well as tears when God touched their hearts.
This made me wonder why this couldn’t be a more common sight in Singapore!
My own moment of healing
A few days later, I would depart on a three-hour-long journey by train to a Youth With A Mission (YWAM) base in Hurlach.
When I arrived in the evening, I was met by Vladimir, a Ukrainian grandfather who had been living in Germany for the past 13 years. I also found out that he was the pastor of the church services they held for refugees in YWAM Hurlach!
Conversing with him in the little Russian I knew (and the little English he understood), he took me by van to the YWAM base, which happened to be in an old castle.
The next morning, I met with two key people at the YWAM base, Sokol and Ruslan.
Sokol gave me an in-depth tour of the base and explained its history, as well as shared his very interesting testimony of how he came to Christ.
When it was my turn, I shared about how God called me to Europe and my vision to plant a church for refugees — something I thought I could accomplish in the short month I had remaining.
He released a hearty laughter, remarking that young people are indeed full of passion.
In that moment, I experienced how God viewed this “failure”.
Interestingly, this was quite healing for me as I was somewhat disappointed that I wasn’t able to get a church up and running in my short time in France.
But Sokol, with his years of experience in missions and discipleship, saw my perceived failure as a passionate dream for the Lord.
In that moment, I experienced how God viewed this “failure”, and it re-affirmed my understanding that the call God gave me was not restricted to this short trip in Europe.
Then, I met with Ruslan at a cafe within the castle. Ruslan himself is Ukrainian, but he had already been in Germany for a while (as he is Vladimir’s son).
By divine appointment, the Russian invasion broke out just hours before he re-entered Ukraine as he was already driving towards the border on that fateful day.
God gave him a call to stay in Germany to receive refugees, and he has been faithfully doing so and delivering donated supplies by van to Ukraine.
Ruslan also explained to me how they pivoted the entire base’s operations to accommodate refugees in the past couple of months.
This experience at YWAM Hurlach showed me a glimpse of what the church can be in times of refugee crises.
While the base was primarily used to run schools for discipleship training and Bible study, they had repurposed many rooms to house refugees.
I learnt that this was only a temporary arrangement before the refugees found more long-term housing elsewhere in Germany.
The service they held on Sundays was also not meant to be permanent, as they would direct refugees to churches in the area that they had contact with when the refugees left the base.
This experience at YWAM Hurlach showed me a glimpse of what the church can be in times of refugee crises, mobilising quickly and ditching routines to love people radically.
The church service was also a powerful platform for many non-Christian refugees to get to know Christ for the first time. I believe that the message of hope they heard in their native tongue in Hurlach must have touched hearts.
Having received much encouragement, enjoyed their fellowship and hospitality, and refilled my vision tank, I helped with loading some vans with supplies before hopping on a train back to Karlsruhe.
I would have to catch some rest before taking a train up to Boppard for an emotional reunion a few days later.
A reunion, a farewell
Zhenia, the father of the family I had lived with in France, was set to arrive in Boppard, where he would meet with his brother before continuing on his journey to France.
Driving thousands of kilometres over a couple of days from Ukraine, I knew I had to intercept him there to catch up and tell him of what God has been doing in my heart since we parted ways in Poland.
We saw each other from afar on a pavement along the Rhine. I was squinting, still confirming if it was really him, while his weathered face lit up.
We walked towards each other without a hurry in our step, expectant of the embrace we were about to exchange.
I was so glad to see that he was still in one piece having re-entered Ukraine to finish up some work-related tasks.
It was a tearful, wordless, yet knowing embrace. I mustered up the few words in Russian I had learnt to tell him we would go for lunch.
As I spent the next couple of days I spent with Zhenia, I got to know him so much better as a person.
I listened to his powerful conversion testimony, his hopes and dreams for his children, his values and convictions, as well as his radiating excitement to participate in God’s work.
In one of our meals together, he had even imparted to me the urgency of serving God faithfully, explaining that he had regretted only serving God wholeheartedly later in his life as he had been drawn by the allure of money in his youth.
It was powerful hearing this from Zhenia, especially considering I was about to go back to Singapore to start a full-time job in a matter of weeks.
After the time we spent together, we would say goodbye for the second time in two months. I would return to Poland where I had a flight to take back to Singapore, concluding my short mission trip in Europe.
Returning home transformed
As much as God may have used me to impact the lives of others on this trip, I felt like God had put me through a life-transforming experience of my own in the past 51 days in Europe.
He renewed my idea of servanthood — how the unglamorous things done out of love measure greatly in His Kingdom.
He refreshed my idea of calling — how He is the one who initiates my assignments, and that hardship, difficulties or perceived failures should not shake my calling.
He revitalised my idea of missions — that as Christians, “going” should be the norm, operating in His power should be the norm and relying on His providence as we go should be the norm.
I will always look back on my time in Europe with a bittersweetness.
For everything done, I’d always feel like more could have been done. Yet, for every problem I faced, God had an answer.
I leave Europe not with the refugees out of sight and out of mind, but with newly formed relationships and the conviction that I will allow God to mould me and so take me where He wills in the future.
Thir.st caught up with Wesley after he returned home. This World Refugee Day, hear more from the 25-year-old as he reflects on the journey God has brought him on to serve refugees — and the lessons he has to share from his experience.
To read the rest of Wesley’s journal entries as he writes about travelling from Singapore to Poland, France and Germany, click on these stories:
- When was the last time God moved you to compassion for someone or something?
- How can you love the broken-hearted with actions and words where God has placed you?
- This week, what is one practical thing you can do to obey and live out the Great Commission?