Saturday, June 27, 2015

of beautiful neighborhoods and internships

I got of the Straßenbahn - commuter train - on a whim. As I headed home from my internship, I had glanced out the window and noticed some beautiful old buildings that merited further exploration. So I stepped off the train to investigate.

I found myself in a beautiful neighborhood. I think it was an old military post from before the war, and the barracks have now been turned into apartment buildings. I wandered for awhile, and then found this building.

It was a Red Cross station during the Cold War, where volunteers cared for refugees who had made it out of East Berlin. Normally I would have glanced at the sign, thought, "That's interesting," and moved on. But that day I stopped to think.

I am through with the first part of the Wheaton in Germany program, and am now interning with a Christian organization - the Berliner Stadtmission - that among other things provides a waystation for refugees arriving in Berlin from the Balkans, the Middle East, and several countries in Africa. The day I explored that beautiful old neighborhood was my second day working in the kitchen and housekeeping in the Stadtmission's refugee center.

Finding this old center put what I'm doing in a broader historical context. For thousands of years, people have fled from their homes as refugees to other countries, whether because of famine or war or persecution or oppressive regimes. These people did not start off as refugees. They lived normal lives - until their lives fell apart. The refugees cared for in the old Red Cross building were fleeing oppression. The ones I am serving now are trying to escape homelands torn apart by war or persecution. They all decided that things were so bad that they were willing to leave everything behind to start again somewhere else.

When refugees come to Berlin today, they are utterly disoriented. Most of them don't speak German. They are trying to figure out where they will stay, how they will eat, and what the next step is. The Stadtmission is one of the first places they are directed to. It provides food, shelter, recreation, and language lessons. The turnover there is fast - people usually stay only 3-4 days until moving on to the next station. The Stadtmission is a place for them to begin to figure out where to go next.

What I do at the Stadtmission is inglorious work. I hand out food, clean the kitchen, strip beds. It is inglorious, but it is necessary.  Someone asked me what my motivation is to work at the Stadtmission. The obvious answer is that I'm getting college credit for it. But honestly, that's not really a good enough reason to do menial labor for forty hours a week for four weeks. My real motivation, as for many of the people that volunteer at the Stadtmission, is faith. Volunteering at the Stadtmission is a form of washing feet - taking the love that Jesus has poured out on me and giving it to others in the form of humble service. This is the kind of service I as a Christian am called to do.

I mulled over all of this as I wandered through the Sudkreutz neighborhood of Berlin - I have a feeling I will pondering a lot more during the coming weeks of my internship.


  1. I love this, Kate. Always so encouraging to see people putting their faith in action...and even though it may seem like menial work you never know who you will touch and encourage to ponder the love of Jesus.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Brianna. :)

  2. Kate,
    You are "handing out," gift-ing, smiles. A form of encouragement.
    You know this:
    Colossians 3:23-24 (NASB)

    Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward [c]of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.

    I love the fact that God knows what is done in secret, too.

    You can pray for whoever will occupy the beds, use the kitchen, use the bathroom.
    You can bless those people who have lost so much.
    May they have hearts to search for The Truth.