The Ecumenical Makeup and Mission of the Japanese Church in Berlin

by Akiba Mutsuko, Kyodan missionary

 

Ten years have passed since I became the pastor of the Japanese Church in Berlin, Germany. This congregation was started at the end of the 1980s by a Japanese pastor who began holding worship services in Japanese. It is significant that this church began with worship at its center at a time when many foreign-language churches were being formed out of home gatherings and Bible study groups.

 

The backgrounds of the people who gather at this church are truly diverse: people who have lived in Germany for decades, families of Japanese married to Germans, Japanese students in Germany, young people taking up a new challenge on a working holiday, researchers, and non-Japanese who are interested in the Japanese language and culture, among others. A larger number than expected experience the anxiety of living in a foreign country and visit the church, seeking information and contact with others. Despite the fact that Berlin is the nation’s capital, fewer Japanese live here than would be expected, and Japanese people are seldom seen on the street. Attendance at our Japanese-language service averages only about ten people. The church’s existence is also rather inconspicuous, but while cherishing the hope that the seeds of the Gospel will grow somewhere, we continue to reach out through such means as the Internet and by leaving fliers at Asian grocery stores and in taxis and restaurants.

 

The stress associated with life involving a different language, food, culture, and customs is great, and one’s identity is called into question. Under such circumstances, having a place to hear the Bible read in your native language and to sing hymns and pray in your native language is a true comfort to Christians living abroad. For non-Christians, it is a place where they can encounter God through worship and interaction with others. The Japanese-language church, as well as my own mission work, are small, but I believe in God’s providence and am committed to walking as a faith community of open worship. However, an overseas foreign-language church has many unique challenges. First, as a highly mobile community, there is a high turnover of membership. In addition, many were baptized overseas in various backgrounds, and so these individuals’ understanding of church varies widely. Together with financial challenges, all of this makes it a constant struggle to build a church. In addition to the problem of maturing in the faith, it takes prayer and time to put together a church organization.

 

We have been blessed with a great deal of help from outside. For example, the people at the Berliner Missionswerk (Berlin Missionary Society) pray for the growth of our small flock. In addition, at the regular meetings of the Kyodan’s Japan-Taiwan Committee and East Asia Mission, besides the obvious Christian-related topics, we exchange opinions on political, economic, and cultural matters, plan various projects, and make booklets. I admire the high level of consciousness and deep knowledge of Asia of those in attendance (mostly clergy). Several times a year there are symposia and scholarly retreats sponsored by the East Asia Mission Group that offer times for meaningful study and ongoing fellowship.

 

We also maintain ecumenical relations with the local church that rents us space for worship, and at the same time we share joint Bible study and prayer meetings, worship services, and church bazaars with other foreign-language churches. Every year we have a wonderful and blessed time when 1,000 people or more attend a joint outdoor Pentecost service in which more than 20 churches and denominations participate. In addition, through such activities as a joint Korean-Chinese-Japanese worship service and interactions with various mission groups, we are keenly aware of the great expectations placed on the Japanese-language church and feel acutely the importance of mission work.

 

Germany is known as a so-called “Christian country,” but individualism, a multiplicity of values, and the increase in people with different backgrounds have led to a gradual weakening of the influence of Christianity and the church. People are constantly leaving the church, and young people stop coming to church after confirmation. As a Japanese pastor, when I introduce myself as a missionary I am often asked, “But what, exactly, are you doing?” The background to this question is probably the thinking that “a Christian country like Germany does not need mission activity.” However, I get the impression that people do not go to church and that their lives are far removed from the Bible and prayer. Today, there are many ways of engaging in world mission. I hope that together with pastoral care and mission outreach to Japanese and through the example of faithful Japanese Christians abroad, we can also become a living testimony to German people. Moreover, nothing would make me happier than if feedback about our work here would serve as a good stimulus for Japanese Christians as well as the vision of Japan’s world mission. It is my prayer that God will freely and boldly use us as a bridge between Japan and Germany. I ask that you remember us in your prayers. (Tr. DB)

ドイツのベルリンで牧会を受 け継ぎ10年たちました。私の牧会先はベルリン日本語教会です。この群れは80年代末に日本人牧師が日本語で礼拝を守り始めたことが最初と聞いています。多くの外国語教会が家庭集 会や聖書を読む会などがきっかけで発展することが多い中、礼拝を中心に出発したことはとても意義深いと思います。

 

教会に集まる顔ぶれは実に 様々です。在独何十年の方、ドイツ人と結婚し生活している家族、留学生、ワーキングホリデーで新しいことにチャレンジしている若者、研究 者、日本語や文化に興味を持つ外国の方など。海外生活で不安な中、交流や情報を求めて訪れる人は予想以上です。ベルリンは首都ですが多く の予想に反してそれほど邦人数は多くなく、街中でも日本人は見かけません。日本語礼拝出席も10人前後です。教会の存在も目立ちませんが、福音の種がどこで育つかと希望を抱きつつ、ネット以外でも 案内紙をアジア食料品店やタクシー、レストランなどに置いて地道にアピールを続けています。

 

海外生活は言葉でも食事で も文化でも慣習でもストレスが多く、アイデンティティーを問われます。そのような中母国語で聖書の御言葉を聞き、讃美し、祈ることができ る場は、在外キリスト者にとっては深い慰めです。ノンクリスチャンにとっては、礼拝と具体的な交流を通して神さまに出会うきっかけの場で す。日本語教会も、私自身の宣教の働きも小さいものですが、神さまの備えを信じ、開かれた礼拝・信仰共同体として歩もうと励んでいます。 しかしながら海外外国語教会は独特の課題を多く内包しています。まず流動性が非常に高く信徒が定着しにくいのです。また海外受洗者が多い ため個々で教会理解が全く異なり、教会形成面では常にチャレンジの日々です。経済的困難もあります。信仰的成長の課題に加え、教会組織と してまとまるには祈りと時間が必要です。

 

対外的なことでは多くの恵 みをいただいています。ベルリン宣教局(BerlinerMissionsWerk)の 方々は、小さい群れの成長のため祈ってくださいます。定期的に持たれる日本・台湾委員会や、東アジア伝道会の定例会では、キリスト教関係 はもちろん、政治・経済や文化面にまで渡り意見交換し様々なプロジェクトを立て、冊子を作成したりしますが、出席者(ほとんどが牧師)の 意識の高さ、アジアへの造詣の深さには頭が下がります。また、東アジア伝道団体主催のシンポジウムや学術修養会などが年に数回あり、これ までも意義深い学びと交わりの時をいただいています。

 

 

礼拝場所を借りている現地 教会ともエキュメニカルな関係を保ちつつ、他の外国語教会と合同で聖書研究祈祷会や合同礼拝、教会バザーなどを分かち合っています。毎年1000人規模でペンテコステに守る野外合同礼拝は、20を超える教会・教派が参加し、素晴らしい恵みの時です。その他、韓中日合同礼拝や様々な宣教団体との 交流など、日本語教会への期待は大きく、宣教の働きの大切さを痛感しています。

 

ドイツはいわゆる「キリス ト教国」として知られますが、個人主義化、価値観の多様化、異文化背景を持つ人々の増加ゆえか、どんどんキリスト教や教会の影響力も低下 しています。教会脱会者も後を絶たず、若者も堅信礼以後は教会に来なくなります。そして私が日本の牧師で宣教師だと自己紹介をすると「で も一体あなたは何をしているの?」とよく聞かれます。その背後には「キリスト教国ドイツで宣教は必要ない」との思いがあるのでしょう。し かし人々は教会へは行かず、聖書や祈りから離れた生活をしているように感じます。現代では世界宣教のとらえ方も多様になってきています。 日本人への牧会・伝道と共に、海外で信仰する日本人キリスト者の姿を通して、それがドイツの人にも生きた証しになれば幸いです。さらには こちらでの歩みをフィードバックさせることで、日本のキリスト者へも日本の世界宣教ビジョンにも良い刺激となればこれほど嬉しいことはあ りません。日独の架け橋として神さまが自由に大胆に用いてくださるよう祈りつつ歩みたいと思っています。どうぞ皆さん、覚えてお祈りくだ さい。