Missions: A Tour of Roses 2009




                                        Roses Are Red, Part 2

"I met Sally at the conference in Oswiecim last year. She came afterwards to visit Nurnberg and we went together to Dachau. It was typical for God that I had a breakdown in front of the first crematorium on German earth and Sally as a Jew was consoling me. After that we had seen the beautiful garden that God made in Dachau at the palace. I could start to realize, that God has given us Germans a chance to live, although we did the most cruel thing which I could think of to his people. I'm very thankful that God gives us Germans, who always felt our sin, relief of it and that the shame—which is there for every German generation—could be taken away by the blood of Jesus. My experience is, that this could only be given to us by Jews, who speak to us and pray with and for us..." - Dagmar Menzel, Nuremburg, Germany

After we packed up the van to drive to the small town of Bergen in Germany, we said goodbye to Karen and Mark, who drove back to Poland. It took a long time to drive to Bergen from Dachau. When we finally arrived we were met by Katharina Hoopmann, the Events Coordinator for the town council. She had worked out all the details for the Saturday night concert in the park at Bergen, and made sure there were posters in all the important places in town. She welcomed us our first night with a lavish feast.

Hannah, an American team member, wrote in our community journal: "Giving out roses in Bergen was a joy-filled experience. The people seemed so happy—only a few were too busy to stop and hear what we were saying about God's love, roses, and Sally's concert. Many knew her name and about the concert because of the articles placed in newspapers by Katharina."

Igor, who was from Jews for Jesus, handed out roses with me as we walked down the main street of Bergen. We gave a rose to one of the young British soldiers stationed at the military base in Bergen Belsen. He was incredulous that we would give him a rose. He couldn't believe it was free, and that it was for him. He was deeply touched and said we had made his day. Dagmar met up with the chaplain for the base and also gave her a rose. Heather was her name, and she was impressed by what we were doing and was hoping we might be able to come to the base Sunday morning for chapel, which we ended up doing.

The town council paid for a stage to be built in the park for the concert and also a canopy to be hung over the benches. The canopy was very elegant and the stage was impressive. About 150-200 people turned out for the concert. It was an intimate crowd.

There was one moment toward the end that was especially meaningful. The team had passed out candles to everyone in the crowd and at a certain point, as I was talking, they began lighting them. Young and old were passing the light from candle to candle, illuminating the hope that often lies dormant in our hearts. I was standing on the stage with Dagmar who was translating, when the overhead lights cut off. We stared out at a field of tiny flames flickering, each expressing the hope that God will heal the deep wounds of loss in German and Jew alike.

In a tour filled with moments of wonder this particular snapshot remains deeply embedded in my soul. A wave of tears rushed me and it was hard to sing, as all these people lifted their candles in response to my invitation to remember—the Jewish people, their own people, and the hope for healing that can be found in God.

Afterward the mayor came up to greet me and thank me. A priest also came up, visibly moved, and blessed me. There were many others as well. As the techies took down the stage and lights, Katharina opened her house to us, inviting us for refreshments. It was an interesting gathering since all of us on the team were believers and very elated about the evening. Katharina, her husband and friends, as they pointed out to me, were "not that religious." At one point, as we engaged in conversation, a friend of Katharina's commented on how rare it was for someone to think the way I did about the relationship between Germans and Jews. She said I was very idealistic. Next to me Steve, an American team member, boomed: "It's Jesus! It's because she loves Jesus!"

And so it is.

It was Jesus who led me to Poland and Germany. Quite honestly only Jesus could have brought me there to extend myself in His love. And the surprising thing is although it began in my mind as a burden, it was not a burden at all. I experienced so much joy in places I had only associated with pain, because I felt the presence of God and His love for the people around us. But then it is Jesus who reaches out through us every time we extend our hearts beyond those way-too-comfortable boundaries of our faith, to touch the hand of someone broken and forgotten. He does not forget nations or individuals. As Hagar said of Him in her particular wilderness, "You are the God who sees me." (Genesis 16:13)

We are our own limitation. Afraid to see where God is looking, afraid to hear what He might be saying, we turn away from the opportunity to realize our true purpose in this life—what we were created for. Instead, we choose to color carefully inside the lines of our understanding of Christianity as we decide it applies to us, and our faith slowly withers and dies.

It is Jesus who tells me through Paul's writing: "So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer." That means all our acceptable, justifiable, and all too predictable Christian prejudice is out the window. We are not supposed to think about anyone in the same way we did before we came into relationship with Jesus. We are called to love—not judge. That is God's job and He says, "mercy triumphs over judgment." (James 2:13)

Loving with the kind of unconditional passion God has for us is nowhere in our human DNA. Some of us learn to judge just to survive our situations and that is how we protect ourselves. I know. I am among the chief sinners on this issue.

But "God so loved..."

How deep, how wide, how high, how long is the quality of that love described in those two little letters—so? We have been so loved and are called to love others as we have been loved

In this season may God illuminate our hearts to see clearly where we still hold ourselves back from His fiercely tender love, afraid we might drown in its depths. May God help us fall out of ourselves and into Him, that His love would be ever increasing through every aspect of our lives, for the sake of those who are lost and longing, and for His great glory!

                                                                 —Sally Klein O'Connor