COLOGNE, Germany (BP)–Like many picturesque European cities, there are two Colognes.
One is the postcard German city the tourists come to see, with the graceful twin-spired cathedral perched alongside the Rhine River and pedestrian streets lined with posh shops and restaurants. Many of the visitors come for various events at the city’s huge Koln Messe exhibition center.
The other Cologne is one that missions-minded Southern Baptists must understand, say Southern Baptist missionaries who work here.
Some 20 million people live within an hour’s drive of Cologne, and only a few of them have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Despite often-valiant efforts of faithful Baptists and other evangelicals, the number of German Christians has declined over the years. Missionaries regularly confront the common notion across Germany that Christianity is a “dead” vestige of history or a silly story that appeals to foolish people.
Cologne also is considered a gateway city because so many residents have come here from the Middle East, North Africa or elsewhere — from countries that are closed to missionary presence. But the people are accessible here and, if reached, could become evangelists to their families and friends back home.
It’s estimated that a million Muslim Turks live in the region; unregistered immigrants may double that number. Some communities are half Turkish. Cologne also has large numbers of Chinese and Jews.
Missionaries here say there are so many unreached people groups represented in and around Cologne that when they begin to see a response to the Gospel, they don’t know which nationality or language group the resulting church might represent.
Yet when 75 American high school and college students headed home from Germany July 12, they had some unusual souvenirs from their visit to Cologne: changed lives.
The students had taken part in M-Fuge International, a week of training and missions experiences sponsored jointly by LifeWay Christian Resources and Southern Baptists’ International Mission Board.
LifeWay staffers joined with Southern Baptist missionaries from several countries to provide an intense week of Bible study, prayer and on-the-scene faith-sharing. The students spent hours in the parks and streets of Cologne, at first prayer-walking and asking God to become known to the some 20 million people who live in and around the city, then making friends and sharing their faith.
Local missionaries were pleased with how the American students overcame their fears and began to talk with people despite the language problems, while youth leaders were pleased with the spiritual stretching and growing they saw in their young people. Meanwhile, the students themselves were taking home a bigger understanding of what they can do for God. Some acknowledged some parts of the week were difficult, but they learned to look for where God is at work, even on the streets and in the parks of an unfamiliar city –- and in the hearts of its people.