My Pilgrimage in Mission

Article excerpt

Small worlds often mirror what happens at large. In a very real political, social, and religious sense, I have known from childhood what it means to be a stranger and alien in a far-off land (see Eph. 2:13, 19). Born in 1933, I grew up in a North German Protestant Prussian family who lived in Lower Franconia, a district of South German, mainly Catholic, Bavaria. I became a traveler between East and West, the two inimical worlds of postwar Berlin, where I served as a volunteer simultaneously in Christian youth work in the East and refugee camps in the West, and where my later parish ministry was located, near the dividing Wall. I subsequently lived for many years in Britain as a foreigner and explorer of its different cultures: Oxford and Birmingham, educated and working class, German and English, Jews and anti-Semites, blacks and whites, Caribbean blacks and African blacks. I journeyed among different denominations, traditions, independent movements, and the secular world. I found myself in both the First World and the Third World, among migrants and new settlers in Britain and Europe but also in permanent contact with the Caribbean and Africa, engaging with both "established" and charismatic Christianity, literary and oral traditions, the theology of the head and of the body, the faith of the oppressor and of the oppressed.

I still felt like an exile on my first return to my homeland, in 1985, because I had to work with people who, dumbfounded by their past, seemed to suppress shame and guilt in favor of material security and a restored parochialism. In 1994 on my later return to England to teach at the University of Leeds, I encountered a new kind of racism: fear of refugees, asylum seekers, "nonwhites," and Muslims, along with a tendency to fall prey to an ideology that affirms a clash of civilizations instead of one that welcomes diversity. Back again in Germany in retirement, I remain a stranger at the edge of many worlds, one of the multitude of in-between people who populate this earth. I exist between the politics of the present and the history of the past; between ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities and those who are settled and satiated; between classical European culture and those who have escaped war, hunger, and torture and ask for hospitality and acceptance. For the experience of being in between marks the existence of millions and therefore shapes humanity today. In contrast, to be permanently settled appears the exception.

Early Impressions under Hitler

I was born in Germany in the year Hitler came to power, and I was almost six when the Second World War broke out. I remember vividly the troubled faces around me that reflected the adults' fear of war coupled with their powerlessness, but I also remember the almost paranoid enthusiasm of people lining the streets as they cheered the soldiers being sent off into war. Somebody, probably my grandparents' maid, had handed me a basket full of purple and yellow pansies, and I stood among the shouting crowd, strewing flowers on the moving tanks. This is my first and everlasting memory of distressing ambivalence--the unresolved emotional coexistence of worry and honor, hate and love.

Other childhood memories are of the rationing of food; the weekly assemblies, appeals, and training schemes organized by the Hitler Youth; and the Christian youth clubs in which we gathered to read the Bible and the organized camp meetings at which we would sing songs of protest and joy. My first little attempt at resistance was to go to church instead of to watch war films on Sunday mornings. I still sense the depressed atmosphere after Germany's defeat at Stalingrad in 1943 and hear the uneasy talk after the assassination attempt on Hitler in 1944. I recall the experience of total war in 1945: the killings, bombings, fire, and flooding in Aschaffenburg, the town we loved, and eventually the armed struggle around us, machine guns throughout the night, plane attacks during the day. …