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Engaging the Lonely Culture of Europe

Europe has tried Christianity and found it wanting. After centuries of conflict, deceit, taxes and rituals forced upon them in the name of faith, Europeans, particularly young ones, have closed the door on Christ and do not mince words when expressing their feelings on the matter.

Europeans who have a genuine relationship with Christ often view their faith as deeply personal and are reluctant to share it publicly.

For most solitary and self-sufficient Europeans, even the yearlong, state-issued Lutheran or Catholic confirmation classes offered in public schools do little to inspire curiosity or questioning. The courses are viewed simply as a rite of passage. But on campuses across Europe, Students for Christ groups are blowing away the shrouds of lifeless traditions and disbelief that mar the face of the living Jesus.

 

The Priests Go to Heidelberg

Kirk Priest arrived at Heidelberg University in Heidelberg, Germany in the 1990s with plans to become a history professor. At the time he had no idea of the future that awaited him and no intention of pursuing a life of missions. He was not even sure he wanted to pursue his faith.

But after meeting Christ and then Amy at a Chi Alpha gathering in Michigan, Kirk’s life took a new direction. He and Amy served as missionaries in Berlin for 12 years before transitioning to Heidelberg in 2014. The Priests now lead the national ministry of Students for Christ Germany, which has more than 10 groups. They also pastor LIFE Church in Heidelberg. Their goal is to make Heidelberg a hub for campus ministries and training.

Kirk Priest leads the Students for Christ outreach to university students in Heidelberg, Germany.
Kirk Priest leads the Students for Christ outreach to university students in Heidelberg, Germany.
With Kirk and Amy at the helm, LIFE Church is becoming a thriving multinational, multigenerational church that exemplifies the body of Christ. The current congregation numbers about 100 people of all ages and from many nations.

The Priests believe college students – both Germans and internationals – will play a vital role in shaking Germany awake from its spiritual stupor.

“Pray for our students who are living out their faith every day in a spiritually dark place,” Kirk and Amy urge. “They consistently swim against the stream of a culture that claims God is dead, and they believe God can use them to spark a new reformation in Germany.”

 

Darkness in the Land of the Midnight Sun

Like Germany, Sweden – often called the Land of the Midnight Sun – was once a thriving hub of the international missions movement that shone brightly around the world. However, a much sadder and darker reality has now taken hold.

“Sweden is Europe’s most individual and secularized nation,” says Edward Sk├Âllerfalk, national youth director for Pingst, Sweden’s Pentecostal movement and sister fellowship with the AG.

Phil Zarns leads a Mosaic group.
Phil Zarns leads a Mosaic group.
Missionaries Phil and Katja Zarns live and work in Stockholm, assisting Pingst however they can. They are currently the only AG missionaries working in Sweden and are largely focused on university ministries.

As in other European nations, younger Swedes became embittered by problems with traditional religion and as a result have shunned it. Most Swedish churchgoers are at least in their 60s and have sacrificed much to stay faithful. However, their children and grandchildren refuse to participate.

“In 2000 we had what we call The Great Escape,” says Edward. “That year Swedes were no longer required to pay taxes to the state church. Within 12 months, a million young people left the church.”

“Sweden’s campuses are incredibly hard to reach,” Phil explains. “We have to find ways to reach the new Sweden, which is one of the loneliest cultures in the world. The ecosystem of the church, with all ages working together, is too important to bypass. Students need to be made a part, given a mission, and told that God believes in them and will do something through them.”

Edward Sk├Âllerfalk and the Zarnses are on the front lines of the movement for Sweden’s students. They are partnering to form Mosaik groups – gatherings for students in their late teens and 20s – to connect students with local churches and teach them about the Bible.

Through campus ministries, friendships and a fledgling church that currently meets in their home, Phil and Katja Zarns are doing to their best to help reverse Sweden’s Great Escape.

 

Reaching the Lonely Culture

Across lonely Europe, many other campus missionaries are doing the same. Bit by bit, meal by meal, and relationship by relationship, they are chiseling away at layers of solitude and self-sufficiency, allowing the warmth of Jesus Christ to thaw hearts long grown cold.

"Grand Place" is the historic, central square of Brussels, Belgium.
"Grand Place" is the historic, central square of Brussels, Belgium.
Maybe soon Europe will not be like its many world-renowned cathedrals – beautiful relics that do not reflect their former purpose and glory. Maybe soon Europe will arise, shaken to the core by millions of university students whose souls have awakened.

-KRISTEL ORTIZ is a staff writer with AGWM.

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