A Pandemic Ignites a Surge of Life and Death Conversations in Burdened Berlin

By Andrew Shaughnessy, Jun 15, 2021

“How can you sleep at night? There are people dying by the thousands! How can you rest?” A few months into the COVID-19 crisis, a government official in Berlin approached his friend, Jay,* with these questions.

Jay, an MTW missionary serving in Berlin, described the official as a man who simply thought of him as a fun person to grab a drink with and talk to. But when the pandemic hit, he was ready to ask the deeper questions.

He wasn’t the only one. The pandemic shook people in Berlin communities in a way they hadn’t been shaken before. And because of the relationships that he had established, when people had questions about life and death and meaning, they would come to Jay.

The Value of Community Engagement

Over the course of 20 years in Berlin, Germany, Jay’s role has always been that of an instigator: starting something new, building a ministry up, and then handing it over to local leadership. So, when he and the national partner church noticed signs of strength in the last church they planted—particularly strong discipleship and leadership development spearheaded by local believers—they knew it was time for Jay to move on to a new project.

That was three years ago. Since then, Jay and his family have been living and serving in a new community straddling Berlin and Brandenburg. There Jay joined forces with local members of the partner church to reach and transform their neighborhood with the love of Jesus and the power of the gospel.

Jay Teaching

“One of the strengths of our model is community engagement,” said Jay. “Our job is to develop socially-relevant projects where the whole neighborhood says: ‘We like that. And if that has to do with church, then that’s a different church than I’m used to.’”

According to Jay, if he swooped into a Berlin neighborhood and immediately started inviting people to a church worship service, few people, if any, would come. Instead, a more effective and contextually-relevant model for evangelism is rooted in loving and getting to know the neighborhood he’s working in—ministering through social engagement, building trust and partnerships through practical outreach, and forging genuine relationships with his neighbors.

“The goal is to engage with people and share life with them,” Jay explained. “And then as we share life with them, we share faith with them. And as we share faith with them, we help them as they come to faith and grow in faith.”

In his current role, Jay is not only doing that kind of relational evangelism himself, he’s also coaching and discipling believers from the partner church to engage their neighbors well, to give to their community, and to share life with people on “their territory, not ours.”

Progress seemed slow for the first two years—a very normal challenge for ministries in Germany. But when the pandemic came to Berlin, everything changed.

Fear and Open Doors

Though the German government is doing its best to keep people healthy and help businesses stay open, people in Germany—as in many parts of the world—are dealing with intense fear, anxiety, and isolation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Before Germany, I lived in Latin America and experienced earthquakes firsthand,” said Jay. “When things are shifting all around you, your natural reaction is to hold on to something, but then you realize that there’s nothing you can hold on to because everything is shaking. Right now people are dealing with the fact that what they had been holding on to, that they thought was solid, isn’t solid anymore.”

With so much instability and uncertainty, many are asking: “Is there something else that is solid that I don’t know about?” That’s when—building from hard-earned foundations of friendship—Jay has an open door to talk about Jesus.

Community Outreach

“People know me as a community worker,” said Jay. “That I’m someone who is always talking to people about life together,” said Jay. “They know that they can come talk to me about getting a job. They can talk to me about giving their kids' used clothes away and I’ll bring them to someone who needs them. They can come talk to me about a difficult relationship. And they can talk to me about God. And right now, people just have more of a need to talk.

Walking and Talking

And so, Jay has been talking. He goes on walks with people, one of the few safe and permitted ways to interact with people in Berlin under lockdown, and dives deep into conversations about life and death, fear and hope, man and God.

There’s the intellectual: looking for answers to life’s big questions, but afraid to open himself up to people. A few weeks ago, he came to one of Jay’s evangelism courses.

“Now we’re just working through what he believes and what he struggles to believe, point by point,” said Jay. “He’s so close! It’s a joy to see him growing in faith as he comes to know and trust God.”

Then there’s the government official, a friend who now needed to talk about everything he saw happening around him.

Those questions opened up the door for Jay to tell him the story of our faith: how the world was originally good, but then it became broken; how we turned away from God, but that 

God had a plan to fix the brokenness through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; how at the end of time Jesus will come again to make the world new, and restore and unite the goodness that was lost, but how right now we’re in the in between time—living in a world full of darkness and sickness and death, but also joy and health and beauty and life. Jay told him about our hope—and, even if just for a moment, it gave this man a glimpse of that hope.

And those are just two of many conversations Jay is having nearly every single day.

“What we’re seeing right now are lots of individual discussions just like that,” said Jay. “My prayer is that when it’s again possible to meet as a large group, the Lord will bring all these conversations together and it will just be this beautiful new body of people that either have come to faith or are on the way. And then they can all see: ‘Look at all these people who are on the same path as me!’ I think that will be just beautiful.”

2020 was a terrifying, lonely, hard year for many people. The sickness, struggle, and death that the pandemic left in its wake are not things to gloss over or dismiss with simple silver linings. And yet, God speaks through hardship as much as He does through beauty, and sometimes the crumbling of our lives’ ill-conceived foundations is all that can shake us awake and send us looking for hope.

And when people face those big questions in one neighborhood in Berlin, they know who to go to: the guy who can help you find a job or talk through your relationship struggles or think about what it means to love your neighbor well. And when they talk to Jay, he points them to Jesus.

We are praying for God to send 300 new missionaries to Europe in the next 10 years. How could you serve? Visit

* Last name omitted for security reasons.

Andrew Shaughnessy

Andrew Shaughnessy is a long-time word slinger who spent nearly six years as MTW’s staff writer, gathering and telling impact stories from missionaries across the globe. These days, he’s off working as an analyst and editor in the publishing industry, writing fiction, and mountaineering. He holds a B.A. in history and English literature from Covenant College, and an M.S. in political science from Portland State University.

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Give thanks to God for a movement of the Spirit spreading across Europe opening doors that have been long-shut.

Praise God for breaking through barriers in Germany and producing long-sought-after fruit! Pray for new believers to grow in their faith and lead others to Christ. 

Pray for those who have entered into life and death questions of faith with missionaries in Berlin as a result of the pandemic. 

Pray for missionaries seeking to minister to those who are critical and hard to love. Pray that missionaries would love their neighbor as Christ loved us.

Pray specifically for the refugees in Berlin with whom our missionaries are building relationships. Pray that these refugees would come to faith if they do not know Christ.

Pray for MTW's ministry to refugees in Greece, Germany, Ukraine, Uganda, Panama, and the U.S.

Praise God for opening doors in Germany for us to minister to refugees in a local refugee home. Pray for refugees to grasp the love of Christ. 

Pray for the declining Church in Europe. Many see Europe as post-Christian and without hope. But we know that Christ will build His church.

Pray that we would be able to accomodate and recruit interns desiring to work in their field of study and participate in global missions.

Pray for Europeans who have heard the gospel but are hesitant to fully commit to Christ. Pray that God would draw them to Himself.


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