German interns unveil unique ministry need in Europe

LA GRANGE—While serving as interns at a Texas Baptist church, an engaged German couple, Christian and Henni, helped unveil an untapped ministry opportunity in much of Europe: the need for marriage counseling.

When Christian and Henni first met, Henni was not a believer in Christ and admittedly made bad decisions in her youth. As Christian stepped into her life, he opened her eyes to God and faith, which instilled many questions inside her heart.

Henni agreed to join Christian at a church baseball camp, where she was put on a team with Jonathan Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church in La Grange, Texas. She decided to accept Christ into her heart one day during team time at the camp.

The camp was a part of a ministry, which began in 2008 when FBC La Grange launched a partnership with a church in Bünde, Germany to teach German youth about baseball and share the Gospel through relationship-building.

The partnership also opened doors for the German church to send interns to FBC La Grange, which is where Christian and Henni spent September 2014 through May 2015, who are engaged to be married in September 2015.

Christian served in worship leadership while Henni served in children's ministry. Smith said Christian and Henni helped perpetuate the mission of the church through their internship.

"Because of the nature of our partnership, there's a reciprocity of ministering to each other and helping each other," Smith explained. "That dynamic is alive when the interns are here. They've ministered to us while we've ministered to them."

One of the main ministries the church provided to the couple was premarital counseling, an unfamiliar concept at first to Christian and Henni, as well as many others in their home country, where less than three percent of people profess faith in Christ.

"In Germany, it's not really common to get married anymore," Henni said. "They like to live together for a long time and maybe get married later on. And you don't actually get marriage counseling before you get married … We really want to bring that back to Germany, to bring it back to the church and show them this concept."

During his many visits to Germany, Smith has observed the phrase "going to counseling" can often be mistakenly translated as "something is wrong with you."

He described the ministry of marriage counseling as an "untapped opportunity in almost all of Europe" and believes using the term "marriage education," rather than "marriage counseling," will be much more well-received.

"I'm hopeful and prayerful that when Christian and Henni go back, maybe they'll be catalysts in Germany to get (marriage education) started in the local church," Smith said.

The couple concluded their internship in early May and headed back to Germany to prepare for the wedding. FBC La Grange will continue taking trips to Germany to minister through the baseball camps. In its seven-year partnership, they have seen over 100 professions of faith in both children and adults.

The church will also be receiving more German interns soon, hoping to continue perpetuating church's mission: to meet people where they are and lead them to grow in their relationship with Christ.

Meeting Christian and Henni where they were, preparing for marriage and discipling them through counseling not only strengthened their relationship together and in the Lord, but also open a new door for ministry in Europe.

Related articles: Sexual harassment needs to be widely addressed at the practical level / EL ACOSO SEXUAL DEBE SER COMBATIDO A NIVEL PRÁCTICO / How taking a retreat with your spouse can strengthen your marriage and ministry