White Unto Harvest

Our Years In Europe

In early May of this year my wife, Mary, and I brought to a close our long relationship with the church in Ramstein as well as other parts of the Lord's work in Europe. We are now getting settled in Montgomery, Alabama where I have been fortunate to find work with the Eastbrook Church of Christ. With this article we pause to look back at the time we spent in Europe.

In the late 1970's, a group of brethren started meeting together as a church in Sembach, (then) West Germany. Upon hearing of the church in Sembach, brethren from the nearby Ramstein military community soon started meeting with this church. With the passage of time, the original members of the Sembach church were transferred out of Germany leaving only the brethren who had been making the drive from Ramstein. These brethren then found a meeting place closer to home in Ramstein village. In 1983, this writer was asked to come and work with the church as their evangelist. Over the years the numbers increased and, starting about 1985, there were usually over 30 people in attendance; this number rising into the fifties in 1989, just before the drawdown of forces started. From 1983 to the present, about one hundred and 35 brethren have been a part of the Ramstein Church of Christ, many with family members who regularly attended.

The church originally met in an insurance office on Kindsbacher Strasse in Ramstein village, later moving to its present location, 22 Landstuhler Strasse, in the Paqué Druck und Verlag building. This meeting place provides adequate room for the assemblies of the church and for its bible classes, as well as an adjoining sufficient area for parking. There were a.m. and p.m. services on Sunday and bible classes for all ages on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings.

The church at Sembach, which later became the Ramstein church, began when brethren in the area found they could not be a part of the very liberal church in Kaiserslautern. Hence, the work was founded by brethren who believed that the New Testament contains a pattern for the work, worship, and organization of the church, and for the life Christians are to lead (Rom. 6:17-18; 2 Tim. 1:13; cp. 1 Cor. 4:17; 7:17; 14:33-34; 16:1-2).

We continued to emphasize the need to follow the Bible as the years went on. One very noteworthy result of was that many brethren who came to us from institutional backgrounds were converted out of this error. We converted almost all such brethren who stayed with us for their entire tour.

In spite of the fact that the membership changed about every three years, the church was continually active in both the spreading and defense of the Gospel. Gospel meetings, bulletins, and Bible Correspondence courses are some tools it used to reach the lost in the areas round about it. We baptized a good number of people over the years. However, almost all of them resulted from brethren talking to their family members, co-workers, and neighbors. We never had even one convert from the many bulletins and correpondence courses we sent out.

With the opening of Eastern Europe the church allowed me to make numerous preaching trips there and has helped other men in this field of labor. In recent years the church was blessed with abundant resources. Our treasurer reported last year that in one 6-month period we had sent out over $10,000 in outside support to men going to work in Eastern Europe. For 3-4 years in the late eighties we mailed out a bulletin, Faithful Words, designed to reach the lost in the areas around Ramstein. We also mailed out a bulletin in the German language, Ramsteiner Rundbrief, for one year. This bulletin was aimed at brethren in German institutional churches. These last two bulletins had very limited success. A further bulletin, The Ramstein Reminder, was mailed out from 1987 to 1994 to encourage brethren in institutional churches to study the issues which have divided churches. One debate was held at our building in an effort to further study these issues. The bulletin brought me into contact with institutional brethren in a number of places. Over the years I had meetings or correspondence with brethren in at least 7 different institutional churches, several times with elders, about their errors.

We were able to get some brethren out of churches in other places as a result. One of the most discouraging aspects of contact with such churches was that, over the years, one met several brethren from sound churches in the U.S. who simply became part of unsound churches while in Germany. I received no consolation in my stand against such compromise from Glenn Jones, who has worked with the churches in Germany since the mid 1970's. Glenn practices open fellowship with such brethren. All of the churches with which I worked resulted from brethren taking a stand against unscriptural practices, regardless of how small their numbers might have been, and starting a sound work.

From the very beginning, the church at Ramstein agreed that I should be gone once a month to help other churches in Germany. These churches were often made up of a small number of brethren who had banded together in a given area. It happened several times that one of these churches would go out of existence due to its members being transferred back to the U.S. At such times I would then start working with another such church. Through the years I worked with groups in Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, Moerfeldon, Mainz, and Bitburg. (The Moerfeldon church moved to Mainz in 1987. I worked with this group for two different periods of time.)

An exciting aspect of living in Germany was the opportunity to travel. Over the years we visited a number of interesting places. We did not miss services with a local church during such trips. Rather, we always planned to be with a church. This was such a blessing for us as it not only gave us chance to meet and encourage brethren in different places, it also worked out in my having a chance to work with churches we visited on such occasions. I was asked to hold several meetings for the church in Udine, Italy, and one on the island of Tenerife (as a result of a trip to Barcelone, of Spain) in the Canary Islands. It was a sad occasion when, a couple weeks before we moved back to the U.S., we visited the brethren at Udine one last time.

When the Berlin wall fell in 1989 we were suddenly on the front lines of the new mission field of Eastern Europe. It immediately became commonplace to receive and return phone calls from the U.S., something very rare before this time. Also, requests came in for me to visit what were previously held to be far-flung places along with the necessary support. No one was ready for the opening of this new mission field and nothing shows it so clearly as the early efforts made by me and other brethren. Collectively, it took brethren a while before anyone was ready to move to even one of these countries. A number of brethren, myself included, made visits to various places to do what we could to spread the Gospel. Often times during those early efforts I would find no one to interpret for me. Further, the almost total lack of suitable literature made it impossible to do much more than to set up on the street and hand out Bibles in a given country's language. While this was exciting and brought hoards of people, I never saw one convert come from it. These early experiences caused much reconsideration. Hence, when we started working in Lithuania in the Spring of `92 we were on the way to remedying many of the logistical problems that had hindered us in the past. We had come to understand that short visits were not effective and that we would have to work on having men in a given place for the long term. Interpreters were secured to both interpret studies and lectures, and to help translate material into the Russian and Lithuanian languages. I quickly fell into a routine of going to Lithuania for a Spring and Fall effort every year. Through street work, lectures and private studies, a good number of brethren succeeded by common effort in establishing churches in Vilnius, the capital city, first and then later in Kaunas. Through all these years work has continued on getting material in print in their language. We now have translated 10-15 tracts in the Russian language, about 20 tracts in Lithuanian, and 3 books in Lithuanian. Mary and I plan to move to Lithuania in 2001.

As those familiar with churches made up of U.S. government employees in Europe know, the continual loss of personnel through transfers is a fact of life in such congregations. Like all similar groups, the church in Ramstein has lost many good members over the years via transfers. However, it has been continually fortunate to have brethren transferred into its vicinity to carry on the Lord's work. With the recent arrival of more brethren and Kevin Maxey, who has replaced me in the work there, the future of the church here looks bright and the hope for its further influence for furtherance of the Truth continues (cp. 1 Thes. 1:8).

The continual influx of new members brought Christians from everywhere -- including places where the truth is not taught on marriage, divorce and remarriage. From 1986 to 1991 we had almost steady problems related to the current errors many brethren are teaching. In addition to this, I was brought into contact with Jerry Bassett, who tried to convert me to his erroneous teachings. Not long after I had finished my exchange with bro. Bassett we had Ed Harrell in for a meeting. This was shortly after he had written the article, "Homer Hailey, False Teacher?" in which he defended a man whose teaching leads people to commit adultery (1 Cor. 6:9-11). In talks with me, Ed put forth Romans 14 as the solution to the differences brethren were having about marriage, divorce and remarriage. Ed has relatives in Germany which brought him there on several occasions. Over the years I was able to gain some insight into the various (and changing) doctrines he and others have invented which allows for viewing proponents of error with equanimity, except when they are members of the church where one such as Ed is a member. Coincidentally, this keeps them on good terms with those in other churches whose teaching is leading them and those who follow it to hell. Warning brethren about the errors mentioned in this paragraph became part of my work in the late 1980's and 1990's.

The church at Ramstein was founded on the belief that the way to please God is to follow the ancient paths, encourage others in such a quest, and to reprove departures from His ways (Acts 2:42; 1 Thes. 1:8; Rev. 2:2). With this noble belief it encourages all people to visit its services or contact it to the end that we might all have the fellowship which comes from a common following of God's Truth (1 Jno. 1:3).

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For comments to the author, or to contribute news, reports, and information regarding preaching efforts in foreign lands, please contact Steve at styvas@mindspring.com

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