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Partnerships accomplish Berlin renovation

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Abbotsford’s Bakerview MB Church does more than support missions: members get involved personally. This past May, Berlin’s Evangelische Freikirche dedicated a new facility in an historic borough, a facility Bakerview members played a major role in bringing about.

The story starts 12 years ago, when Bakerview’s Lawrence and Selma Warkentin, career missionaries with MB Mission and Service International, began work on a new church plant in the former East Berlin. Meanwhile, a young couple who had left Germany for B.C., Andre and Olga Pritzkau became involved in the Warkentins’ home church while attending Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford.

In due time, the Pritzkaus completed their studies. Then, they not only returned to Germany, they were “sent” as a couple by their Abbotsford church. Lead pastor Michael Dick says Bakerview, “in a sense, commissioned them to be the pastor couple to carry on the work in Berlin.” Bakerview went on to support them financially and in prayer.

The new church plant, however, had a familiar need: a place to meet and grow. They thought they had found the perfect facility in an unused grocery store downtown, but the idea failed on a number of issues. Then, an empty embassy building became available in the ministry area, but someone outbid the young church.

Transformation in a new place

Finally, a former community centre building looked possible. It represented a geographic shift from the church plant’s initial ministry area, but was otherwise perfect. The city would allow the church to purchase the centre for 160,000 Euro. Bakerview took the lead to raise $700,000 to purchase the building and start initial renovations.

It would be a major task to change the old building into usable ministry space, but the vision was there and so was some funding. The building could provide church facilities, three housing suites (including two self-contained guest rooms), and space for MBMSI Europe headquarters.

Having committed to the Berlin work, says Dick, the Bakerview congregation “joyfully participated in planning and ensured that once the renovations had begun, the resources would be sufficient to complete the project.” Bakerview mobilized not only its own funds and crews, but found partners. Regina’s Parliament Community Church (MB) came alongside with dollars and workers, sending two crews and several individuals. Burnaby-Vancouver’s Willingdon (MB) Church contributed $10,000 and sent a team to help.

The Pritzkaus “have a sense of passion and vision for that neighbourhood which is contagious,” says Brian Wiens, pastor of community and mission at Parliament Church. “That little congregation – we were worried they’d burn themselves out.”

“The transformation that has occurred with this building over the past two and a half years is astounding,” wrote Ben and Melissa Froese, MBMSI missionaries to Berlin, in a newsletter. “This is a physical picture of the transformation God wants to do in this community.” MBMSI sent South Abbotsford MB Church members Gary and Ellie Loewen for a longer term, with Gary as general contractor, to complete renovations and free Andre to do pastoral work. The Loewens not only worked tirelessly to complete the building but also “connected with a number of people living in Berlin, warmly inviting them to join our church,” wrote the Froeses.

Raising the funds

When funds for renovations ran out, Bakerview committed at their annual general meeting in June 2009 to raise the remaining $500,000 needed to complete the project, forwarding the funds in advance, as they were required: $150,000 came from a July coffee and dessert evening to which other area churches were invited, another $150,000 through Thanksgiving events. By February 2010, however, there was still $140,000 to go. Some donors were approached personally to help, and the gap was closed. By May, the funds were provided, and Berlin’s Evangelische Freikirche began its work, debt-free, in a building made to reach the city for Christ.

The opening ceremonies May 30 attracted more than 200 community people, as well as officials from the city and from other churches. On hand for the occasion were 10 Bakerview members, led by pastor Michael Dick. Lawrence and Selma Warkentin were there. Fred Strumpski, who grew up on the streets of Berlin before moving to Canada, was part of the Bakerview contingent. Johann Matthies was on hand from MBMSI.

So it went – a wonderful day and an auspicious beginning to the new phase of the little church begun by the Warkentins. “Our prayer is that God will bless the ministry of the church and that many people in Berlin will experience a personal transformation,” says Dick.

Meanwhile, Bakerview has added two other overseas projects to its church-family list. Money and teams have been sent to Kinshasa, DR Congo, and Tijuana, Mexico. “We have been generous,” says Dick, “and God has supplied. We have found at Bakerview if you look to others and are generous, things will take care of themselves at home.”

—Barrie McMaster

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