Are there actual teenagers who feel like going to the church every single Sunday?
This question had been wandering in the depths of my mind for a long time. Finally, I’ve undertaken the task of finding it out on my own. On a beautiful Sunday. In Germany. Inside of a church. As a Muslim girl.
The New Life Church is described on their website as “an international community in the heart of Dusseldorf, in which people from different nations, generations and social backgrounds come together”. And in fact, I was welcomed by a small group of kindergarten children and three young women as soon as I entered the yard. Especially children with an African background had seemed to find a lovely place here to learn about their religion.
Love your neighbor
After introducing myself and telling them the reason of my visit, one of the ladies was happy to help me with my project. Soon enough, I found myself inside the beautiful, giant church, sitting in a room filled with children between the ages 12 and 16. Here, I was listening to them being taught passages from the Bible and the true meaning behind them. This class was also filled with students who have African roots and for this reason, it was being held in their mother tongue English. In the background, I could hear a group of adults worshipping, listening to a preacher and singing along to Christian songs. I was surprised by the heartwarming atmosphere. I never expected a church to be this colorful and spirited. But this was just the beginning of a day spent at the New Life Church.
After the Bible studies, I sat down with Sina, a 26-year old teacher-to-be. Sina told me her story about becoming a more dedicated Christian at the age of 18. “I’ve found my way to Jesus”, she tells me, smiling, “And my friends tell me that I’ve changed, but in a positive way. I believe you get more patient and loving, and you start caring more about your neighbor.”
As I looked around in the cafeteria, I realized that the term ‘neighbor’ indeed seems to hold great importance here. In a matter of minutes, I got to meet people from Venezuela, Columbia, Argentina, Spain, Congo, Nigeria, Turkey and even Iran. The room was filled with conversations in many different languages, laughter, and the delicious smell of international cuisine.
45 nations meet here, and there are six services on Sundays in five different languages.
Time to worship!
After a little bit of small talk, it was time for the main worship service with Pastor and founder of the church Richard Aidoo. Next to him was a young man, who turned out to be his son, translating his English preaching into German.
Today’s topic was happiness. Pastor Richard tells his own story about how he wasn’t able to buy shoes that would fit him when he was younger. Because back then, the size range was way more limited in his home country. But today, people are capable of getting shoes in every size. “Remember what He has done for you in order to be happy”, he reminds everyone. The message of his speech is clear: Even when there are things that make us unhappy, we have to remain grateful to God.
The service was being livestreamed on Facebook and at times, quotes from the Bible were projected onto the huge screen behind the stage. I enjoyed the preaching very much since the topic concerned me as well. What really warmed my heart, however, was seeing teenagers my age being active behind the camera, on and off the stage.
Oh happy day?
But the worship service did not only consist of words of wisdom and Bible quotes. I felt like the worship had just started as a group of young people came on stage and started to perform Christian songs. Never in my life did I think I would actually find myself in a church, watching a band make Christian music. To be brutally honest, I was amazed. The music was very modern and everyone in here started to sing along, young and old. Some even closed their eyes and raised their arms, as if they wanted to symbolize their feelings. The lighting effects, the entire atmosphere was just outstanding. It was almost the same feeling as attending a concert. It was just music and you.
“Between Jesus and us”
As soon as the worship service was over, I was eager to talk to some of the teenagers. What exactly motivates them to come to church every Sunday? How do they feel about being young and religious at the same time? And do they ever get negative reactions?
Lisa, who is also a singer in the choir, was willing to give an answer to all of my questions. What surprised me was the fact that she distinguishes between Christianity and religion. “For me, religion means that you strive to come to God, as if you want to climb up a ladder. You have these commandments that you have to stick to, and that makes you imperfect. And you will never be able to reach Him. So I believe it’s impossible for us to fulfill all of those commandments, that’s why Jesus died for us. He took our sins so that we might be declared righteous. And that’s the difference to religion – you don’t have to try and please God, you have to trust in His grace and change your mentality.”
And in order to do that, she spends a lot of time at the church, gets in touch with new people and frequently reads from the Bible. What may come off as ‘boring’ or anything else than ‘exciting’ for others, is the best life Lisa could ever imagine. But does she ever get confronted with negative comments?
“A lot of people wonder why I go to the church if I’m only 20. But I like the fact that people ask these questions because this way I can prove them wrong. I’m really into fashion, I love doing my make-up, I like going to the movies, I’m a typical teenager. The only difference is that I have this center in my life, and that is Jesus. And when people make fun of it, all I can think of is: Try it out and you will stop having these prejudices!”
Lisa is not the only young person who feels this way. I also got to meet Nico and Chris, the Pastor’s son who I’d seen on stage earlier. Nico tells me that he used to search for the truth in alcohol, parties and girls. Today, he feels happier, knowing that he’s found the truth in Christianity. “I love Jesus and I know that he loves me, just like he loves everybody. He also loves you!”, he mentions, laughing. His friend Chris can only agree: “I can’t describe the feeling of being able to talk to God and Jesus everyday. It makes you feel at peace.”
Again, I wondered, how do other people react when they find out that Jesus is the focus of their lives?
“I used to think that being Christian means you live a boring life and you’re conservative”, Nico admits. “Today I know that this isn’t true. It’s not sitting in the church, standing up and mumbling ‘Our father!’ and ‘Amen!’ and sitting down again. It means being full of life. To feel happy and free. And it’s also a lot of fun.”
Nico, Chris and Lisa seemed one of a kind. How come we don’t see a lot of young people practicing their religion freely? Are there even enough teenagers who do? Or is Christianity almost forgotten in our generation?
Chris gives me an answer that makes me feel a little bit relieved. “I think it used to be like that because many communities didn’t give enough room to young people.”, he explains. “They weren’t supporting them enough and people our age started to get bored. But recently, I noticed more and more active teens who want to get more into their faith and study more about the Bible to pass it on to the younger generations. So I do see a positive change.”
A house of prayer for all nations
So what I’ve learned is that churches aren’t boring, especially when it’s a church where numerous cultures meet. And luckily, we still have inspiring young women and men who practice their religion. The New Life Church is like one big family full of colors and it’s safe to say that “Love your neighbor” is not just a saying here. It’s a practice.
How did I feel visiting a church as a Muslim girl? Get an insight into my thoughts and feelings here.