German Students Find More Than An Education

Post a Comment » Written on December 27th, 2005     
Filed under: News
CHICAGO, IL (December 27, 2005)  – German exchange student Isabel “Isa”  Schuppan had written “atheist” on the religious preference slot on the  program file. She did, however, write that she would be willing to  attend church with a host family. She had no idea that the host family  would include the pastor of Harvest Ridge Covenant Church in Shawnee,  Kansas.

Helge Meyer, 15, of Bad Segeberg, also left Germany having no religious  faith, but wound up living with the family of pastor Randy Rodenberg.  He, too, has since returned to Germany.

By the time the exchange students returned home, they had exchanged an  old life for a new one, the pastors say.

Both students already had arrived in the United States, but still did  not have permanent host families. Eric Sparrman, pastor of Harvest  Ridge, says his daughter, Johanna, came home from tennis practice where  she had met Isa and said, “She’s really nice. Can we keep her?”  Sparrman’s wife, Bonnie, liked the idea and their teenage sons, Bjorn  and Karl, viewed it as an adventure. Just like that, the family suddenly  had a fourth teenager in the household.

Randy Rodenberg, pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Wausa,  Nebraska, said Helge had been living with a woman who had helped arrange  his travel, but that she didn’t have room to be a permanent host. One  day before classes started, the Rodenbergs had a new high school student  living with them.

Isa first was not interested in attending youth group, but within  several weeks she was invited by Christian friends at school to join a  Bible study, says Sparrman, adding that she looked forward to attending  church.

The girl had no understanding of the faith when she arrived, says  Sparrman. “She was told in Germany that going to church was part of  being an American. The Germans told her that it wasn’t like it was in  Germany – it was exciting.”

Her parents had grown up entirely under East German rule and no one in  the family knew of the Germany’s rich Christian history. “She had no  clue about the Christian heritage of her country,” Sparrman says. “No  idea about Luther, no idea about Bonhoeffer.”

“Not only did she hear the gospel for the first time, she was the  pastor’s kid,” says Sparrman. “Those first weeks in worship generated  many late night conversations as Isa had a lot of questions.”

Over the course of the succeeding months, Isa attended three retreats,  spent a week at camp, went on a mission trip with the Center for Student  Missions in Chicago and had frequent discussions with friends. In the  spring, she made a commitment to Jesus, Sparrman says.

“The greatest joy I’ve ever known as a pastor was the day I baptized Isa  in Little Mill Creek,” Sparrman says (see accompanying photo). The  family has kept in touch by phone and email with Isa, who lives in  Gorlitz. She now attends an Evangelical Free Church. “It reminds her a  lot of our church here,” Sparrman says.

Rodenberg says Meyer quickly became involved with school activities and  fit in well with the family, which includes his wife, Carol, and three  sons – teenagers Ben and Chris as well as Briton, who is in the third  grade (lower photo).

Meyer had attended church in Germany twice a month and was confirmed the  year before he arrived in the United States. He told the Rodenbergs that  people consider themselves Christians if they’ve attended a church.

A gifted musician, Meyer joined the praise band and came home from the  first practice, saying, “Well, I guess I’ll be going to church every  Sunday,” Rodenberg recalls. The teenager told the family that church was  so different in the States. Church was like school in Germany, Meyer  explained. It was just something you do.

The family never witnessed directly to Meyer “because we didn’t want him  to feel pressured,” says Rodenberg. “We discussed sermons with him  frequently and prayed for him constantly.”

When Meyer inquired about issues that concerned him, the Rodenberg’s  would answer his questions. Meyer gave his life to Christ, Rodenberg  says, after the teenager had three dreams in which he was given the  choice between heaven and hell.”

Rodenberg says Meyer’s conversion proved a blessing in other ways. “Our  youngest son had prayed for Helge’s salvation every night since he  arrived. What a confirmation for a young boy to witness the blessings of  persistent prayer.” He adds, “Today he prays for Ramiro, a Compassion  International child with the same persistence.”

Meyer, too, has returned home and is determined to share his story with  family, friends and pastor, Rodenberg says. “As Helge returned to  Germany, he went as a missionary.”

Copyright © 2011 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

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