This week’s blog entries are by guest blogger, Jean-Luc Krieg, whom I met during my time in Mexico City earlier this summer. After you read this entry, see the reflection question I’ve put at the end to help us process the ideas and their implications for our own ministries.
In 1996 I returned again to Switzerland from my second immersion in Mexico City, this time to join some of my friends who had moved to the red-light district of Zurich to form an intentional Christian community in this multicultural neighborhood that boasted residents from sixty different nations of the world, along with three thousand prostitutes. We all were yearning to experience community and combine it with holistic Christian service in ways most of our middleclass families’ values and lifestyles would never have allowed for. While some of our endeavors were a reaction against our pasts, others were bold steps into new territories.
Our motto was based on a statement of Bonhoeffer that church is only then church, when it daily exists for others. We believed that “diaconia” (service) and lived community were mutually enforcing spiritual practices and could not be separated. Accordingly, we were involved in sharing weekly meals with 60 plus homeless people besides doing children and youth ministry, principally with Kosovo-Albanian and African youth. Four of us who shared an apartment also gave refuge to my friend Carlos for two months in the fall of 1996, after he was refused asylum by Switzerland’s government and was scheduled to be flown back to Angola. He was a former UNITA soldier, who had fled torture and imprisonment, and whose deportation would lead into secure re-imprisonment. We were inclined to experiment and express our faith in new ways, even if that meant some form of civil disobedience.
At the same time I taught 6th graders in one of the most posh suburbs of Zurich, figuratively called the Gold Coast. For the first time I got to know rich people in a more intimate and humane way and some of my prejudices towards them were tempered. As a teacher I had the opportunity to spend time with parents and make home visits. I was exposed to the fact that their seeming financial freedom was not necessarily turning them into happier people. While their principal struggles were not of economic nature, I got to know that brokenness and emotional pain was part of their life, as much as it was for other peoples.
True, the contrasts between the children I taught and the children in the kids-club of my neighborhood, which I founded with three members of my community, were remarkable. My pupils were picked up for golf lessons and some spent their summer holidays on yachts in the Mediterranean Sea, while kids in my neighborhood played the game “Who-can-most-annoy-a-prostitute?” during after-school hours. In many cases, however, both were emotionally neglected by their parents.
While not everything was ideal during this season of life, I nonetheless relished in my community’s life, and felt that I had found a way of life that quenched my thirst for an integrated faith. Moreover, I had found other people who had similar dreams as I and this experience helped me tremendously to let go of my internalized anger towards Switzerland and the narrow-minded outlook on the world of Swiss people in general.
In what segments of society are you currently serving? What are the needs you see there?