Berlin seems to be in a perpetual state of construction. For those of you who live here, the term “Baustelle” is quite familiar. The word translates “construction site” in English, and there are thousands of Baustellen in Berlin. Everywhere you look, there are construction cranes erecting new high-rise buildings and houses. Renovation work is being done on dozens of subway and train station platforms. Several stations have been under construction for as long as I have lived here. Repair work is being done on the autobahn (highway), in every direction it seems. Sidewalks in every part of the city are blocked with detour signs for pedestrians. Sometimes it seems you just cannot get there from here!
But our family, in particular, seems to be a Baustelle magnet. Actually, as I think about my life, maybe I am the one who attracts Baustellen, but I don’t have time or room to go back that far!
When Ali came to live with us, a few years ago, we built a book shelf and study area for me in a niche in our hallway, and we also installed shelves in our kitchen somewhere in that time period. For a couple of weeks our balcony and living room looked like a workshop with boards and sawdust and paint everywhere. Then for the entire year leading up to our emergency move last summer (because of a black mold problem), the facade of our building was refurbished, and scaffolding stood at different places on our block. For months, we had scaffolding above our own back terrace and windows. Of course, inside the apartment in our last weeks there, we had hoses and cables running down the hall from heavy (and loud) drying machines and dehumidifiers.
The very day we moved into the temporary apartment several blocks away, the scaffolding outside moved along with us, and work on the facade of that building was started. For months again, we had to look through scaffolding and listen to men at work outside our windows. Then, there was crane equipment on our streets for weeks as the windows on the entire block were painted. (Yes, it would have made a lot of sense to have done the painting while the whole building was already encased in scaffolding . . .) Sidewalks were recently opened all the way down the street leading to our building to install some unknown infra-structure (perhaps the high speed internet cable that we could have used!) In addition, our entire old neighborhood had major demolition and new building projects on almost every corner.
In January we helped Luca renovate his new apartment, stripping wallpaper, plastering, sanding, painting, replacing floor laminate, installing a kitchen, etc. That was apparently only preparation for doing the same things in our own new apartment a few months later. And that renovation work is not finished. Of course, moving alone turns everything into a Baustelle at both ends of a move, which we have done twice now in a year. We are still unpacking boxes, and we have not even begun to drill holes in the walls and ceilings of the new place for hanging shelves, pictures and light fixtures. We just cannot get away from the disarray of construction! Even Connections Library, where Christ Church meets has been a Baustelle, in various states of construction for weeks.
The Scriptures use building vocabulary to describe the work of the church. In fact, our work of “edifying” one another is the work of “building one another up” in Christ Jesus.
The apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian church, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11 NIV)
These verses and others like them came to mind years ago, when I first moved to Berlin and began thinking about the work of church planting. I adopted the term “Baustelle Berlin” way back then as a description of the work I expected God would be doing in and through us. Baustelle Berlin is the title of our church strategic plan and also for this web blog. It speaks to the fact that we are a new work in progress. It is also an apt description of the renovation work the Holy Spirit is continually doing in each of us.
At the time, I had no idea how much literal physical Baustellen would continue to be a part of our lives! Our new apartment is on a side street in a quiet old Berlin neighborhood. I had thought, Here, at least, I don’t expect to see or hear any major construction. Once we get the inside settled, we can enjoy some peace and quiet! But this week, the cones and signs went up, informing us we cannot park on our street for who knows how long, and this morning the heavy equipment moved in and began tearing up the sidewalk. Now the entire “quiet” street is full of piles of dirt, equipment, and barricades complete with flashing lights. The Baustelle has found us, yet again!
Baustellen are not pretty. They are typically messy and loud and chaotic. They are unsettling and uncomfortable. Baustellen are a constant reminder the work is not yet finished. More work is necessary. The work is still in progress.
I don’t like Baustellen. I want the work to be done already! Perhaps, you agree with me! But if the church is doing its job, that is, doing the work of building the kingdom in the power of the Spirit, the church will always be a Baustelle. If the Holy Spirit is at work transforming my life, my life will always be a Baustelle. Which is to say, church and life will always be at least somewhat uncomfortable and chaotic. If either church or life becomes too comfortable, that probably means progress has ceased.
I don’t mean to imply that an uncomfortable life is always evidence of God’s work in progress, but may we learn to embrace God’s Baustellen, recognizing His power at work in us.
Hope to see you Sunday!