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Fragile and Imperfect Jars of Clay



Flugplatz, (or "flightplace,"), was a Nazi airbase in East Germany during World War II. It closed down in 1993, leaving behind a sort of ghost airport.
By directing immigrants here, the German government planned to re-invigorate the town. The Aussiedler (immigrants of German background from the former Soviet Union) who move to Flugplatz receive government benefits if they stay for three years. But Flugplatz has little to offer new residents, and most leave for western Germany as soon as they can. Over the past four years the town's population has dropped from 1,200 to around 600.

by James and Henriette Schellenberg

December 18, 2001
Niedergörsdorf, Germany— Here in Niedergörsdorf-Flugplatz, we are used to visitors.

Many of them come to see this interesting place, and to find out more about the Gemeinschaftswerk (community project). The work here is unusual because the Gemeinschaftswerk, of which the church, the 'Christliche Glaubensgemeinschaft' is a part, consists of many different groups. Included are representatives of some of the Mennonite churches in Germany, Mennonite Church Canada (whom we represent here), Mennonite Central Committee Europe, Evangelische Kirchengemeinden (the local Lutheran parishes), and the local municipal government.

Representatives of all of these groups meet annually to discuss the work here, and to plan for the future. Our meeting this year was held in the small, plain multi-purpose room at the church, around our simple, stackable picnic tables.

One of the visitors, Robert Martin Koop from the MCC Europe offices, stayed over until the following day. He remarked to us later that, in 24 hours, he had experienced a lot at these very unimpressive tables.

The previous evening Koop sat at the tables with the mayor, church leaders from various denominations, lay people, and others, for a meeting. In the morning he sat at the table for a staff meeting with us, the MCC workers, and several of the local people who work here. In the afternoon he stood at the same tables and watched how about 15 children sang, did crafts, and listened to a story about Christ, the Good Shepherd. Later, he sat at the same tables for a Bible Study with 12 elderly people. Koop remarked how well, and in how many different ways, our tables were used.

The church building here on the Flugplatz, owned and maintained by European Mennonite congregations, is an unimpressive-looking, but well-used building. Its doors are open for a good part of each day of the week. People with questions or problems sometimes wait at the door before the first workers arrive at 8:00 AM. Students come for help in learning the German language, and in keeping up with their school work. A women's choir meets once a week, and a rock band rattles the windows on Tuesday nights. Children come Wednesdays to learn, do crafts, and eat. Junior and Senior Youth groups meet on Thursday and Friday evenings. There are two church services weekly, piano and instrumental music instruction, and even the occasional concert, in the sanctuary. People from Kasachstan, Russia, Canada, and Germany, funded by various church, social service and government agencies, work individually, and work together. They come from various denominational backgrounds, or with little faith or church connection whatsoever.

The tables, the building, and the people truly are simple, fragile, and imperfect 'jars of clay'. But at the tables, in the building, and through the people, the Spirit of God is continuing its healing, building, and transforming work.

The Schellenbergs are Mennonite Church Canada workers engaging with immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The project has been subsidized on a declining scale by the Commission on Overseas Mission. After February 1, 2002, Mennonite Church Canada will assume full responsibility for this assignment.