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Youth club provides sense of community for German teens


From left, Benjamin, mission worker David Stutzman and Benni are part of Da JC Klub, a youth group that gives teenage boys a place where they can feel comfortable talking about their faith. Stutzman’s main work with the Military Counseling Network helps young adults consider alternatives to mandatory military service in Germany.

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May 17, 2005
-by Ryan Miller

Bammental, Germany — The soldier, armour plating covering his body, rushed into the room, spraying bullets left and right. After only a moment, bodies lay before him, sprawled lifeless on the ground.

From the other side of the video screen, featuring one of the newest and most violent games sweeping through the youth landscape, teens cheered at the carnage they witnessed. Benni Krauss, however, stayed silent.

Krauss, a 13-year-old in Bammental, said his faith in Christ, and his Anabaptist, pacifist beliefs, separates him from most other youths around his age. “I thought, ‘What’s so cool about that? Those people are all dead now,’” Krauss said. “Sometimes I tell (the other youths) it’s not really good to play those games. Very seldom will they ask why I say that.”

Since the fall, Krauss and several other boys have gathered for a youth group they call “Da JC Klub.” David Stutzman, who represents Mennonite Church Canada Witness and its partner Mennonite Mission Network in Bammental at the Military Counseling Network, leads the youths in activities fun and faithful.

“To be a Christian as a kid means that you are probably one of a handful at school who would call yourself one. In the States you can fit in a Christian community. In a post-Christendom society, you are one of the few,” said Stutzman, who was born in Germany and attended school in the United States. “To be a Mennonite, or for that fact, a Christian, is a very lonely thing, and kids go to this to worship together and to hang out.”

Club members share in Bible study, attend a monthly Jugend Gottesdienst youth service in a nearby town, organized and led primarily by Mennonite youth, and talk about issues that are important parts of their lives at school and in the church. They also gather purely for fun, watching movies, playing games, and rock-climbing.

Krauss said the club gives him some of the support he needs to explore his Christianity in ways he cannot with his school friends.

“They just say, ‘Oh, there’s Benni again with his Christianity.’ I tried talking to a couple of people, but I wasn’t very successful, really,” Krauss said. Perhaps the largest gap between he and his friends, Krauss continued, is the difference faith in Christ makes in taking responsibility for actions.

“The others just don’t believe in anything. They think that when you’re dead, you’re dead and, as far as the idea of sin, when somebody does something wrong, maybe the police will punish you but there’s nothing else beyond you. They don’t think about it beyond that, and they will justify what they do,” Krauss said.

Stutzman said, “It does make a difference when there’s just Christian boys together. We can talk about why we’re Christians and why it’s a good idea to go to church.” One non-Christian boy came to a few meetings, but Stutzman and Krauss said he only wanted to talk about rap music, drugs and video games, not issues of faith. “[This club] is part of something where they can actually be Christians. Everywhere else, they’re not.”

Teens are not the only group of Mennonites in Germany that seek a community. Stutzman said many young adults struggle to find other believers in their age group.

“There’s only one guy my age in church,” he said. “I think a lot of Mennonite churches are located in smaller town settings. Young people tend to move out of the home a little later than the U.S. because it’s so expensive, then they go start a career somewhere else, and it’s not necessarily in the neighborhood of a Mennonite church.

“This is part of the root causes of the struggling in [Mennonite] churches in general in Germany and Europe. There are generation gaps,” Stutzman said. “When you’re so spread out in small churches, when you don’t have anyone your age, you go and join another church.”

Often, those other churches are American imports, often based on formulas designed to attract the masses. Stutzman said Mennonites have something different to offer.

“Historically, in a time when the church was living with a lot of distortions, [Anabaptists] were able to center on Jesus,” he said. “Now people are not sure about the church within the [European] society. Mennonites have the tradition of being alive in a situation where they took on a church. That can be appealing to the Europeans.”

Peter Rempel oversees Mennonite Church Canada Witness ministries in Europe. He adds that “Mennonite Church Canada’s support of MCN is one way to offer caring and support to young adults who are seeking other ways to contribute to society. Through MCN we can express our solidarity with Mennonite brothers and sisters as they seek to respond to militarism and warfare which spills over from one country to others.”

“It all starts with groups like the club,” Stutzman continued. “It’s so important to get kids at an early age in a place where they can talk about these issues, and also have fun and have role models that are not just their parents.”