Darris McNeely talks with Paul Kieffer about the work in Germany and about the current political conditions in Europe.
[Darris McNeely] Welcome to Inside United . I’m Darris McNeely, and with me in our studio today is Paul Kieffer, the German language area pastors for the United Church of God in Europe. Paul, it’s good to see you again.
[Paul Kieffer] Good to be here, Darris.
[Darris] Now you were here taping some German language versions of Beyond Today television for us.
[Paul] Right. This is our first test to actually do a live German Beyond Today telecast directly in the German language rather than having a voice-over.
[Darris] I sat in during your first production here this afternoon, and it was a bit unusual hearing German spoken on our Beyond Today set, but it went well. How did you feel it went for you and first time for you to be in front of the cameras?
[Paul] Yeah, well we worked hard on the transcripts, because obviously we want the material in German to be the same as what was presented in English, and we had gone over them several times. When you’re there the first time in front of the cameras, it’s a new experience, so I felt the second taping went much better than the first one, and just a matter of getting used to it.
[Darris] Now, you chose two topics of programs that had already been done in English on Beyond Today , one of the two witnesses, and another on the Trinity. Why did you choose those two topics for the German language areas?
[Paul] We chose those two, we actually look at all of the subjects that you cover in the English Beyond Today programs, and even when we’ve worked on the voice overs, we pick out the ones that we think will be most interesting to our European audience. Sometimes the interests are a bit different. And these two titles, one is a prophetic topic we think is very…will be very interesting to our viewership, and a second is a hot topic in Christianity, the subject of the Trinity. We get a lot of feedback on that even in our written articles. So we felt this would be a good topic to cover in a video.
[Darris] A lot is said about Europe being very secular, anti-religion, with all that has taken place in recent years. How do you find the message of the church, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the Kingdom of God received in those areas?
[Paul] It is a challenge, I think, anywhere in Europe today to present the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, because even though the United States itself is becoming more secular, Europe has been that way for decades. So we find that in order to present the Gospel, we often have to first convince people that belief in God is a rational thing. It’s not a superstition, there are good reasons to believe in God, and also that the Bible is His Word, those are two subjects that we have to cover to even get people interested in listening in the Gospel, to the Gospel, because most people, even though they may belong to a large denomination, most people don’t believe in the Bible, they don’t believe in the existence of God.
As a matter of fact, it’s an interesting statistic that of the German population, about two thirds say that they are members of a Christian group, and yet every year at Easter, when surveys are done and people are asked the question, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ was resurrected, that He is alive today?” The response usually is around 50% or higher that say they do not believe that Christ was resurrected.
So you have people who are claiming to be Christians, because there has to be some common ground between those two percentages, you have people claiming to be Christians, who don’t even believe that Christ is alive today, which is an oxymoron. So our main topic to get people even to listen to the Gospel is we often have to deal with subjects like, evolution, the existence of God, creation, these things as a lead in to get them to listen to the message.
[Darris] What kind of responses are you getting out, what type of engagement levels do you find with the audience that you have on your subscription list?
[Paul] We have very good responses. We get a lot of feedback when we publish articles. For example, in a recent issue of the German language issue of the Beyond Today , we had several articles on the Sabbath day, which was a subject that was covered some issues ago in the Beyond Today . It may have been in one of the latter Good News issues. We get a lot of feedback on that, some people are very surprised to see that this is really what the Bible says, and then we also get negative responses, asking us, why are we even talking about this it’s obvious that Sunday is the right day. Sunday is legally in Europe the seventh day of the week, not the Sabbath. So we get responses on things like that.
[Darris] What’s the condition of the churches you pastored, the churches in the German language areas, which would include Switzerland, Austria and Germany? What kind of numbers, and how many different congregations do you have over there?
[Paul] Well, first I’d like to say that’s very kind of you to say that I pastor the area. I’m the regional pastor. It’s a team effort in the German language area. We are five elders, and in the Dutch area for which we are also responsible, we have two elders. We meet in the German language area in nine congregations, seven of which are in Germany and, we have one each in Switzerland and Austria. We have a total of about 150 brethren in those areas, and then we have one congregation that meets in more than one location in the Netherlands, depending on the date and the availability of halls. And we have about 35 to 40 people there, as I said, with two very capable elders, who help out.
[Darris] I can’t let you go Paul without getting a comment from you regarding the political situation with the EU and the crisis that it’s been through in recent years, especially the influx of immigrants into to Europe, and especially Germany last summer. As we talk here today, we’re two days away from the Brexit vote, and Great Britain deciding whether they will stay with the EU, and all what that means for the EU and its future. How are you seeing things over there in terms of the current state of the Union? Where it’s going? What’s happening in Europe?
[Paul] Well the European Union is having various challenges. The debt crisis within the Euro Zone, although it has subsided, it’s not mentioned as frequently in the news here. It is by no means over. The situation has improved marginally, but Europe, the Euro zone, is not out of the woods yet, as far that’s concerned. That’s one issue that’s been pushed into background by, as you said, the immigrant crisis, the refugee crisis that began about a year ago now, with something like 1.2 million refugees having come into Germany alone since last summer.
That’s another issue the European Union really doesn’t know how to deal with this, because Europe, with its liberal tradition, and very liberal legal society, the laws they have, it’s very hard for them to clamp down on immigration, if it is perceived to be coming from countries where there are refugees, there are bona fide refugees. Now not all of these people that have come are bona fide refugees. Some are just looking for a better life, better economic situation, and this is a big challenge that the European Union faces, because it has, to some extent, split Europe.
You have the newer members in the eastern half of the European Union, who are not in favor of accepting any refugees. Prime example would be the country of Hungary, which has said it does not want to accept any Muslim refugees whatsoever, and others have similar sentiments. They may not be as vocal or as adamant in their refusal as Hungary, but Poland, some of the other Eastern European countries do not want to participate in the allocation system that the European Commission has come up with to redistribute some of the refugees that have come in. So you have kind of an east-west divide right now in the European Union, and it’s going to be interesting to see where it goes.
[Darris] Do you see the current union status quo or something changing? Reforming of the the EU as we know it?
[Paul] Well we’re speaking two days before the vote on the Brexit. I don’t know when this particular podcast will be aired, and I don’t want to be a prophet. A week ago, I would have said the Brexit supporters had a good case. It looked like, by the opinion polls, they were in the lead, but with the assassination of a parliament member last week, that’s put a cog in the works there. So if it does turn out that Britain votes to leave the EU, this may give encouragement to some of these Eastern European countries to think along the same lines.
The odd thing is is that Europe, the EU, has a payment system. So all of these countries get more money from the EU than they pay in. There’s only two exceptions, if I remember correctly. I’m sure about these two, and those two countries are the Netherlands and Germany. They pay more in to the EU than they get back in benefits. All the other countries get way more money back from the EU in terms of subsidies, project financing, and things like that than what they actually pay in to the system. So for some of these countries to leave, it would just be a matter of frustration, because it would not benefit them financially or economically.
[Darris] So a lot to look at and keep an eye on in Europe
[Paul] A lot to keep an eye on in Europe.
[Darris] Well listen, we appreciate you being here, and we hope that the production of these two Beyond Today programs go well for your efforts there, and that we’ll see you back in the studio at a future date to do some more.
[Paul] Well, I certainly appreciate the efforts of the media department. Very gracious in offering their time and support for us to make this test.
[Darris] Thanks for joining us on Inside United , and come back soon for more.