Westmont Magazine Seeking Reformation in Germany
Ford Munnerlyn ’81 arrived in Giessen, Germany, in 1982 for a short-term assignment with Greater Europe Mission and has been there ever since. Although he resigned from the mission two years later, he has continued his ministry to non-believers, students and political refugees. For 19 years he has operated the bookstore for a major evangelical German seminary, Freie Theologische Akademie, importing theological books for a European academic audience.
In addition, Ford is involved at an Evangelical Free church with a congregation of 1,000. Fewer than 20 German churches attract this many people. While 50 million Germans belong to the state Protestant and Catholic churches (and pay mandatory church taxes), only 7 percent attend regularly.
“German churches are struggling because they fail to emphasize the Bible and the biblical message of redemption,” Ford says. “University theological faculties have trained most of the pastors in state churches for the last 200 years, often breeding more doubt than conviction in the lives of those training for Christian ministry. It’s a far cry from the Reformation days.
“At the moment the influence of Willow Creek Church (Bill Hybels) and Saddleback Valley Community Church (Rick Warren) is providing a new spark for tired and weary church members here,” he adds. “Although not everything is transferrable to German culture, a lot of unchurched people are being reached.”
Ford also leads a Bible Study group for new converts and seekers, works with church outreach programs to refugees, and serves as a mentor for the Studentenmission Deutschland SMD (an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship partner) at a university in Giessen.
Presenting the gospel to students in the secular German culture is challenging as faith is considered a private matter. “Most Germans tend to think dialectically,” he says. “If someone presents an idea, it usually gets shot down and the conversation waits for the proponent to defend his idea and try to win over the skeptics.”
Being challenged to think at Westmont has helped Ford in his ministry. “The challenge to think permeated most every lecture and seminar I took. My Westmont mentors were thinkers and those in my peer group became thinkers, too. We weren’t very satisfied with pat answers, much unlike many in the larger Christian community in America. The challenge to think that I got at Westmont has served me very well here in Europe, in Christian ministry, in academic disciplines and in personal relationships.”
Ford appreciates Westmont’s efforts to “raise the horizons of the Christian community. I experienced this in class and in ministries like Potter’s Clay and observed it among my classmates in the Europe Semester and the San Francisco Urban programs.”
A double major in religious studies and philosophy, Ford spent six months in Jerusalem at the Institute for Holy Land Studies, an experience he values highly, even after two decades.
“Moving overseas has been one of the richest experiences I could ever have imagined,” Ford says. “I have personally grown in ways not possible before and have come to appreciate deeply the positive side of America and to view the negative side more objectively.”
What does the future hold? Ford is willing to stay where he is, go somewhere else in Europe or return to the United States.
“As a Christian, I have learned to be open for the new doors God opens. You can really learn to serve anywhere. We are called to love, to love other people, and it doesn’t matter who they are or where they come from. If God chooses to leave me here for the rest of my life, I’ll be very pleased to stay.”