By Laura McKillip Wood
Germany always interested Larry and Teri Lewis. Their ancestors came from Germany, and Larry was stationed there in the military. When they visited Berlin on a short-term mission trip, they felt intrigued by the unique work of an organization called Open Door Libraries. The work impressed them so much that they left their ministry in central Florida a year later and moved to Germany to join Connections Library and Cafe, the Berlin branch of the library.
Connections and Community
Open Door Libraries began when Willard Black, who taught seminary courses in Eastern Europe in the 1980s and ’90s, saw the need for Christian resources in former Soviet communist countries. He began a ministry that networked within these countries to provide Christian literature to believers. This eventually became Open Door Libraries, which now has centers in three European countries and several cities in other parts of the world as well. These libraries, run by missionary families, provide written resources for Christians and space where community can thrive. In the libraries, people come together to read, drink coffee, discuss their faith, and interact with one another.
Connections Library and Cafe houses about 6,500 books in both English and German, but it is more than a repository for literature. “We offer classes, seminars, Bible studies, art and music exhibits, and a meeting place for smaller ministry groups that cannot afford their own property, since rent is expensive,” says Larry. They focus on lively discussion, a quiet place to read a book and drink coffee, or a place for people to practice English. “Germans love to read books and drink coffee—I cannot overstate that!” The library hosts many volunteers from all over the world, both believers and nonbelievers. Its founders named it Connections because its primary purpose is “to connect believers to each other, to connect people to good books, and to encourage connection in our community.” As part of that purpose, two small churches also meet in the library every Sunday.
Refugees in the Library
Germany has accepted at least 1.8 million refugees in the last two years, most Muslims from Syria. As the country assimilates the newcomers, Larry and Teri see dramatic changes in the work of the library. They offer English classes and other classes daily, as Larry says, “to help the refugees rub shoulders with Christians as they adjust to daily life in Berlin.” Since the library is located in an area with a high population of refugees, Larry and Teri both make themselves available to the Muslims in the neighborhood. As part of that effort, Teri started a cookie club for children in the surrounding area. They can come in every day and receive a cookie if they ask for it in English.
Muslim refugees often suffer traumatic experiences in their flight to their new home country, and they know of the rising tension between Christians and Muslims. The Lewises provide a loving alternative to the refugees’ sometimes harsh reality. As Teri puts it, “Sometimes we are the only loving hands of Jesus that Muslim children see.”
According to Larry and Teri, the influx of refugees has shown the Germans the need for better policies regarding how refugees are handled in the country. In addition, Larry says, “The best thing about the crisis is that it has energized ministries all over Germany to work together, and this has resulted in many conversions and a new interest in European missions in general.”
The Future of Libraries
With the rising popularity of electronic media, some say the printed book will eventually become a thing of the past. However, Larry notices that Germans love to read printed material. “They like to have it in their hands,” he states. He predicts that, even though they will continue to use electronic media to some extent, printed books and other materials will never go out of style in Germany. He and Teri believe that libraries should always be a source for the printed word and a place where people who love words can gather.
As for the future of the Lewis family, they celebrated the marriage of one daughter in December and eagerly await the wedding of their other daughter in March. Their library will, as Larry said, continue to be “available to whoever walks in the door so that we can find a way to help them, teach them, give them a cup of coffee and a good book, or just be a friendly face along their journey.”
If you’d like to contact Larry and Teri about their work in Germany, email them (email@example.com) or visit the Open Door Library website (opendoorlibraries.org).
Laura McKillip Wood formerly taught missionary children in Ukraine and now works in the academic office of Nebraska Christian College. She and her husband, Andrew, have three children (lauramckillipwood.com).