A Village Where All Are Welcomed

August 23, 2017

Chuck and his friend Lutz

When I was in high school in the early ’60s my family hosted an exchange student from West Berlin, Germany—Lutz Mock. Lutz lived with us for a year, and in that time became a member of our extended family. He visited us on several occasions in the intervening years. Recently, Barbara and I had the opportunity to visit him in his home in Berlin.

A little background about Lutz. As an architect working for the city of Berlin, he was involved in the renovation of many historic buildings. After the wall came down in 1989, he was involved in revitalizing East Berlin. Lutz married and had a son, Clemens. Clemens had Down Syndrome, and Lutz was a devoted father. When Clemens needed more care than Lutz and his wife could give, Clemens went to live in a facility for people with similar challenges.

During our visit, Lutz took us to a village that I had never heard of—Lobetal, which means “Everyone praise [God].”

Lobetal was founded in 1905 by a pastor with a great German name—Friedrich von Bodelschwingh. Pastor Bodelschwingh had a special heart for those people that society pushed to the margins. He founded Lobetal as a place where all people were welcome—the unemployed, the homeless, drug and alcohol abusers, those with various mental and physical needs. All were welcomed at Lobetal.

Pastor Bodelschwingh built not dormitory-style housing, but individual rooms where each person could have a sense of belonging and a place to call his/her own. He believed in work, not alms. So he arranged for the residents of Lobetal to use whatever gifts and talents they had to create, build and contribute to the larger society.

Lobetal’s motto is “There is no one on earth that God doesn’t love.”

The reason Lutz loved Lobetal so much is that it is a sister community to the place where Clemens lived until his death at age 29.

In 1989, as it was clear that East Germany was about to collapse, Lobetal faced one of its biggest challenges. The last chancellor of East Germany was Erich Honecker. As chancellor, Mr. Honecker had been responsible for the deaths of many people carried out by the stasi (secret police). Mr. Honecker began to fear that some of the people who had been affected by his cruel regime would retaliate. He feared for his life. So he petitioned to live at Lobetal.

Many of the people living at Lobetal had family members and friends who had experienced Mr. Honecker’s cruelty. So, they had to ask themselves, “Is there really NO ONE on earth that God doesn’t love?”

This saying is easier to affirm in the abstract than when you are called to put it into practice. The people of Lobetal said, “No, God loves everyone.” And they let Mr. Honecker take up residence there.

My visit to Lobetal brought to mind two scripture passages: “God so loved THE WORLD that he gave his only son” (John 3:16) and Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw ALL PEOPLE to myself” (John 12:32).

Lobetal—Let everyone praise God.