Germans (arguably) have the best beer, the best cheese and the best sights in Europe. But the highlight of my 30-hour travel weekend to the birthplace of Oktoberfest came at the end, a few hours before our flight, singing “Ich bin Gottes Kind Ja Sein Kind” at Hillsong Church Munich.
I drank it all in. No fermentation needed.
The list of locations for Hillsong churches across the world is so long, you have to scroll to see all 19 countries (and counting). From Australia to Sweden with Kiev in the middle, I was amazed I’d never heard of a Hillsong Church before.
When we saw the sign for “Backstage Club,” I thought I had gotten us lost again (I used Google Maps again like I swore I wouldn’t after getting lost in Budapest). But four volunteers in bright yellow traffic vests called out, “Looking for Hillsong?” I guess the big-toothed smile I gave was all the answer they needed.
These Hillsong-ers resembling highlighters were the dictionary definition of a “warm welcome” with their genuine joy and interest in my nine-person group. Every 20 feet, greeters engaged in conversation with us about where we were from, what we were doing in Munich and yes. It’s our lucky day because today the message is in English.
One of the volunteers, a fellow Texan, sputtered out fluent German and English so effortlessly, we couldn’t tell which he’d learned first. Another asked me which city in Texas I was from and I proudly declared, “Dallas.” (Which is kind of a lie. I’m from Carrollton but no one knows where that is). He said he worked at Texas Instruments. Excited at the connection, I said “I have your calculator!” He chuckled and said, “Everyone says that.”
But my favorite person there (no offense, Hillsong greeters) was a 56-year-old Iran native, German resident and soon-to-be Los Angeles citizen named Archie. She grew up Muslim, felt God speaking to her for 30 years, and started following Jesus three years ago.
“I’m so happy,” Archie said, pointing to her heart. “I’ve met so many amazing people. God kept telling me to come to him, saying ‘Archie, you’re my child.’ You are God’s child. I am God’s child.”
Since the message was in English, Archie wore her little headset to listen to the German translation. Apparently it was well-timed because every so often, Archie would alternate between “Hallelujah,” “Thank you Jesus” or “Amen.” She was not in danger of dozing off like my sleep-deprived companions.
When we prayed, I placed a hand on her shoulder. The Australian pastor talked about embracing Jesus and how Jesus embraces people in the middle of their mess and sin. She must have taken the whole “embrace” thing to heart because we probably hugged seven times.
Maybe it was the Holy Spirit in me or maybe it was my physical-touch love language, but I just held on. At the end when we said goodbye, she gave me a kiss on the cheek, and thinking it was cultural, I just went for it and kissed her other cheek. She chuckled.
I have no complaints about Germany (although I had an interesting hostel bathroom story). The German Englischer Gartens (their city park) glimmered, Viktualienmarket had the best and only Alta Badia hard cheese I’ve ever tasted. Even the Brauhaus Radler beer did not disappoint.
But Hillsong was the highlight hands-down because it felt like coming home. I laughed to myself when I saw the “Welcome Home” banners strung around the dimly lit room. It couldn’t have been a more perfect slogan.
Tears welled up behind my eyes so often, I became a pro at blinking them away. My heart overflowed with joy, a weight lifting off my shoulders. I could be myself but I wasn’t alone. Believers surrounded me on all sides, all from different places and worshipping the same God.
God’s presence filled up that run-down, slightly smelly, no-A/C club. And I couldn’t get one thought out of my head.
This is what heaven will be like.
As if God heard me, the next song that played was “As it is in heaven.”
As we sang the line “Ich weiß, der Himmel lebt in mir” (I know heaven lives in me), I choked up once again. I normally hate crying in front of people but in that moment, I couldn’t have cared less.
In about 17 days (not counting), we will get on board a 10-hour flight back to Philadelphia. I’ll leave the little home I made here, with Kobuci Kert and my Hungarian mom Elizabeth. Then I’ll fly two hours to my home in Dallas, with Fat Straws bubble tea and my (actual) mom. Then I’ll drive two hours down to my Waco home, with Taco Z and my friends.
Homes are nice. They feel good. But that little room in Germany packed full of sweaty, happy worshipers reminded me I have a much more exciting place to go home to someday.