WEEK OF PRAYER: Helping Copenhagen's artists & atheists visualize faith

Baptist Press
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Posted: Dec 05, 2011 5:52 PM
WEEK OF PRAYER: Helping Copenhagen's artists & atheists visualize faith
EDITOR'S NOTE: This year's Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Dec. 4-11 with the theme of "His heart, His hands, His voice -- I am Southern Baptist missions" from Acts 1:8. Each year's Lottie Moon Christmas Offering supplements Cooperative Program giving to support Southern Baptists' 5,000 international missionaries' initiatives in sharing the Gospel. This year's offering goal is $175 million. To find resources about the offering, go to imb.org/offering.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (BP) -- The street musician rolled a cigarette, scratched his head and squinted for a moment.

Frederik finished his final set of the day before resting on a bench on the Stroget, a popular avenue in downtown Copenhagen. It's a place where people shop, eat and catch a little entertainment.

Art is king in the Denmark's capital, a tight-knit Western European city of about 1.5 million people. But what about faith in Jesus Christ? Not so much.

Frederik pondered whether faith and religion play any role in the Copenhagen's arts scene.

"We're all sort of atheists here," says the 20-something, who has sung and played the guitar -- and various other instruments -- along the avenue for the past 10 years. "It kind of went out of fashion to believe in God or to be religious," Frederik says. "The churches are half empty all the time. The old folks still go to church, but we're not that religious ... my generation."

If it isn't raining or freezing, chances are Frederik and his fellow musicians are performing that day on the street. Frederik's wild hair, bright smile, pink-rimmed sunglasses tucked into the front pocket of his jacket and reggae style of music make him one of the more prominent performers along the walk. He also competed in 2008 on "The X Factor," the United Kingdom's popular TV talent competition.

Frederik and the other street musicians are part of a large cast of artists in the city. Around nearly every corner, you'll find painters, sculptors, actors and other performers, with an extraordinary backdrop of architecture, statues and beautiful people. Art is everywhere in Copenhagen. One local painter described art in the city as a "pseudo religion."

Frederik met his wife more than six years ago on the street where he performs. Playing music and making people smile fuel him. It gives him a feeling of fulfillment and purpose.

Spreading happiness, he says, is "my main message."

"When people come up to me and say, 'I was really feeling sad or gloomy, or I wanted to kill myself or whatever, and I met you and now it's completely changed,' that's where I get my energy," he says.

"That's when I feel alive -- that's my doorway."

For Frederik as well as many other Danes and most Western Europeans, faith in Jesus Christ is just one of many ways to fulfillment and peace.

"When someone says that they spoke to Jesus or they've seen the light or seen the shining path, they call it 'God,'" Frederik says. "It all means the same thing, yeah?

"I call it just creator or creation or energy," he adds. "We're all creative and creators ... It's the same thing. It's all vibration."

Though 85 percent of Danes in the city are registered as members of the Lutheran church, some studies suggest less than 2 percent attend any type of church regularly.

Frederik was baptized in the Lutheran church at age 13.

"We say, 'yes' to God and have a big party and get lots of presents," says the self-described "country boy" who grew up outside the city.

"For me there wasn't really a reflection of who is God, what is God," he says. "It's just really cool someone wants to give me a bike."

For the few young artists who do believe in Jesus, having your sanity questioned every day is just part of life. Just ask Chris, a former designer.

Chris used to design chairs for a living, but a struggling global economy forced him to find other work to help support him and his wife. Today, he is training to be a police officer. Even among the city's finest, living out his faith can be a little awkward.

In his academy class, he's the only professing Christian among 18 atheists and one Muslim.

"I had one guy come up and ask, 'You really believe in the virgin birth and Jesus?'" Chris recounts.

Young believers like Chris are a rare breed.

"The state church is dying," he says. "If you go into a state church, the average age is plus 40. Young people don't go to it unless their parents have gone to it ... for lack of a better option."

CRACKING DENMARK'S CULTURE CODE

All of this negative sentiment toward faith and God presents an enormous challenge for Clint Myers*, an IMB (International Mission Board) missionary.

He and his wife Meg*, from Georgia, and their three children have moved to the city to find a way to connect with the arts community -- and help bridge the gap between their perceptions of faith in Jesus and reality.

"Our goal is to really get right in the middle of the creative scene of the city," Clint says.

"We're trying to get to know the city, trying to get to know artists that go to galleries, go to exhibitions ... really anything we can do to get to know some people."

Clint and his wife hope to build relationships -- and ultimately community.

"It's talking with a street musician who is going through a divorce and saying, 'Yeah, my parents went through a divorce,'" he says.

"And saying, 'I don't know if you are a Christian or not, but this is how I dealt with it.'"

One Danish pastor who also is trying to restore the local view of faith is 33-year-old Thomas Willer. About six years ago, he helped start Regen Baptist Church in the heart of the city.

With his dark-rimmed glasses, shaved head, jeans and T-shirt, Willer doesn't fit the stereotype of a pastor. He looks more like the front man for a local band. Instead, he's leading his church to truly love their city -- whether that involves ministering to the poor or helping to stop sex trafficking.

The church averages 100 people who gather in services twice a month. They meet in smaller groups the other weeks. While most of the churches in the city draw older crowds, Regen Baptist attracts college students, young families, a variety of professionals -- and artists.

"The whole creative scene is probably not so far away from God as we think," Willer says. "They're taking a part of God's process, which is creating and being creative.

"We really have some big, big challenges," he says.

"We can show them Christ, and apart from that, the Gospel has to grow wild in some way."

*Names changed. Alan James is a senior writer at IMB. Clint and Meg Myers can be reached by email in Copenhagen at teamcopenhagen@pobox.com.

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