My experience with the too-strong women and the jealous men of the American Military congregation of the Church of Christ at Hellenikon, Greece (see Part II), made me a bit reluctant to get too involved with the Kaiserslautern Church of Christ when we moved to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, in the summer of 1984. The congregation at K-town (as people who have been stationed at one of the many American military facilities near Kaiserslautern affectionately call the town) had a preacher but no elders when we arrived. I decided to stay low key at the church and instead of church involvement pursue a Master’s Degree at night from the Boston University Overseas Program.
One of the problems with overseas military congregations is that there is usually only one congregation of the Church of Christ near an overseas base and you have members of the Church of Christ from all across the conservative-to-liberal spectrum who attend. The Kaiserslautern area was an exception in that there was another congregation–the Ramstein Church of Christ–located in Ramstein Village, very near the Air Base. This congregation is what is usually referred to as an “anti” congregation, in that they are against many things that other congregations of the church routinely do. For example, the Ramstein Church of Christ is against having a kitchen in a church building and against ever eating a meal of any kind in a church building. They are against using funds from the local congregation’s account to support orphans’ homes, church colleges or universities, or any kind of collective mission work. The leaders of the Ramstein church referred to the Kaiserslautern church as one of the “institutional congregations” of the Churches of Christ. By that they meant we supported institutions outside the local congregation with funds from the treasury of the local congregation. They felt having a kitchen in the building, eating in the building, and being “institutional” made us unrepentant sinners and therefore not a true members of the “Church of Christ.” As far as I know, the Ramstein Church of Christ continues to meet in Ramstein Village and they still hold to these views. The preachers of the Ramstein Church of Christ try to draw families away from the K-town church and often write about (against) the K-town church in “Brotherhood newspapers.” The thing that has always seemed strange to me about the Ramstein Church of Christ is that they rent some rooms in the basement of a large building to use as their church building. When I last visited them there was a printing company occupying the upper part of the building. I always wondered if the printing company had any kind of kitchen/eating facility available for its workers. If they did, and since the kitchen/eating facility would be in the same building as the Ramstein Church of Christ, would that mean that there was a kitchen in the “building” and that people were eating “in the building.” Would that have then caused the people meeting as a congregation in the basement to be meeting in a building with a kitchen–which would then violate their biblical understanding of a prohibition against such? I’m still wondering about this.
We didn’t have elders at K-town while I was there from 1984-1986. In lieu of elders the men of the church formed committees to ensure the work of the congregation was taken care of. I joined the Evangelism committee. In the early summer of 1985 the church received a letter from a native preacher in Belgium. His name was Jean-Marie Frerot. He was asking for financial support to buy a new electronic typewriter, as his old electric typewriter had burned out and he was paying someone to type documents for him. He said he wanted a new electronic typewriter because these new machines had some memory capability and were much better than regular electric typewriters. The letter was given to the Evangelism committee and we discussed it at our next monthly meeting. The K-town congregation was sending some money to an Indian (from India) evangelist every month but were otherwise not pursuing any kind of mission work. The men thought we should look into the work of this native Belgian preacher to see if he was on the up-and-up and to determine if we should help him. As I had a wedding anniversary coming up and was thinking of taking my wife away somewhere for the weekend, I volunteered to go to Verviers, Belgium, and drop in on this congregation unannounced.
We went to Verviers on the weekend of June 15-16, 1985. We didn’t call before going. When we got to Verviers (about a three and a half hour drive from Ramstein Air Base) we checked into the Grand Hotel (it wasn’t!). Then, we called the preacher’s house. He didn’t speak English very well but his older son, Daniel, was able to talk to us. I explained who we were and Jean-Marie invited us to his house that evening. They gave us a very warm welcome and explained the work of the Verviers Church of Christ. He showed us letters from many French-speaking countries, from people requesting Bible studies based on an ad the church had placed in a major French magazine. The one ad brought requests for French language Bible studies for many years. They had ongoing Bible studies (through the mail) with people from around the world. He also explained their financial support situation to us–they were supported by a congregation in Mississippi. Even with the support they received, he didn’t have money to buy the new electronic typewriter they wanted. He had sent his letter asking for help to other missionaries and American military congregations throughout Europe. The next morning we attended worship services with the Verviers church and ate lunch with the Frerot family before returning to Ramstein.
At the next meeting of the Evangelism committee I reported on our trip to Verviers. I told them that I was impressed with the work in Verviers and that the K-town church should help them. I suggested that instead of giving him money to buy an electronic typewriter we should help raise money to buy him a computer and printer. Remember, this was 1985 so home computers were in their infancy. Home computers were a novelty then and most people used them only to play games and as word processors. I thought it would be better if the church at Verviers had a new computer because the word processing capability of a computer was much more versatile than an electronic typewriter. We did some research and found that we could buy an Apple computer, a monitor, and a printer for about $1,200. That was a bit more than the K-town church was prepared to give so the men asked me to write to other military congregations in Europe to explain the situation and ask for their help. We received some money from other congregations and were able to add enough to the donations to purchase the computer system for Jean-Marie.
This began a long relationship between the K-town Church of Christ and the Verviers Church of Christ. Soon after we bought and delivered the computer to Verviers the K-town men invited Jean-Marie and his family to come to K-town for the weekend. We put Jean-Marie, his wife Susanne, sons Daniel and Philippe, and daughter Christine, up in our apartment on Ramstein Air Base for the weekend. Jean-Marie spoke briefly that Sunday at the church, with Daniel translating. After that visit the men decided to send the Verviers church a monthly check to help with their French Bible studies by mail. This also began a family relationship between the Emerys and the Frerots that continues to this day.
I don’t remember any really serious problems within the K-town church during the two years we were stationed at Ramstein. I know there were some members of the congregation who would consider themselves very conservative and there some who would consider themselves more liberal. We were all able to worship and work together for the good of God without any serious conflicts. I preached once or twice and taught several Bible classes while we were there but as I said before, I dedicated myself to getting a Master’s degree and left most of the teaching and preaching to others. It was a good time at the K-town Church of Christ.