Walking through the streets of Copenhagen, it’s impossible to not notice the vast amount of bicycles everywhere. Being a city that’s almost completely flat, I can understand why over 50% of the people bike no matter the weather: sun, rain, or snow.
But for Danes, I think the bikes blend into the background, unnoticed and unseen. That is until you accidentally step into the bike lane when crossing the street. Bicycles in Denmark are so intrinsic to society that as you become more accustomed to life there, you barely start to notice them.
This is true of all cultures. In each culture and place there are elements of society that are so woven into the fabric of daily life that they blend into the background, becoming unseen.
As with bikes in Copenhagen, as is also with churches. Every few streets that you walk you can see another church tucked away in a neighbourhood, or blended into a city block. Looking at the city from up high, you can see church steeples hidden amongst the old architecture.
With a Christian history of 900 years in Denmark, the church and influence of the Christian faith blends into the background of daily life. Are Danes really Christian though? As in, are they following Jesus and do they view him as their personal Lord and Saviour?
You’re bound to get a variety of responses when you talk with locals.
With 80% of the population as members of the Lutheran State ‘People’s’ Church (there are more people who attend ‘free’ or other denominational churches), only 1-2% of people actually attend church on a Sunday. Statistics like these can easily question the authenticity of faith in Denmark.
“People are more willing to talk about sex than their own religious beliefs.”Claus, a local pastor in Copenhagen
From an outsider’s perspective it could be easy to conclude that Denmark has lost its faith. To believe that Jesus has been long forgotten and traded with the security of the welfare state and social services. Why do people need faith if they have everything provided for them? Has Jesus faded into the background of culture and society?
As we recognize the spiritual climate of Denmark, what’s our role as Canadians? Specifically, what place does Power to Change – Students have in partnering with Christian leaders and students in Denmark? Why go on a missions trip to a place that claims a Christian heritage and faith?
Also, what’s the point of missions in Denmark? Whose job is it to assess if a place needs Jesus? Do we go to places without Jesus to bring them Jesus? Are we to bring Jesus to a ‘lost’ people? Are Danes ‘lost’?
These are important questions as we assess why and how we move forward in missions activity.
Is missions about ‘conquering’ like religious heralds of medieval past? To come as triumphant heroes to bring Jesus to a ‘lost’ nation? Jesus said he came “to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) But he didn’t come to seek and save by being a conquering hero, but as a humble servant who prioritized compassion, empathy, and relationship. We need a similar approach.
I think an even greater goal in doing missions in Denmark is carefully identifying, “Where is Jesus already working here?” It’s having the faith that God is always at work, even in the places where he may be unseen or unnoticed.
As we identify where Jesus is actively working, we can journey alongside him and join him in that work. Jesus invites us to join him in what he’s already doing in the nations.
Even though faith may seem hidden and left behind in Denmark, Jesus is at work. Read on to discover how Jesus is at work in Katrine:
A few weeks before meeting students on our mission trip, Katrine started a new program at a university campus in Copenhagen. As she looked around her campus she wondered how she could reach her friends with the gospel.
I was thinking, “How can I start a conversation with them and draw them nearer to God?” That began to bring new life to me.Katrine
In a context like Denmark where faith isn’t often discussed, it can be challenging to see ‘success’ or see friends interact with the gospel. But it’s in the waiting and the trusting that Katrine is seeing Jesus at work. As she develops her faith and trust in Christ, he is also bringing others into her life to join her in the mission of helping her friends know Jesus.
When Katrine met Nathan and Brookelynn from our Denmark mission trip, they encouraged her to take that step in starting those deeper faith conversations with her friends. Meeting up several times during the trip, they were able to share with Katrine all the training and resources they were learning about while in Denmark.
Jesus is at work in Denmark because he is at work in and through people like Katrine.
It was incredible to discover that how God was leading Katrine in ministry mirrored the ministry approach that Canadians are learning to have: focusing on loving the people in front of us and patiently loving them as part of the journey in helping them move closer to Jesus.
We sat down with Katrine and asked her about her experience meeting Canadians and the steps of faith Jesus invites her to take.
Earlier this year when I was in New Zealand, I learned how to be a missionary wherever I am. I don’t have to go to another country, like a poorer country, where it may be easier to see needs. Here in Denmark, sometimes people are lonely and maybe I can be a blessing to them in just being their friend. I think the most important thing is that people need to know Christ.
When someone comes from the outside with a fresh perspective you also get that kind of perspective yourself. It helped me to take courage and see that it’s not that difficult to go on campus and have conversations about faith. Meeting Canadian students this week, I’ve been encouraged by their heart in wanting to share Christ with others.
There’s other Christians who want to follow Jesus completely, even when it’s hard. They’re not afraid of looking foolish – that’s my fear sometimes. Going and talking to strangers is not normal in my culture so I’m concerned about what people think of me.
If you’re not willing to look foolish you are foolish. That’s in line with what Jesus says in the Bible – we will have struggles on earth but we can take courage because he has promised that he is with us.Katrine
An adventure with God isn’t just travelling, it’s the inside journey with Christ. In Denmark ministry doesn’t seem exciting because daily life feels boring and frustrating. But it makes sense that I’m on this campus right now and that I met these Canadian students. I can do things for Christ now and not just in the future.
It’s important in life that we have a few people that we really invest in. I have a friend that I’ve been praying for, for a long time that I really want to see come to know Christ. Personally I’m tempted to think that I need to reach all people but it’s not going to work because I can’t handle that. That’s Jesus’ role and he will use many people to reach all nations. I’m learning to accept my limitations and trust that God is in control. I don’t have to be.
I want to see results and I get discouraged when I don’t see anything. I have a tendency to always look inside myself and ask: is something wrong with me if I don’t see results? But I need to understand that [engaging in the gospel] takes time. I may need to give my friend some space for a season until she’s more available to connect and meet up. In that waiting season I can pray for her, knowing I’m not in control of where she’s at.
“Love is patient.” That’s the first thing described of what love is in 1 Corinthians 13:4. I need to be patient with my friends and be patient with God’s timing and the journey.
*This interview has been edited and shortened.