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People gather around a table for the Language Cafe

In addition to coffee, tea and cookies for post-church fellowship, the Welcoming Church of Berlin has to stock up on painter’s tape every few weeks.

The tape serves as name tags for Welcoming Church’s Language Cafes or SprachCafes. As soon as participants get to the door, they get their first German language lesson: how to spell their name using the German alphabet.

All 200-plus language learners start the evening name tag, a warm welcome and directions to the table with the corresponding skill level. When they sit down, the goal for the next two hours is to speak only in German, guided by a native or advanced German speaker at each table.

People gather around a table as Resonate missionary David Kromminga writes in a notebook
Resonate missionary David Kromminga leads a conversational group at the Welcoming Church's Language Cafe. Photo courtesy of the Berliner Stadtmission (Berlin City Mission).

Since starting up four years ago, the twice-weekly SprachCafes, the brainchild of Resonate missionaries Dr. Mary Buteyn and Rev. David Kromminga, have exploded in popularity. Germany has accepted more than a million refugees in the last ten years. Language learning is a must for integration, but making inroads into German society is often a prerequisite for learning German.

Since starting at the Welcoming Church in August, I’ve heard from SprachCafe participants how isolating their language learning process has been. One Ukrainian refugee said she would go to the pharmacy several times a week and pretend like she was interested in buying something, so the sales woman would speak with her. A refugee from Syria downloaded dating apps just to talk to strangers. Still, others say that they have no contact with Germans outside of SprachCafe or their state-supported integration class.

The Welcoming Church helps break this cycle. Attendees have told Mary, David, and other volunteers that the atmosphere at SprachCafe is inviting, a welcome change from the many dreary and cold government buildings newcomers to a country sit in. At SprachCafe, someone takes the time to spell your name right on painter’s tape. 

Resonate's 2023-24 Cohort Europe group at their learning intensive
Resonate Global Mission's Cohort Europe 2023-24 at their learning intensive in Berlin, Germany, where Juliana Knot (back row, first from left) serves with Resonate missionaries David Kromminga and Mary Buteyn at the Welcoming Church.

One participant from Iraq said SprachCafe helped him with not only language learning, but also with getting out of the refugee shelter he was staying in, finding a job and meeting friends in the city.

“One can talk about anything here, about all kinds of topics,” he said. “At the same time, you get to know people. It’s not just about the language; it’s about the companionship.”

Another regular SprachCafe attendee from Russia came to a recent Friday night SprachCafe with good news to share. He had passed his B1 exams, making him eligible to take part in an apprenticeship program. In his own words, this wouldn’t have happened without SprachCafe.

For others, SprachCafe offers not just a safe place to practice a language, but also an opportunity to engage the gospel and the church. Participants are curious why members of the Welcoming Church opt to spend their Friday evenings going over adjective endings and verb conjugations. They’re invited to find the answer at the church service held every Sunday in simple German. 

They’ll get another painter’s tape name tag if they do.

Juliana Knot is a 2023-24 member of Resonate Global Mission's Cohort Europe, serving with the WillkommensGemeinde (Welcoming Church) in Berlin, Germany.