I love color, so it seemed natural to choose something vivid. Something that could stand in contrast to the lifeless grey skies and the concrete of the city. A reminder of the beauty and resilience of the gospel.
I found several potential places – a brightly painted apartment complex in a decaying neighborhood, a place with some distinctive street art and a city garden with an elegant sculpture. But they were all missing something.
My place had to represent something to me. It had to remind me both of who I am and who God is. It had to be there for me on the days I would forget why I was in Berlin. It had to remind me that God could do something here – that His grace could and would intervene.
One day while I was apartment hunting, it began to snow. Not the soft, quiet snow like in Christmas movies, but the wet, blowing snow that stings your face when you look up. I was determined to finish my route though, so I cut through a plaza to warm up in a café between appointments.
Near the exit of the park, I came upon a statue that was utterly depressing. It was an iron sculpture of a plain, unclothed woman huddled over, and the snow was storming at her from all angles.
The image was so stark and cold. She was alone, discouraged and helpless. I thought to myself, “That’s how I feel right now!”
I began to wonder about the statue. Who made it? Why would they put something so depressing in a space designed for enjoyment by people in the neighborhood?
As I continued to stare and reflect, one of my favorite women in scripture came to mind – Hagar.
Hagar, who fled because Sarah was mistreating her after becoming pregnant with Abraham’s son. Hagar, who was overwhelmed and desperately trying to escape the confusion, the pain and the uncertainty of what the future would bring. Hagar, who sat by a spring in the wilderness, not knowing what was next. Hagar, who was pulled out of anonymity by God in the very place she sought it.
I snapped a picture, and then my fingers got so cold that I rushed off to warm up and didn’t think much more of Hagar.
Weeks later, all of my rental applications had been turned down. I was starting to get desperate.
It seemed there might be problems with my status as a foreigner. There was confusion about my employer, and Google Translate only got me so far with agents that didn’t speak English. And I urgently needed a place to receive a shipment of household items.
I was overwhelmed, frustrated and helpless. It was the end of the week, and I was at the end of my rope.
Then I thought of Hagar. God met her in her frustration and helplessness. I needed Him to do the same for me, to meet me in the flurry of discouragement I was feeling.
Instead of doing more, I realized I needed to do less. So I closed my laptop, put my phone down and opened my Bible to Genesis 16.
“You are the God who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13)
The words rang powerful and true. He saw Hagar when she didn’t want to be seen. He saw the mess she was in, and he met her in it. He listened to her, guided her and comforted her.
Her encounter with God was so transforming that she actually called out a new aspect of His identity – that He sees. Because of Hagar, we have come to know God as the one who sees us, hears us and cares for us. She would need His name to face the days ahead of her – a single mother caring for young Ishmael. I needed that name, too.
Then the phone rang. Then an email came. Then another phone call with an offer on an apartment – the apartment that I moved into and still live in!
Not everything resolves as easily as an apartment search. There is no formula for the way He answers us. But we can be sure that He sees us, He hears us, and He cares for us.
As I live and work in this city called Berlin, I pray that:
- My experience of God would be so acute that I could not deny His love for me.
- That others would be drawn to the incredible God who sees and hears because of my life.
So the statue of Hagar is my place in the city – a symbol, a marker, a cry for ministry and a place of solace in Berlin. It’s not colorful, but it’s beautiful in its own way.