Larissa Madeline Van Bommel, a university student from Canada, was having a bad day in Germany.
First, she got lost.
Wandering around for a while, she entered an empty church outside Frankfurt. She had struggled with her faith since her mother had died, and she hadn’t prayed or visited a church in two years.
“I decided to take a seat and ended up praying and pouring my heart out and crying and crying,” she said. “I asked God for a sign that He is actually out there.”
Drying her tears, Larissa managed to find the train station — but then got confused and accidentally disembarked from the train in Bensheim instead of Bensheim-Auerbach. The next train wouldn’t come for some time that evening.
Tired and thirsty, Larissa hunted for water to drink. No vending machines were in sight, and all the shops seemed to be closed.
Some distance from the train station, Larissa spotted a bottle of water and several cups on a table outside a building. Desperately thirsty, she peered into the building’s window, saw young people eating around a kitchen table, and boldly walked in the front door.
“May I buy a glass of water?” she asked.
The people promptly invited Larissa to join them for the meal, and she gladly sat down.
This Is a HopeCenter
Larissa had stumbled across a Seventh-day Adventist community center called HopeCenter, a place where people attend educational and religious seminars, participate in healthy cooking classes, or simply relax on a comfortable sofa and enjoy free WiFi.
HopeCenters are the brainchild of Stimme der Hoffung (Voice of Hope), the German affiliate of the Adventist Church’s Hope Channel, and the first two centers opened in Germany in 2017. Plans are in the works to open at least 14 more HopeCenters over the next two years.
Stimme der Hoffung is known for producing round-the-clock German-language television and radio programming, and a 70 percent of its television audience is not Adventist. It also runs a Bible correspondence school with 2,500 students.
But the organization, which turns 70 this year, faces a dilemma that has bewildered many Adventists in Europe — how to reap a harvest of Christ-changed lives in a highly secularized society. It believes that HopeCenters may be the key.
The idea stems from a similar “urban centers of influence” concept used by church members in Romania, and Stimme der Hoffung spent two years developing it for Germany.
Stimme der Hoffung — which has opened HopeCenters in cooperation with other church entities, including the Adventist Church’s two union conferences in Germany — has produced a how-to handbook that many of Germany’s 600 Adventist churches are eager to implement, said Paulin Giurgi, vice president for communication and marketing at Stimme der Hoffung.
“We have helped secure funding for 14 HopeCenters, but many more churches want to open one, and they are calling us regularly for information,” Giurgi said.
The cost to open a HopeCenter is 20,000 euros (roughly $25,000). The funds buy furniture, construct and equip a kitchen for cooking classes, and secure electronic equipment such as a flat-screen television to show Stimme der Hoffung programming. A HopeCenter can be based in a church or a leased downtown building, and ideal work hours are 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Making Personal Contact
Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the Seventh-day Adventist world church, applauded the initiative during a Feb. 5 visit to Stimme der Hoffung’s headquarters in Alsbach-Hähnlein, located 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Frankfurt.
“I’m so happy to hear about these HopeCenters,” Wilson told employees. “You can produce all the programs in the world here, but unless someone is following them up and making personal contact, you will be ‘spinning your wheels,’ as they say.”
Klaus Popa, general manager of Stimme der Hoffung, affirmed that making personal contact was a crucial goal for HopeCenters and other Hope-branded projects.
“It’s not about the buildings or the projects,” he said. “It’s about God, who is willing to heal people and to save them to build His kingdom.”
Wilson stopped in Germany for a day of prayer and encouragement with church leaders as he kicked off a two-week trip that will also include Portugal, India, Nepal, and Uganda.
For morning worship at Stimme der Hoffung, Wilson read the John 4 story about the Samaritan woman who went to the well to fetch water and ended up asking Jesus for Living Water.
“Stimme der Hoffung is offering Living Water,” Wilson said. “God has so many people who are waiting to receive that Living Water.”
Finding Living Water
Larissa, the Canadian university student, was looking for water to drink when she entered Bensheim’s HopeCenter, located a 10-minute drive from Stimme der Hoffung’s headquarters. She found only water — and Living Water.
After sitting down to eat, Larissa noticed the “HopeCenter” sign in the front window and asked about it. Her new acquaintances explained that they were Christians and that their Adventist church had opened the HopeCenter as a place to mingle and make friends. Abruptly, Larissa remembered her prayer earlier that day for God to prove His existence.
“I immediately started crying and told them how just a couple hours ago I had begged God for a sign, and I knew this was it,” Larissa said.
The astonished Adventists praised God.
“You will never know how much your kindness touched me,” Larissa, now a student in the Netherlands, wrote in a post on HopeCenter’s Facebook page. “God bless you, and may many others be blessed by your kindness.”
She added: “The HopeCenter is an incredibly beautiful idea and should be spread throughout Germany, as well as Canada, and the rest of the world. Thanks to you, I’m crying happy tears now.”