“This is too beautiful that Arabs are coming to Interlaken,” he responded. “OK, I will come.”
Three days into his time in the city, Hermann, a Swiss national, heard the Lord speak: “Build your tents here.”
By then Hermann had two decades of experience in the Arab world. In 1986, he went to North Africa, seconded to OM. “In those days, there was only the Arab World team,” he recalled. Travelling in a bus, distributing literature and praying for the places they passed through, he and three other workers were eventually arrested, put in prison and deported.
Next, Hermann followed the Lord’s leading to Israel. “There I was at the Dead Sea, looking over to Jordan. I never thought I would be one and half years later, looking over at the other side,” he shared.
In 1991, Hermann visited the Gulf. “From there, I knew that I needed to work in the Arabian Peninsula (AP),” he said. He started distributing evangelical literature and, with another couple, founded the ongoing ministry of OM in the AP.
After getting married in 1992, Hermann and his wife found themselves back in Switzerland the following year, preparing to relocate again to the AP. At a conference, an Egyptian worker serving in Geneva approached him: “You know, Hermann, there are a lot of Arabs from the Gulf here.” That summer, together with the OM team in Switzerland, he pioneered the first outreach in Geneva to Gulf Arabs. They repeated the outreach the next summer.
Then Hermann and his growing family spent the next nine years in the AP, facilitating the visits of hundreds of young workers in one country and starting a Christian bookshop in another. In 2003, back in Switzerland, an Arab believer asked him to join another group consisting of other Arabic speakers to reach out to Gulf Arabs in Switzerland. “I’m only coming if I can bring 20 Swiss,” Hermann replied.
He showed up with a team of 22, “all Swiss wanting to know what sharing God’s love with Gulf Arabs was about,” he recalled.
Over the next few years, training teams of Europeans to welcome the Arab tourists became Hermann’s main ministry as he received a series of ‘Macedonian calls’ from Jesus followers. The calls came from people who were encountering hundreds of thousands of Arab tourists in their different cities and, like the woman in Interlaken, wanted to know how to share God’s love with them. “I think the Lord really prepared and moulded me in all those years in the Gulf, in the Middle East. I’m very glad that I actually had this experience. The Lord is always the one who calls,” he said, paraphrasing 1 Thessalonians 5:24: “It’s not me, but it’s He who will do it.”
His years of pioneering new ways to share about God's love, giving His Word to Arabs interested in knowing more and learning about the culture on Arabian sand, qualified Hermann to pass on his knowledge to other Europeans encountering Khaleejis, Gulf Arabs, for the first time. “You know how it is to live in these hot countries, you know how it is to hear the prayer calls, and so on. I think it’s very helpful,” he explained. “Of course, we want them to know that these people are precious in God’s eyes. He has a plan, and He wants to bring them back to the House of God.”
A couple of years ago, during a summer outreach in Zell am See, Hermann went for a walk with a Syrian believer from his home church. They prayed that God would lead them to the people He had prepared. First, the two men saw an Arab couple—honeymooners, they found out—standing at the edge of the lake, watching the waves. Encouraged by their friendly reception, Hermann gave them a micro SD card with 14 films, the entire Bible in Arabic and 50 Christian songs. When the couple left, Hermann and his friend prayed for them and asked God for another opportunity.
Soon, they saw an Arab man sitting alone on a bench. They greeted him, and he invited them to sit down. Then he asked: “Do you have a Bible with you?”
“I don’t normally take a whole Bible with me, but that evening, the Lord had said: ‘Take that Bible,’” Hermann recalled.
Amazed, he handed the Bible to the man. After talking for nearly an hour, Hermann’s friend asked the man if he wanted to accept Jesus in his heart. “Yes, I was waiting for that,” the man replied.
There are not as many opportunities to directly lead people to Jesus as Hermann would wish for, but his ministry, which has always involved giving away Christian literature, is “sowing, sowing and still sowing,” he explained. As people walk away with God’s Word, Hermann prays the truth would take root and transform their lives.
Hermann grew up in the reformed church but did not understand the gospel. His sister-in-law, a Tibetan from a Buddhist background, became a Jesus follower after her family sent her to Switzerland when China entered Tibet in 1960. In 1983, she invited Hermann to a big gospel sharing event in Zurich. He declined her invitation but agreed to drive her and her friends there. Upon arrival at the site, Hermann saw all the cars parked there and decided to investigate what was going on. He returned the next day as well as the day after. “On that third day, I gave my life to Christ,” he said. “I was 25 years of age, a heavy smoker, and the Lord released me from that.” Hermann and his sister-in-law shared the hope they had discovered with his brother and parents, who all made decisions individually to follow Jesus.
Two years later, Hermann went on a short-term mission trip in the UK. During the training, the Lord gave him a verse that continues to influence his life today: Romans 15:20-21 (NIV) – “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: ‘Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.’”
When asked about the impact of the new coronavirus for planned activities during the European summer months in 2020, Hermann explained that his schedule had completely changed. While his normal outreaches in June, July and August were cancelled because of the virus, Hermann was still looking for ways to reach Gulf Arabs, albeit on a smaller scale, and pave the way for future programmes. For example, “the momentum is gone in a project place we just started two years ago, so I need to spend more time with that church and see if there will be a project in 2021,” he shared. He is offering a refresher course on ways to share God’s love to people who have taken part in his programmes over the past six years. Hermann and his wife also had time to learn together, enrolling in a two-month seminar during his (usually) busiest months. As hope in the uncertain times, Hermann quoted part of Isaiah 55:9: “So are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Published: Thursday, 03 September 2020
Credit: Nicole James