Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Still Denmark’s Literary Giant, at 85

He’s now 85 and one of Denmark’s most recognized literary voices, an outspoken conservative Christian who was, in his college days, just as much of an outspoken atheist. He’s the author of nearly 50 books, mainly Biblically based fiction and faith-based romances, as well as countless articles and opinion pieces. And he’s not about to stop writing about the God he loves.

Poul Hoffmann at his typewriter (photo: Ole Mortensen)
Yet up to now Poul Hoffmann has shied away from writing an autobiography. So his historian son, Helge, recently produced his own version of Poul’s life story, Vinden blæser hvorhen den vil (The Wind Blows Wherever It Pleases). 

The title echoes a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, recorded in John 3:8. (“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”) And as Magnus explained in his book’s forward, the stories he records are simply a result of casual conversations between father and son. 

As you might guess, the younger Hoffmann is in a unique position of understanding his father better than any journalist, so the book reflects that insight. It’s also an opportunity for the elder Hoffmann to offer up a variety of opinions, as he has for the past 60 years as a writer and public figure.

Poul has something to say about fame, for instance. In an interview with Kristeligt Dagblad, Denmark’s Christian news daily, he explains the potential pitfalls.

“I always have to watch out that I don’t indulge in taking all the glory,” he says, “the way Moses did when he had the fortune to draw water from a rock.”

Or on relationships. Without hesitation, he says the biggest thing that ever happened to him was meeting his wife Kirsten, who would herself become a skilled editor and writing partner. The couple met in 1950, at a time when Poul described himself as “aggressively antichristian.” During a train ride to visit Kirsten, however, he says he experienced a revelation. In an instant, it became clear to him that everything in the Bible was true. Since then he’s been known for his vigorous defense of Biblical inerrancy.

“It wasn’t something I chose,” he says. “It was something that chose me. And ever since then, I’ve been categorically committed to it.”

Most recently, Poul and Kirsten have been the subject of headlines in Denmark for disenrolling from the state Lutheran church over its decision to sanction homosexual weddings.

So Poul has been called a “modern dinosaur,” an expression C.S. Lewis also used of himself to describe an old-school writing philosophy, perhaps also a way of describing the contrast between his conservative faith and the surrounding popular culture. The nickname seems to fit the Dane as well as it once did the Englishman.

Still Poul continues to hammer out novels on his manual Olympia typewriter. Not every day, and yet…

“It’s slow now,” he tells the Dagblad. “Sometimes extremely s-l-o-w. And that’s probably what bothers me a little about getting old: That there’s not as much juice in the batteries.” But, he adds, “You never run dry when you’re writing about biblical stories.”

And like the wind Jesus once mentioned, who knows where the creative journey for Poul and Kirsten will lead next? 

PRAY for Poul and Kirsten Hoffman, for their influence on Danish culture, and for their continuing ministry through literature. 

PRAY that God would reach hearts through Poul’s books and through other Christian literature, now and in months to come. 

PRAY for a new generation of Christian writers in Denmark who will follow Poul’s path as they reach Denmark for Christ… through story and through God’s truth. 

PRAY that God would raise up even more stories and books by Danish Christians to spark revival in the lives of many Danes during their long, dark winter. After all, it’s a good time to read!

Sunday, December 08, 2013

A Christmas Challenge

For years, special Christmas magazines have been a popular tradition in Denmark. Often they have included quaint short stories, articles, recipes, or a variety of lighthearted features on holiday cheer. They’re almost as much a part of the holiday tradition in Denmark as a favorite Christmas television special.

So this year Udfordringen (The Challenge), a Christian news and outreach publication, is once again producing its own 32-page holiday outreach issue, called Julens Udfordring (The Challenge of Christmas). Priced at 5 Danish kroner apiece (less than a dollar), it’s designed to be passed along to friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

But… a printed magazine? In an age of online communications, the old-school format seems like a bit of a throwback. But Julens Udfordring will feature plenty of pop culture references and articles, from The Hobbit motion picture to TV personalities. Hillsong’s Copenhagen fellowship (a recent church plant aimed at Internationals that promotes lively, contemporary worship) is also included. And according to the publishers, every article in this issue is designed to focus on the true meaning of Christmas.

That’s a challenge in a country where Christmas is the highlight of a long winter, where Christmas traditions are taken very seriously and held very dearly. Danes are specialists in this holiday. It’s also a time of year when many Danes who would otherwise never attend church, do. So Julens Udfordring goes to the heart of the Danish Christmas with an even deeper, more potent message.

After all, the message of the God who put on flesh is infinitely more powerful than heartwarming carols and julenisser (Christmas elves), roast goose or gift-giving. Even in the pages of a simple Christmas magazine, the Creator of the universe is reaching down to enter a dark, chilly northern land where Christmas candles may burn brightly in every window, but where the genuine Light of the world still needs to find its way into the hearts of all its people.

PRAY that the Light of the world, Jesus, will burst out of quaint Danish Christmas customs this year, that many Danes will read and understand the message of peace through Julens Udfordring.

PRAY that Julens Udfordring magazines will find their way into unexpected places, that copies will be passed along to those who need to read it, and that many who are far from faith will have their hearts softened to hear about the real Jesus this Christmas season.

PRAY for the believers behind Julens Udfordring, for their protection and health, that they may continue to reach out with the daring message of salvation -- in print, online, or through whatever means God opens up.

And while you’re at it, please PRAY that God will use this Christmas season to bring salvation and revival to many more Danes. Julens Udfordring is just one open door of many.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Crosses Come Down in Jylland

Six weeks after erecting 16,000 white crosses in a large field along busy highway E45 in Jylland, members of the Danish anti-abortion group “Retten til Liv” (Right to Life) complied with a highway department order to remove the memorial.

Many of the crosses were relocated to another location in Vedersø. Most, however, have been disposed of, the group reported, just like the unborn children they represented.

Opponents had claimed the field of crosses caused a traffic distraction, ever since it went up in late September. Retten til Liv members, many from local churches, said they wanted to memorialize unborn children who have lost their lives. In any case, the display between Horsens and Vejle sparked heated debate on the 40th anniversary of free abortions in Denmark.

“Some celebrate it as a victory for women,” says Ellen Højlund Wibe of Retten til Liv. “We see it as a frightful lie that has eaten its way into our people, making away with more than 800,000 unborn human lives.

“We must not give up. We’re going to pray and work as if God can change everything. Because he can.” 

PRAY for the ongoing Christian witness for life in Denmark. 

PRAY for the young unborn Danes who need protection. 

PRAY that God would change hearts and minds on this divisive issue, and that Danes would turn to the truth of the Lord who loves all little children.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Room for God in Denmark?

Is there room for God in Denmark?

Members of Denmark’s Frikirkenet, or Free Church Network, believe there is. And with that in mind, leaders from Baptist, Pentecostal, independent, and house churches all across Denmark have come together in the city of Kolding for the past two days, November 8 and 9. They’re not only challenging each other to look beyond the safety of their church walls to the bigger picture, they’re seeking God’s heart and his perspective on the future of the Danish Church.

“As a network, we want to be a part of making room for God in our land,” says Henrik Kaas, a spokesman for the group.

That’s why the far-ranging assembly of believers invited two former members of the Folketing (national assembly), as well as a kulturminister (Minister of Culture) to offer their perspectives on faith in the public square.

Engaging the culture? Kaas admits it’s not a typical topic at their annual meeting. Still, he hopes it will encourage the 100 member churches to take a more outward focus in the year to come.

PRAY for renewal and revival among member churches of the Frikirkenet.

PRAY that Frikirkenet leaders will return home with a fresh vision for engaging their culture, serving their cities, and reaching out in the name of Christ.

PRAY that others will see the love of Jesus in the lives of these believers, out in the public square.

Also be sure to follow us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/PrayForDenmark) and Twitter (@PrayForDenmark).

Monday, October 28, 2013

A New, Danish Vision for Reaching Students

We’ve been praying for unity and revival in Aalborg, but here’s yet another angle: Aalborg is a university city, with some 30,000 students -- nearly 30 percent of the city’s population! About 4,500 are international students.

Those students represent a huge mission field, especially as new international students arrived this fall. And an initiative called “Aalborg International Friends” is working to reach them in the name of Christ.

The group has two main goals: to serve as a bridge between international and Danish students, and to provide a safe place where international students can learn more about Jesus.

They’ve already sponsored a welcome event. After a talent show in October, they’re now planning a Thanksgiving dinner in November and a Christmas celebration in December. Keep those events in prayer.

Three Aalborg churches support the movement: Bethelkirken (Baptist) and its Koinonia International Fellowship, the Apostolsk (Apostolic) Kirke, and Frikirken International Church. American Lee Hanson serves as international pastor at Bethelkirken (see previous post, 10/20/13), while Ruth and Martin Mutale from Zambia work with Danish student pastor Henrik Holmgaard in the Apostolsk Kirke. Paul Conrad and Kelvin Sam work together at Frikirken.

All of these leaders need our prayer as they help Danish and international students discover direction and purpose in life.

And one more thing: The Aalborg Christian Student Network is a work in progress. In the formative stages, they’re looking for student leaders to step up, and for local churches to catch a vision for reaching out to the considerable student population. Says Lee Hanson, “We need wisdom as we (pastors, churches, and students) walk together, seeking God's direction and power to accomplish this.” 

PRAY for bridges to be built between Danish and international students, and that the churches will step in to provide those bridges. 

PRAY for Aalborg International Friends, and for the success of each of their holiday outreach events. 

PRAY that God will raise up student leadership in the newly forming Aalborg Christian Student Network, and that churches will join them, as well. 

PRAY for revival among Danish and international students in Aalborg!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Aalborg: What's Going On?

Why is the church growing in Aalborg, Denmark’s fourth largest city? For a clue, look at who’s praying. And one of the key factors may be an ongoing spirit of cooperation among leaders from several different Bible-believing denominations throughout the city.

Lee Hanson
Lee Hanson, who serves as a pastor for the English-speaking International Christian Fellowship in Aalborg’s Baptistkirken Bethel, says church leaders have been meeting every Friday morning for several years to pray and encourage each other. For two hours each week, they gather around the four B’s -- Brødre, Bibel, Bøn, and By (Brothers, Bible, Prayer, City). Together they’ll read a chapter of Scripture and share in small groups before praying for each other, their churches, and for their city of 107,000 residents.

Despite the variety of denominational backgrounds -- or perhaps because of it -- these believers in Aalborg agree that Christ has only one church.

“The desire is to experience in our working together that unity in Christ,” explains Hanson, “and as Christ is proclaimed, many in Aalborg will hear, believe, and confess Jesus is Lord.”

A key verse for these pastors is 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people… will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

In Aalborg they’re taking that promise seriously, so keep your eye on what’s happening there. In the year to come, these pastors will all encourage their members to join in 40 days of prayer and Bible reading, leading up to a community-wide Easter celebration at Aalborg’s striking new concert hall, the House of Music.

With that kind of unity, and with that kind of prayer, what could happen next?

PRAY for continued and growing unity among Christians in Aalborg.

PRAY that believers in the city will learn to work together even more, reaching out to win their neighbors to Christ.

PRAY that the 40 days of prayer and Bible reading in the spring may spark revival in the city and draw an overflow crowd to the city-wide Easter celebration.

PRAY for Aalborg!

Sunday, October 06, 2013

From Concert Hall to God’s Hall

This fall, Aalborg Citykirke is reaching out in a new way to the unchurched and those who aren’t used to formal church services by setting up “Open Café Church” in the city’s well-known concert hall -- Skråen in Nordkraft.

Of course Aalborg residents are used to hearing everything from opera to rock concerts in the familiar public venue. But this is something new. With seating and tables for 450, there’s plenty of room for families and children, who are welcomed with refreshments and a music program they call “Familieguf” (Family Treats). After the first half hour, children are directed to the concert hall’s upstairs playground, while adults continue through the afternoon with singing, faith stories, and sharing from the Scriptures.

It’s an experiment; three concert hall outreach services are planned through the autumn months. Church members are hoping to offer an especially welcoming atmosphere where guests are free to come as they are. Citykirke leadership is also hoping this kind of worship service will point to Jesus, while prompting visitors to get to know him better.

“It’s all about being the church where people are, and not just in one place, in one building,” says Citykirke pastor Carsten Jensen. “And I think our musicians, singers, and co-workers look forward to the change of pace, to meeting new people in new places.”

PRAY for this outreach, that many people who would never enter a more traditional church might be drawn to faith in Christ in this informal setting.

PRAY for the regular attenders at Citykirke, that their vision would grow even more as they reach out to their neighbors in new ways.

PRAY for revival at Aalborg Citykirke, that God would make Himself known there and that many would come to recognize their need for the Savior of their city.

PRAY for co-pastors Carsten Jensen and Dan Jacobi, for courage to continue seeking God in new ways in their ministry there.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

New Leadership, New Challenges

Last June we wondered about new leadership in Danish churches when a longtime pastor retired from the pulpit at Kristuskirken, the Odense Baptist church. Where would the next generation of pastors come from?

So here’s the answer, at least in Odense, where they’ve called a new senior pastor for that multi-ethinic congregation. Henrik Krak Søndergaard begins his service there as of October 1, and is scheduled to preach his first sermon October 6. Forty-seven years old, he’s trained as a teacher, and earned a distance degree in theology from an American university. He has also worked with youth and children at Bredballe Kirke and has been a member of the Kolding Valgmenighed church, a fellowship associated with the growing Danish Oase renewal movement.

What’s going to happen now in Odense? Søndergaard’s appointment is an exciting move for this church, and we’ll surely hear more about it. He is not the only new pastor this fall, however. Here are several more to pray for:

Svend Ryborg was installed September 15 as a half-time pastor at Kronborgvejens Church Center in Thisted, northwest Jylland. He comes from within this church, having held leadership positions there for several years. He’s also served in leadership with Oticon, the Danish-based hearing aid manufacturer. In his new position he hopes to concentrate on leadership development within the church.

Another Svend, Svend Vestergaard Jensen, was installed as a part-time pastor at Din Frikirke in Haderslev, a town in southeast Jylland.

Some of the families at Din Frikirke in Haderslev
Hasse Falk Jakobsen is the new pastor at Nexø Free Church on the remote island of Bornholm. Though born and raised on the island, for the past 18 years he has served as pastor and worship leader at Vineyard fellowships in Copenhagen and Roskilde. Outgoing pastor Michael Grønbech-Dam and his wife Mette will remain in church leadership, as well.

Former youth pastor David Højgaard is now volunteering at the Kaas Free Church (northern Jylland) to help especially with youth and a monthly international service. He had previously served in the Vanløse Free Church and Bethaniakirken in Aalborg.

PRAY for these new leaders. Whether they’re paid, volunteer, part-time or full-time, pray the God will use them to grow His church in Denmark.

PRAY that God would fill each one of these new leaders with wisdom and a fresh vision for what’s ahead.

PRAY for protection for each one. PRAY for their families, and for the adjustments as they take on new responsibilities in a new place.

PRAY for each of the fellowships mentioned here, that they would support their new leadership as together they worship and serve.

And PRAY that God would continue to raise up even more new leaders for the Danish church. This is an exciting time!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Good Hope in Godthåb

Define church planting in Denmark, and you inevitably find dedicated couples like Mikael and Hanna Thomsen.

If you know where to look.

Like many small church plants, they meet in a living room – a setting they’re gladly outgrowing. For Mikael and Hanna, growth means finding a new place for their congregation, a place they have not yet located – and which they likely cannot yet afford. Since both of them necessarily must keep working their full-time jobs, they also struggle to find time for the growing needs of a growing congregation.

Yet those are good problems, the kind of challenges most church planters dream of. That doesn’t make it any easier for the fledgling reformed Baptist congregation in the village of Godthåb, some 10 kilometers south of Aalborg in northern Jylland. (See map here.) The Thomsens started “Nordkirken” (The North Church) last year as an outgrowth of a larger Baptist congregation in Bjerringbro, about 80 kilometers away.

What is on Mikael’s prayer list today?

“We need wisdom in leading the church and keeping it healthy,” he tells Pray for Denmark. “We have a desire to reach the lost in our village, and we need wisdom in our approach to evangelism.”

Right now the small congregation meets twice a month in Mikael and Hannah’s home to worship and share a meal, and at least once a month for Bible study. They’re obviously serious about applying God’s Word to their lives together, serious about reaching out to the community around them.

They’re also dedicated to a serious church measuring tool called “9Marks,” which Mikael says helps to define success apart from statistics or emotional descriptions. To churches like Nordkirken, 9Marks provides a Biblical context to issues like salvation, discipleship, theology, and leadership.

Of course there is much more to be done in Godthåb, but the town’s name (translated “Good Hope”) seems apt. As Mikael says, “There are always challenges in such a start-up process.”

PRAY for Mikael and Hanna as they make new contacts and friends in Godthåb. PRAY for wisdom and protection.

PRAY that others will find the new church, and come to know Christ as a result.

PRAY that Nordkirken will find a new, larger place to meet, and for the funds to make their new place a reality.

PRAY for other small church start-ups like Nordkirken, scattered throughout the country.  

PRAY that God will reach many hearts through these new beginnings, and that a tidal swell of faithful small churches will continue to grow.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Quiet Life, Amazing Impact

After quietly toiling in Africa for most of his adult life as a Bible translator, Iver Larsen wasn’t looking for recognition. But though he doesn’t consider himself a theologian, he was recently named “Theologian of the Year” by the Menihedsfakultet at the Lutheran School of Theology in Aarhus.

It’s quite an honor for Larsen, who left Denmark in 1977 with his wife Alice to begin a career with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Eventually they were able to translate the Scriptures into the “Sabaot” native language in Kenya.

He’s perhaps better known for his work translating the Bible into everyday Danish, producing the hugely popular Bibelen på Hverdagsdansk, or Bible in Everyday Danish. Originally published in 2007, it’s now available to read online, as well.

According to Jørgen Jørgensen from the School of Theology, Larsen is someone who has lived “a quiet, inconspicuous life, but who is an expert in his field.” His work, he added, “is theology at its best: a tool to unlock God’s wisdom, one that makes it accessible for ordinary people.”

Today you'll find Bibelen på Hverdagsdansk in churches all across Denmark, and Larsen’s faithfulness has made it possible for new generations of Danes to understand and learn from God’s Word. And although he retired last year, he’s still keeping up with translation projects in Kenya by way of Skype and email, mentoring workers and passing along his decades of experience.

THANK GOD for the quiet but influential work of Iver Larsen, and for his continued influence on Bible translation efforts.

PRAY that God would continue to reach new generations in Denmark with his truth through this modern Danish translation.

PRAY ALSO that Danes of all ages who don’t yet follow Christ would encounter Bibelen på Hverdagsdansk… even in the most unexpected of places.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

50 Years Later: Will Young Danes Find Faith?

Denmark’s KFS student outreach group turns 50 this year. And despite challenges, its members are looking ahead to reaching more college and high school students with the gospel of Jesus.
As co-founder Kai Kjær-Hansen recalls, the early gatherings started with prayer meetings and then an outreach at Rønne Statsskole on the island of Bornholm. He and two other volunteers invited students to discuss their objections to faith in Christ. They called the talks “Your Excuses: Do They Hold Up?” No one quite knew how many would respond, but 27 students showed up for those initial meetings.
“Our goal wasn’t discussion for the sake of discussion,” recalls Kjær-Hansen. “We used it as a way to see how we could approach the centrality of Jesus’ death and resurrection, as the most important thing.”

Today KFS, which stands for “Kristeligt Forbund for Studerende” (“Christian Fellowship for Students”), has groups and contacts in 170 of the 400 colleges and universities around the country, with 13 staff and several volunteers. Overall it reaches some 5,000 students yearly through Bible study groups and outreach events at campuses nationwide.
Denmark’s KFS is part of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, a global community spanning 150 countries worldwide. The US partner is InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
It's not just for college students, however. In Denmark, high school outreaches have also grown to be a real strength of the ministry. The challenge now is that not enough students stay involved at the college level. And Kjær-Hansen has his own challenge for the ministry today.
During the pioneering days of the early 1960s, he says, “we were full of zeal. In the rear-view mirror, we can ask ourselves if that zeal lacked intellect or understanding. As an older person I can say that maybe we have the intellect, but what then happens to the zeal?”
PRAY for the coming school year, as KFS staff and volunteers gear up for a new year of outreach.
PRAY for boldness as young Christians learn how to share their faith on campus.
PRAY that God would inspire many more Danish students to live out their faith and reach out to others, especially at the university level.
PRAY for revival on the high school and college campuses of Denmark, starting from the small-group studies in dorm rooms, and spreading throughout each campus to the surrounding churches.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Summer Camps: Only the First Step

As they have for years, thousands of Danish Christians met last month to renew relationships and experience God in a fresh way at the annual event called “SommerOase.” Their gathering of tents and trailers transformed a large open field on the outskirts of Odder (east-central Jylland) into one of Denmark’s largest annual Christian gatherings.

It’s certainly not the only Christian summer family camp in the country. From Lutherans to Baptists to Pentecostals, Danish Christians take full advantage of long July days and anticipated warmer weather to schedule summer retreats, youth events, and family gatherings. But SommerOase may be the largest of its kind. Karsten Bach, general secretary of the DanskOase renewal movement, reported that this year the sun shone on their event in more than one way.

“We’ve been blessed both with good weather,” he said at the end of the event, “and the certain warmth of God’s presence. We’ve experienced a SommerOase where God has touched people through preaching, songs of praise, and prayer. Several have accepted Jesus for the first time, and many people have renewed their faith.”

This is Bach’s second summer event as the renewal movement’s general secretary; he began with DanskOase in May of 2012. He’s publicly expressed a dream of reaching out to even more Danes, bringing them into what he calls “the joy of being a part of a living Christian fellowship.”

“It’s here we meet to experience our unity in the family,” explained Bach. “At the same time, we want to be open and welcoming. So for example on our free visit day, we welcomed 40 people from a summer school for refugees in Aarhus.”

Jens Kristian Sørensen, a SommerOase camper and local teacher, said that for him, “SommerOase is a chance for renewal and challenge in my faith. It’s time to relax and spend time with friends, but also time to grow in my faith in God.”

Take a moment to thank God for the summer camps and retreats that have taken place across Denmark this summer, and thank God for the uncommonly sunny weather. (Summer rain is often the norm.)

And be sure to take a moment to view the SommerOase video here. It showcases some of the families, young people, and worship times. It’s encouraging to watch, even if you don’t understand the brief testimonies. And…

PRAY for lasting results in families and churches as Danes return from the refreshment of a summer event. PRAY that SommerOase and other summer gatherings would mark new beginnings in revival throughout the rest of the year.

PRAY for the young people who trusted Christ for the first time, that they would find continuing opportunities to grow in their new faith. PRAY that they would grow, despite opposition from family or friends, and despite temptations or distractions around them.

PRAY also for others who made renewed commitments, that God would show them practical steps to growing spiritually in their everyday lives.

THANK GOD for SommerOase, and continue to lift up its leadership -- including Karsten Bach -- in prayer.