Summer in Germany Gives University of Mobile Professor Platform for Sharing Christ
Munich Shooting, Refugee Crisis Were Opportunity to Boldly Share Christ in a Time of Fear
MOBILE, Ala. – When a gunman opened fire at a busy shopping district in Munich on July 22, the audience and performers at a theatre an hour away in Kierfersfelden knew only that Munich was under attack.
“The village we were in has been a Syrian and North African refugee asylum location for years. There were people in the audience who were weeping, asking ‘are we targets, is the war coming to us now,’” said University of Mobile musical theatre professor Bruce Earnest, who directs a summer international performing arts program in Germany for college students.
Earnest said he felt the Holy Spirit tell him, “don’t hold back.”
“I started talking in German about the Lord, how the love of Christ can conquer evil. People were standing up and cheering. We were being used by God to really console” people from all walks of life and backgrounds, he said.
“God did something profound out of something really tragic. He took this program we run, that people from all over the world come to, and we were able to preach truth through it.”
Earnest, who also is worship pastor at Government Street Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama, founded the International Performing Arts Institute (IPAI) with his wife, Darla, in 2006 in the Bavarian Alps village of Kiefersfelden. They also helped plant a church and served as worship and youth ministers, while Darla worked at the Rosenheim Music School and Bruce was voice coach and assistant director for Stage Entertainment, the major producer of musicals in Germany, Holland, Austria and London.
In 2009 they joined the music faculty of the Alabama Baptist university’s Roger Breland School of Music and the School of Worship Leadership. Each summer, Earnest returns to Germany to direct IPAI, which was originally founded as a unique way to help raise financial support for a church that has since become self-sufficient.
IPAI accepts students by audition for summer training in musical theatre and opera. Faculty come from across the world, including University of Mobile. This year, UM faculty included voice faculty Darla Earnest; adjunct vocal instructor Lori Guy; guest artist Scott Wright, general director of Mobile Opera; and UM alumna Anica Whaley Binder who married a Bavarian in the ministry and now lives in Germany.
As a secular performing arts training program run by Christians, the institute offers a disarming way for non-Christians to be exposed to people of faith and the message of Christ.
The Earnests and their two young children also are involved in local ministries during the summer. Earnest was working on a sermon topic one day while traveling by train, when he noticed a group of Middle Eastern young men.
“I prayed for them as they passed by, and when we stopped in Salzburg, I noticed that they were on the platform with some policemen. One of them was crying, and they all looked completely lost,” Earnest said. He prayed again for the young men as he walked by.
That night he couldn’t sleep.
“You know how God is. When He is trying to say something, He often hits you over the head,” Earnest said. He awoke with a scripture on his mind, 2 Cor 6:3-4: “We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God.” (NLT)
The verse was convicting and became the focus of a message he would deliver at a church in Austria.
“I felt that my actions on the train were comfortable, but not what Christ would do,” he explained. “We can never be so afraid or focused on our own needs that we forget to be Christ to those that need Him. Our lives are meaningless unless we are bold in our love to others.”
When he spoke at the church in Austria, he related the story of how he fell short by walking past the young men in crisis, instead of stopping to see if he could be of help.
Being a true minister of God “means being Christ-like even to those that we do not understand, do not agree with, or even fear. I felt that many of us have forgotten that refugees are people with families, and they are loved by God,” he said.
After his teaching, a mother from Iran and her son approached Earnest.
“She spoke in broken German, but thanked me for encouraging her. We prayed together, and I knew that I had been obedient to God. Several other refugees came up to me, and my heart was changed,” Earnest said.
Earnest said he learned lasting lessons this summer through the experiences of boldly sharing Christ in the midst of a time of fear, and being timid about sharing the message of Christ with refugee travelers.
“Those who are lost need a reason to want Christ, and sometimes they can only see Him through us,” Earnest said.
About University of Mobile:
University of Mobile is a Christ-centered liberal arts and sciences institution with a vision of higher education for a higher purpose, founded to honor God by equipping students for their future professions through rigorous academic preparation and spiritual transformation. The university offers on-campus and online bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in over 40 areas of study. Founded in 1961, University of Mobile is affiliated with the Alabama Baptist State Convention and is located 10 miles north of Mobile, Alabama on a campus of over 880 acres.