When I tell people from other countries that I am Swiss and planting a church in Basel, the conversation often changes to at least one of these topics: mountains, banks, watches, chocolate, or cheese. We all know these Swiss stereotypes. I have to admit that they apply to Basel, but not exactly in the way you might think.
Basel is the third-largest city in Switzerland and the center of a metropolitan area with approximately 850,000 inhabitants. The city’s altitude is 820 feet above sea level and surrounded by hills. There are no mountains in Basel, but we come across a lot of solid rock in people’s hearts. Many people are hard like stone towards the gospel. Less than 3 percent of the population go to church, almost half of the people living in Basel claim to be atheists, and most people don’t care about church or belief. We live amid a secular, post-Christian society. Our new church plant, FokusBasel, is located in the heart of Kleinbasel (Little Basel) and is part of the Redeemer City to City initiative.
Money, Status, and Watches
Swiss banks are famous for providing a safe haven for wealth from all over the world. Basel is highly international as well, with residents of more than 150 nationalities. For a lot of people in Basel, money and status are quite important. Their safe havens in life are materialism, status, and career achievement.
Watches also play a significant role in Basel. Every year this city hosts the world’s most important specialist trade fair for the international watch industry. Watches help people structure their lives. In our city the vast majority of people spend their lives fulfilling personal needs, wishes, and goals. Like a clock-hand circling around a certain point, people in our town structure their lives around their own egos.
Sin and Temptation
In Switzerland chocolate is often advertised as sweet temptation. If somebody eats chocolate—or a little too much of it—then he or she is said to sin. The biblical understanding of the words sin and temptation are often misunderstood or severed from everyday life. “God is a loving God, that’s why I can do whatever I feel like” is a phrase we hear a lot from people in Basel.
Many types of Swiss cheese are riddled with holes, just like our society. It looks nice from the outside, but on the inside there is a lot of emptiness and loneliness. Many struggle with their marriage or family life.
Praying for Living Stones
The lesson is clear: Basel needs the gospel on various levels. That’s why we would like to create a place where people can hear the freeing and liberating gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. And we dream of a place where the stones in the hearts of people begin to cry out the name of the king (Luke 19:40), because God’s love has been poured out into these hearts (Rom. 5:5). We pray to see those stones become living stones that are being built into a spiritual house (1 Pet. 2:5) based on the chief cornerstone Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:6; Eph. 2:20). We would like to see new mountains being built in our city, “spiritual” mountains with the bedrock Jesus Christ. We pray for people who begin to store up treasures in heaven and not on earth (Matt. 6:20), people whose safe haven is the Lord and not their work, status, or wealth.
We desire to see the people in Basel understand more and more that life is not about them but about the Lord, that they start to live as wise people, making the best use of their time (Eph. 5:15-16) and looking forward to eternal life.
We dream that more and more people in Basel understand that sin is not something we eat, but a reality from which Jesus can save us. “God is a loving God, that’s why Jesus did everything to put my relationship with God right” is a phrase we would love to hear more often.