Trapped in their Maine hotel room by a late-season snowstorm, a young couple from Germany eager to attend an Easter service reluctantly turned to the Internet.
“We had three, four feet of snow and our car was broken down—our brakes didn’t work—so we couldn’t get out. We were snowed in,” Christine Mielke said. “It was Easter and I really needed a Sunday service, and that’s when we went online.
“That’s how we found Prestonwood,” she said.
And because of that snowstorm and balky rental car, Christine and Julian Mielke’s lives were changed forever.
For more than two years, Christine and Julian have faithfully attended services at Prestonwood Baptist Church from their home outside Frankfurt, more than 5,000 miles away. If one has to work, the other records the broadcast. They joke about being part of the “early service,” which they watch live in the late afternoon in Germany.
The Mielkes view services online each Sunday.
“I like the part where Pastor (Jack Graham) welcomes us in,” Christine said. It helps them to feel they’re a part of the congregation.
But a few months ago, as they were planning a summer vacation to the U.S., Julian and Christine decided to visit their church in person. They wanted to publicly proclaim their commitment to God through believer’s baptism.
Growing up, Christine had a home church and was baptized at 13—“sprinkled,” she said.
But Julian’s family was different.
“One of my parents was Catholic and one was Protestant,” he said, “and my parents decided it was up to the kids to decide about faith and religion. So for a long time, we didn’t pursue the topic.
“The services we attended were Christmas and Easter. In Germany, with those old churches dating to the 800s, the 900s, they can have some ritualistic services, very formal,” Julian said. “And sometimes you really had to dig to find the message in the sermon.
“Sometimes it wasn’t clear, it wasn’t easy to get a feeling for it or even understand what it was all about,” he said.
When he met Christine and learned she was a Christian, his questions tumbled out.
“She was the first competent partner I had to talk with about this. I could ask her questions and get answers,” Julian said.
Then came the trip to Maine and their first glimpse of the services at Prestonwood Baptist Church. Suddenly, the Bible was alive to them.
Christine and Julian Mielke call Prestonwood “home” from 5,000 miles away.
“When you’re seeking, you can follow the service and get the point,” Julian said. “It’s not only having the verses, but hearing the context.
“That is what I like so much about Prestonwood.”
“I think many questions were answered for him, and he understood that the Bible wasn’t just old papers,” Christine said. “There are truths that can be applied to everyday life.”
She paused, turning toward Julian, and said, “I think that’s where you found the answers you were looking for.”
That’s why they truly appreciate the teaching they receive from a Bible-believing church.
“The time frame (of Jesus’ ministry on earth) is 2,000 years ago,” Christine said, “but we learn how we can apply (Scripture) to our lives right now.”
“Compared to just reading a verse and having no context, no meaning, the sermons here take you back in time to when something was said,” Julian said. “You actually understand it. And finally, for me at least, I got it!”
Once they decided to return to the U.S. on vacation, Julian sent an e-mail to Teaching Pastor Jarrett Stephens, telling him about their plans, and making a special request.
“My wife and I are online viewers from Germany and have been watching the Sunday services for about two years now,” Julian wrote. “This year, on our vacation to the U.S., we were able to organize a week’s stay in Dallas and would like to visit Prestonwood.
“If possible and convenient, we would like to make arrangements to be baptized,” Julian wrote. “… we are looking forward to spending time at Prestonwood and joining you in worship.”
Jarrett doesn’t recall this happening before.
“We know we have a lot of people who watch us from the international community,” he said, “but we’ve never had someone get in touch and then fly in to get baptized. But they wanted very much to be a part of our community, the community they watch every week.”
So before a big Prestonwood crowd, Christine and Julian stepped into the baptistery where Jarrett and Executive Pastor Mike Buster waited.
Christine and Julian Mielke traveled from Frankfurt, Germany, to be baptized at Prestonwood.
“We’re starting this out in the right way—our first couple is from Germany!” Jarrett said. Christine and Julian were immersed in the water and then lifted up again, “raised to walk in newness of life.”
The applause was thunderous, and Christine and Julian broke into huge smiles. They were still wearing them as they made their way into the Worship Center, taking seats in the terrace, absorbing everything around them.
They were so happy to be in the church they knew only from their computer screen that they attended all three services that weekend.
“For me, I hadn’t been baptized before and I haven’t had a true church home before, so this has become my church home and I was very excited to meet everyone and be baptized here,” Julian said.
And no matter how many times they watched Sunday services from home, visiting Prestonwood was a completely different experience.
“When we watch from home, we see the outside of the church, so we knew it was big,” Julian said. “But this is much bigger than we expected!”
They basked in the power of the choir, hundreds of voices aimed right at them. They sat and listened attentively as Pastor Graham interviewed Randy Alcorn about heaven and what the Bible has to say about it.
A day later, as they prepared to return home, they were still amazed at the experience.
“We are so happy and thankful to have been a part of this incredible service,” Julian said.
“We’re still overwhelmed.”