Dedication to a cause
He gave up his corporate career to dedicate himself to active charity: Wolfgang Oehler (66), a District Elder from Stuttgart (Germany), took the plunge. What moved him to do this and what he is doing now …
A doctor of mathematics and District Elder, does that work?
… there are far more prominent examples in our Church that prove that this works! But back to your question: it goes together as well as serving and leading does and complements each other as good as heart and mind.
How did your professional career develop?
Since my wife and I married while I was still studying, I wanted to earn money as quickly as possible. I started as a programmer in data processing. Not long thereafter I was entrusted with the management of IT. When I was 33, I became a member of the executive board of an insurance group, whose chairman I was over the last years.
Nine years ago you gave your life a new direction: you left most of your corporate career to devote yourself to charitable projects and volunteer work. Why this step? What exactly did you do and are you doing?
It was always my goal to create conditions that would allow me to start a new chapter in my life starting at age 55: to no longer be other-directed, but to be able to do something meaningful.
Since 1987 I have been able to help along in the countries that our District Church looks after in Africa. Apostle Kühnle asked me at the time whether I would like assist in establishing choirs and training choir leaders. That was the beginning. Today we instruct and teach ministers and teachers in nine different seminars in eleven countries. Beyond this, I have been on the board of the Jörg-Wolff Foundation for several years now. In addition to humanitarian aid for orphanages and support for music education, the foundation—together with the charity of the New Apostolic Church Southern Germany, human aktiv—builds wells and schools in those countries in West Africa that are looked after by District Apostle Ehrich to the tune of nearly 100,000 euros annually. On my trips, I can easily combine all my different tasks.
For many, Africa is still a strange continent …
Since we ourselves have no children, we gave two girls and their mother a home thirty years ago. They had fled from Ethiopia to Germany. This is a good way to learn a lot about Africa!
What special challenges do you have to deal with?
In Lusaka, our Chief Apostle gave a precise description of this challenge: to have Sunday School in as many congregations as possible in order to lay the foundation of faith into our children.
What is so special about this?
I have never seen a greater divide between urban and rural areas than in Africa. In the cities almost everybody has a mobile phone, there are schools and even universities; yet in a village only fifty kilometres away there is no water, no electricity, and only bad roads. That is why children and young people from rural areas are pushing into the cities. They want a better education and better employment opportunities. In the process, social ties are often lost: family bonds suffer, but also the relationship to God and the Church.
Are there cultural differences in the eleven West African countries you look after? How do you deal with this?
The biggest differences are often within the countries themselves, that is, between the villages and the cities. In Lagos (Nigeria), for example, a Sunday School teacher might bring along a laptop and play a short film with a Bible story. In Guéckédou (Guinea) the children might do a role play of Daniel in the lions’ den with a paper mask made from paper.
We make a point of discussing different didactic approaches in the seminars. The fascinating thing about it is that—regardless of wealth and culture—many of the teachers radiate an incredible energy and joy for God’s work, which they pass on to the children.
Have you ever been in danger?
It can happen. About two years ago in Bamenda in Cameroon on our way to a seminar we were stopped at a road block. There was a general strike and a potentially violent mob was pressing in on us and did not want to let us pass. They started attacking our car with sticks. Apostle Charles Nabru, who has passed away in meantime, helped to resolve the tension with his calm and kind manner. We finally made it through the road block. However, we were not allowed to conduct the service that evening on account of the general strike.
What fascinates you about West Africa?
The openness, the childlike joy, the incredible energy, the many children and the young people: 45 per cent of the population is under 14 years of age.
What do you bring back from your trips—both from a material and spiritual aspect?
Often a small herd of carved wooden elephants as well as the enthusiasm and energy of our brothers and sisters, and many small and big experiences.