Common Ground
Published: May 26, 2017

Pastor Joel Puello jokingly describes his German pastor friend, Christoph Rüttgers, as a “German Shepherd.” It’s all good-natured banter between the two men, who developed a cross-cultural friendship after visiting each other’s ministries in the Dominican Republic and Germany in 2016.

On the surface, the differences between Joel and Christoph stand out above any similarities. At 6’ 3”, Christoph towers over Joel. When Christoph sits down to enjoy some bread and schnitzel, Joel would rather be eating rice and beans. But get these men together, and they share the unique bond of pastoring churches started by BMM missionaries.

“You need to meet this pastor”

Joel and Christoph’s friendship developed through their mutual contact with Dave Ferguson, director of BMM’s Special Projects ministry. Dave met Christoph in 2006 during a Germany trip to organize a World Cup soccer ministry. That same year, Dave worked with Joel to inaugurate the ¡Playball! evangelistic ministry. Showing a photo of Christoph to Joel, Dave said, “You need to meet this tall pastor from Germany. You would have much to share with each other.”

At first, the idea seemed impractical, even impossible to Christoph, but God brought it back to his mind several years later. His congregation in Ingolstadt, Germany, invited Joel and his wife, Maria, as guest speakers during their November 2016 missions conference. But Joel was the first with invitations. His church in Bani welcomed Christoph and his wife, Maike, to visit in April.

Building upon their missions heritage

In Germany and the Dominican Republic, churches enjoy far less missionary or cross-cultural exposure than North American churches have. Christoph was amazed to view the Bible’s impact in another culture. He heard Joel preaching the gospel the same way, with the same strong doctrine he had been taught. Joel was impacted to see the unity in the German church—a culture far less open to Christianity—and also the strength of the church’s families. Dominicans had the same challenges as Germans, but both want to see people give their lives to Jesus.

Christoph was saved and discipled through BMM missionaries and became pastor of the church they started. Joel’s grandparents were saved through BMM missionaries, and Joel grew up around those men and women, whom he considered his heroes. Joel is pastor of a BMM-founded church that his father formerly pastored. Both Joel’s and Christoph’s churches have built upon their missions heritage by actively planting daughter churches in their areas.

A desire fulfilled

The men’s cross-cultural exchanges impacted their churches as well. An older German lady saved up many Euros to help bring Joel and Maria to the Ingolstadt church. After their visit, she told Christoph that she got her money back, because she was so blessed to learn from an international pastor and wife. The visits were a desire fulfilled for Joel, who had long wanted to share fellowship with churches having the same roots and history as his. He hopes this kind of fellowship with pastors from other countries can continue around the world, because of the rich benefits of sharing their experiences.

Banner photo: Joel and Maria Cristina Puello surrounded by Christoph and Maike Rüttgers and their children.