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Life Van brings hope to people on streets of Swiss city

Life Van brings hope to people on streets of Swiss city

Life Van brings hope to people on streets of Swiss city

Major Severino Ratti spends much of his time in the "Life Van", being the Church on the streets in Burgdorf, Switzerland.

Major Severino Ratti, a Salvation Army corps officer in Burgdorf, Switzerland, spends much of his time in the “Lebensmobil”, aka The Life Van. Since October last year, Major Ratti has used this motorhome as a mobile church “to go to the people and be the Church on the streets”. Thomas Martin spoke to Major Ratti, to discover more about this ministry.

TM: You are regularly seen wearing the Salvation Army uniform on the streets of Burgdorf. Why?

SR: Because I am interested in each and every person who wanders around. I’m not indifferent to people. I want to meet them, hear their stories and learn where they are at in their lives. That’s why I go on the streets; that’s why I spend time with people.

Q: Why are people on the edge of society important to you?
A: I, too, was a person who was excluded and that’s why I’m interested in these people. You have to specifically look and be there for people who are excluded. They are uncut diamonds that have not been polished. God can make something wonderful out of these people. That’s why people on the edge of society are so valuable.

Q: How do you experience the contact with such people?
A: The experiences are very different, depending on each person’s story. Some see The Salvation Army uniform and immediately reject me because they want nothing to do with The Salvation Army or Christians in general. Others are more positive because they think The Salvation Army is a good thing. For me, it is very important to meet people with respect and learn to understand them. I have to admit that I am sometimes an impossible person, but I can meet others who I think are impossible through this. It is a good basis for the encounters with others as my vis-à-vis realises that I am completely normal.

Q: A lot of people avoid contact with such people. Can you offer any advice?
A: Have the courage to take a risk. It helps me to know that Jesus is with me. That gives me courage. I’m not alone. It is important to respect the people as they are. And if there is respect then you have access. Then you can talk about everything, about the Champions League [European soccer competition] or deeper topics such as God’s Word and thus the meaning of life. This doesn’t always need to be the case. We need to be able to share life with people without everything needing to be spiritual. If they realise that you share their joy and sorrow, they are more open. You become a friend. If you only go to convert people, you are making a big mistake. You have to learn about and respect the person’s past. Every person brings their own story. Some are dramatic. It’s important not to be frightened but to listen to how it happened.

Q: You’ve been out and about on the streets with the Life Van since October last year. Why?
A: Seventy years ago, The Salvation Army used to travel from farm to farm with a circus caravan. This inspired me. I wanted to be able to use my experience from the street ministry in a modern way. It’s about doing what The Salvation Army was originally called to do: to go to the people and be the Church on the streets. The people need to know that The Salvation Army is there and takes people seriously and accepts them as they are. It’s about making The Salvation Army visible.

Q: Why a caravan?
A: A caravan can be used in different ways. You can sit outside if it’s warm or inside at the table if the weather is cold or bad. It offers a protected environment where conversations are possible and specific topics addressed. In addition, there is a separate area with a sliding door if a conversation gets deeper. This offers the possibility of praying with the people in a protected environment. The Life Van also helps to be visible. It sparks interest and people want to have a look inside.

Q: The vehicle is called the Life Van. Why?
A: It’s about sharing life like in street ministry. We go with the Life Van to the people and are there for them. We want to share life, to promote life and to enable life. And to enable people to experience a new life with Jesus Christ.

Q: Can you tell us about one of your encounters?
A: Not long ago when we were at the market in Burgdorf, a retired pastor came into the Life Van. We had a very emotional conversation. She talked about her life and told me about a concrete need. We were able to pray together. The Life Van gave us the protected environment necessary to do this. It would have been more difficult on the streets.

Q: What are the challenges?
A: It’s not that easy to get a permit from the authorities for the different public places. There are many laws and rules which complicate things. In the past, you could just drive anywhere and no one said anything. Today you have to overcome numerous bureaucratic obstacles. In addition, the offer is not well known enough within The Salvation Army. The Life Van is here to support corps. I am here to encourage The Salvation Army members to dare to go on the streets. There should be a multiplier effect.

Major Severino has been using the Life Van since October 2017.
This article is from Trialogue, a magazine produced by the Switzerland, Austria and Hungary Territory.

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