Birgid Faber: Dialogue With an Adventist Orthodontist in Germany
Birgid Faber is an orthodontist in private practice in Mittelhessen, Germany. Born in an Adventist home, she attended the Adventist secondary school at Marienhoehe and later completed her M.D. (dentistry) at the University of Marburg. While at Marienhoehe she met her future husband, Roland, who is now a lawyer. They have two sons, Christian (18) and Matthias (16), both in secondary school.
Dr. Faber and her husband are active in their local church. She also serves as member of the Euro-Africa Division Executive Committee. The interview took place during one of her visits to the division headquarters in Bern, Switzerland.
Dr. Faber, why did you choose dentistry as a profession?
Both my parents were dentists and had their private practice in our house. Since my childhood, I was impressed by how much they loved their work, even though my mother had to cope with her dual role as a mother and as a professional. So when I completed my course work in dentistry, I decided to specialize in dental surgery for children. This specialty allows me to organize my own schedule, thus giving me time to pursue my career while being a wife, a mother, and a leader in our local Adventist congregation.
When did you decide to join the Seventh-day Adventist Church?
My parents became members shortly before I was born. They provided me with a happy Christian home. I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ and was baptized at age 16, when I was a student at Marienhoehe. Roland, my future husband, was also baptized there at the same age.
Did you face any challenges to your Adventist beliefs while attending the university?
Soon after starting my studies at the University of Marburg I became aware that most German universities scheduled their chemistry labs on Sabbath. I sought God's help in trying to solve this difficulty. I searched for another university where I could fulfill that requirement without attending labs on the Sabbath. First, I transferred to Giessen, a nearby university town, where the lab practice was scheduled during a week-day. However, I met considerable intolerance from the faculty and ridicule from the students there. So I transferred to the University of Wurzburg, where a fellow Adventist was teaching anatomy. I was allowed to complete the basic science courses there without encountering major difficulties. If I hadn't succeeded then, I had made up my mind to abandon the health sciences and choose another career that did not require Sabbath attendance.
Was it easy to transfer back to the University of Marburg?
No, it wasn't. My advisor had granted me permission to study for only one or two semesters at Wurzburg. I had taken long. Moreover, at that time only a limited number of students were admitted to German universities. Only through prayer and the intervention of a colleague of my father was I allowed to reenter the University of Marburg and proceed with my studies. I am convinced that God led in both of these moves, although many of my fellow students could not understand why I was acting in that strange way.
Did you face other difficulties as you continued your studies?
During the clinical sequence of the program, the patho-histological part of a required class was also held on Sabbath. Since I knew this in advance, I made arrangements to take an equivalent course at another medical department of the university. This course was much more complex and time-consuming than the other, but I gladly put up with it because it was offered on weekdays. By arranging the schedule of all the other classes, I was able to finish my dentistry course work as planned and immediately started my specialization. Even here I felt the special leading of God, for only a limited number of openings was available in orthopedic dentistry. I was not only given a seat, but was told to work immediately on a doctoral project in the specialty. So, in a relatively short time, God helped me complete my studies, pursue a specialization, and obtain a doctoral degree.
How would you describe the religious climate in Germany today?
It is ironic that here in Germany--the land of the Reformation, and a country with a rich Christian heritage--faith in a Creator God has practically disappeared among the general population. So is the case in other European countries. By contrast, there is considerable interest in Eastern religions and even in Islam. The New Age and the occult seem to be gaining ground, exerting a powerful influence over our children and youth through toys, literature, music, the arts, and film.
Moving to another topic, the Berlin wall that has divided Germany for so long is no longer there. What effect has this had on the Seventh-day Adventist Church?
The collapse of the wall had a domino effect on many other human barriers. No longer were Germans separated by political divisions. Adventist believers, who were bound by a common faith and shared goals, were able again to gather and worship together as members of God's family. There were also organizational adjustments that now allow us to work unitedly.
What challenges do we face as a church in Germany?
Internally, our greatest challenge is how to lead our youth to Christ and encourage them to remain friends with Him for the rest of their lives. Satan follows them everywhere, seeking to entice them and to ruin their lives. We must find ways to care for the spiritual and social needs of our children and youth, and to engage them in the mission of the church.
We have about 35,000 Adventist members in Germany. Our greatest missionary challenge is how to share a living faith in Christ with a population of more than 80 million.
Do Adventists in Germany look to human needs outside their borders?
Yes, we are sensitive to the suffering of people in countries such as Russia, Romania, Poland, and Bosnia, and have provided considerable material help to those in need. Some of our young people have also gone to serve abroad as student missionaries for short periods of time.
Tell us about the Adventist church to which your husband and you belong.
Our congregation consists of around 30 members. We all care about and for each other. In addition to fellowshipping during the Sabbath school and worship service, we try to keep in contact with each other during the week. Fortunately, we don't have generational problems among ourselves. I wish, however, that we would spend more time and energy on service to others outside our fellowship. This would provide much needed practical help and would help others to see us not simply as "odd Christians."
Now that my children have grown up and I have another orthopaedic dentist assisting me in the office, I have more time to devote to church work, such as home visitation, Bible studies and other activities. I also serve as a deaconess.
Do you find your Christian faith an asset in the practice of your profession?
Yes, I love to go to my work daily. One of the reasons is the good atmosphere we enjoy at our dental office. Patients and parents often tell me that they seldom find a dental practice where they notice as much friendliness, warmth, and care for the children as in ours. Of course it takes a lot of energy to keep up such a pleasant atmosphere. That's when I need my faith and prayer.
Do you have opportunities to share your faith as you practice your profession?
As an orthodontist I work with children, who usually come with their parents. This allows me to draw their attention to the gospel, for example, by putting a certain kind of literature in our waiting room. We live in quite a religious area, with different Christian denominations and a strong pietistic influence. When I encourage the children to join their youth groups or to go on Christian outings I often find a prepared and fertile soil. On many occasions I have spiritual discussions with their parents. I am always happy to not only treat the children in order to ensure for them nicely arranged teeth and raise their self-confidence, but also to have the possibility of telling them and their parents about their need for God's presence in their lives.
It seems that you have been able to harmonize your roles in your family, professional, and church circles.
Yes! I pray daily for the people around me, asking God to help me to show and share His love for them. I always carry a burden for people and spend considerable time speaking to them, hoping that the Holy Spirit can have His way in their lives.
Do you have any hobbies?
Not in the usual sense of the word. My "hobbies" are people: my family, my fellow believers, and others whose lives I touch. I sense that this is my calling and it provides me with immense personal satisfaction.
Interview by John Graz. Dr. John Graz serves as Youth and Communication director for the Euro-Africa Division of Seventh-day Adventists, in Bern, Switzerland.