Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in 1906 to a comfortable upper middle class family. He became a Lutheran pastor about the time when the National Socialist (Nazi) party came into power in Germany in 1933.
In the beginning of his career, he taught one year in New York while volunteering at a Baptist Church in Harlem. He became deeply impressed by the gospel of social justice and by the intense worship style of African Americans.
The Nazi’s had some evil views about how to treat people, especially the Jewish people. Many people were afraid to say anything against the Nazi’s. But, Bonhoeffer spoke out. He knew as a Christian disciple he should speak out against evil. He became involved with the Confessing Church and protested the evil things that the Nazi’s said and done.
Although Bonhoeffer spoke of peace, he became involved in a group that wanted to overthrow Hitler. The group saw the Hitler was a danger to all of Europe, including the Jewish people.
In 1939, Bonhoeffer traveled to New York where he could find safety. He was not safe in Germany since it was dangerous to speak out against Hitler and the Nazi party. After two weeks in New York, Bonhoeffer returned to Germany. He said “I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.” He continued to work with the people who were resisting the wicked ways of Hitler. Most of the world was now at war.
In 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested by the Nazis and put in a Berlin prison. While in prison, he wrote letters, poems, and papers to his family and friends. He continued to follow Christ and encourage to do live as Christians.
In 1944, after an unsuccessful attempt on Hitler’s life, many who sought to put an end to the evil and kill Hitler was put to death. After conducting a worship service in prison on April 8, 1945, two soldiers came in saying, “Prisoner Bonhoeffer, make ready and come with us.” As Bonhoeffer left, he said to another prisoner, “This is the end, but for me the beginning of life.” He was hanged the next day along with other resisters- only a few weeks before Hitler committed suicide and Germany surrendered to the Allies.
He knew Christ dies for his sins, and that he would be saved. All through his short life, he lived as a disciple, even when discipleship cost him his life. Some of Bonhoeffer writings still continue to challenge Christians today, such as The Cost of Discipleship, Life Together, and Letters and Papers From Prison.
Biography Page on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, click here.
How can Dietrich Bonhoeffer impact us today?
- Stand against evil in society. Proverbs 24:11 helps in this regard: “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.”
Bonhoeffer was one of the first to realize that Hitler’s reign meant persecution and even death to Christians. See “Cost of Discipleship” below.
- Serving Jesus in the Middle of Trials: Bonhoeffer simply saw his position as a matter of obedience to the Word of God. And he was aware that trials are part of the Christian life. Jesus even promised it in John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble.” See “Imitating God” below.
COST OF DISCIPLESHIP
Make a clay coin, similar to this one (click here) to remind the children the cost of discipleship. Write “Who am I?” on one side of the coin, and “I am Yours” on the other.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke the truth in difficult time, Ephesians 4:25-28 calls us to speak the truth as well.
Some questions to begin the discussion of discipleship:
v Tell about a time you were nice to someone you didn’t really like.
v Describe a time when your actions imitated God.
v Describe a poor choice that you wish you hadn’t made.
v Describe a time when you felt that God helped you make a good decision or a wise choice.
v What is something you do during the week that might make other people think you are a Christian.
Discuss ways that the child can practice discipleship reading Ephesians 4:29-5:1.
Make a heart banner from red construction paper. Cut out four of the same heart shape. You can use a heart shape cookie cutter to get the same shape. Then, put the four bottom tips of the heart together. Draw on each heart words or pictures illustrating ways in which they can imitate God or to be disciples.
Design a bookmark with this Microsoft Word Template (click here) with the Bible verse:
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” ~ 1 Cor.11:1
GIFT OF SALVATION
Salvation is a gift from God, that you can not earn it being a disciple. Living as disciples is our way to say “thank you” to God.
Play the imagination game. Tell the children that today is their birthday. Tell them to think about the gift they would most like to receive for their birthday. Hand each child an empty paper sack, folded closed. Hand it to them, and ask to look inside. Have them pretend to pull the present out of the bag, and to react to finding out it is just what they wanted.
Ask, “How do we respond when we receive a really special gift?” (Besides being excited, hopefully we thank the giver). Is it still a gift for you, even if you don’t say thank you? (Yes)
Talk about the gifts that God has given to us (ie… food, home, pets, family, eternal life, God’s Son, etc.) Then read Ephesians 5:2 and ask which gift does this verse refer to? (Christ dying for our sins). Do we react to God’s gift with the same enthusiasm we show for material gifts? (Not very often.) Read another verse from the book of Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
Ask, “How do we thank God for such a gift?”
Bonhoeffer’s poem, Who Am I?, written in prison in June of 1944:
Who am I? They often tell me
Who am I? They often tell me
Who am I? I have also been told
Am I really what others say about me?
Who am I? This man or that other?
Who am I? They mock me these lonely questions of mine.
While Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in prison, he had written a beautiful hymn that was translated and then later publish in the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal. The translation copyright is Hope Publishing Company 1974. (Click here)
Click for Dietrich Bonhoeffer Coloring Page
Act out “Chose The True Christian.”
For older kids, have them create an illuminated Scriptures from Ephesians 4:25-5:2. For further instructions on how to do create illuminated Scripture, click here.
Create a timeline of his life. (Click here)
Timeline Notebook Page on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, click here.