Refugees - Crisis or Blessing?

Refugees - Crisis or Blessing?

Tony Peck, EBF - June 09, 2016

The EBF Mission Conference ‘Welcoming the Stranger: Live the Gospel, Share the Gospel, Be the Gospel’ in Elstal, Germany from 31 May to 3 June was challenged to change its language about the coming of so many refugees to Europe. Rather than seeing ourselves as playing our part in meeting a ‘crisis’ we should see the presence of so many refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other places as a welcome ‘blessing’. Speakers such as Pastor Dagmar Wegener working with refugees in the Schöneberg Baptist Church in Berlin, and Juliet Kilpin who is involved with refugees in ‘The Jungle’ camp near Calais, France, underlined this by stories they told of how refugees in some cases had shown the face of Christ to them.

This was underlined theologically in an address by Michael Kisskalt, Rector of the German Baptist Seminary and a noted Baptist missiologist. He spoke of the of the notion of ‘convivence’ (sharing life together) as a basis for contemporary mission, in which we witness by being with people, learning from them and allowing their insights to speak into our lives. This becomes the context for making our own witness to the experience of new life in Christ.

The Conference heard from two of the most challenging situations in meeting the needs of refugees – Greece, where Croatian Baptist Aid has been working; and in Turkey where several of the small Baptist churches are organising aid to the some of the huge number of refugees in Turkey, most of whom are not in official government camps. The Croatian Baptists spoke of the way that they had followed the refugee journey from Croatia itself and had to move on when borders were closed to where the refugees were now.

From western Europe and Scandinavia came stories of welcoming refugees and what churches are doing to reach out in practical and spiritual ways. Several speakers spoke of small ‘miracles’ that they had seen take place as they began to share their lives with refugees. Churches in Austria had found themselves involved in advocacy on behalf of those about to be deported from the country and had seen the power of prayer and presence on the streets with candles.

A very powerful story of transformation came from the Swedish-speaking Baptists of Finland. They are a small Union whose churches had been in decline with an ageing membership. But in the past few years, and because of the present situation, they had seen their churches almost overwhelmed by the numbers of refugees coming to find welcome, practical help and also some of them wanting to find out more about the Christian faith. Programmes have been set up to help those from a Muslim background explore this further. One church now has 90% of its congregation made up of refugees. It was a testimony to the purposes of God that often surprise us, and the faithfulness of his people in continuing to bear witness.

The Conference spent a day visiting two churches in Berlin that have significant outreach among refugees, and also an official centre for receiving refugees, that is part of the former Tempelhof Airport. More than half of the 800 German Baptist Churches are now actively engaged with refugees in their neighbourhoods.

50 delegates from 20 EBF member Unions participated in the Conference. It was the latest initiative taken by the EBF Mission and Evangelism Commission working with the EBF Refugee Working Group set up by the EBF Council in Sofia in September 2015. As a result of the Conference it is hoped that the EBF can further prioritise and focus its work among refugees, both in Europe and the Middle East.

Pastor Dagmar spoke further of the ‘blessing’ of refugees to many churches. ‘Sometimes it feels like Pentecost is happening all around us’, she said. ‘It is unexpected and we did not plan for it’. Many in the Conference also testified to such a movement of God’s Spirit in this refugee crisis in Europe that for some of the churches has instead become a blessing.

More information about that the EBF is doing among refugees can be found here.

Photos: EBF