Refugees: Burden or Blessing
Millions of refugees flood our societies and consequently knock on the door of Christian churches. Right now, due to the war in Ukraine, they come daily, begging for help and assistance, lodging and food.
Most of the churches in Germany, where I live, have done their best in showing as much hospitality as possible. But slowly most of them are getting tired of the daily stress and the never-ending demands of their guests.
“I thought I am a very patient and friendly and surely hospitable person”, a friend of mine confessed recently, “but the refugees in my house have taken all privacy away, the list of their demands is endless and often I can’t satisfy them. I am tired and few days ago I requested our city administration to move my guests somewhere else.”
Voices like this are becoming loud even in the most foreigner friendly churches.
Christians want to help, but the task is becoming too difficult to fulfill, it seems. Are there alternatives? Is there a way to welcome the refugees and see them as God’s blessing of the day? Or are they by definition a burden in the long run?
And what is tiring us Christians in our mission to refugees down and how does one overcome those factors?
Christians are invited to open their house
Welcoming the homeless, the refugees and the needy is by definition a Christian duty.
Jesus clearly identifies Himself with the poor, the persecuted and hungry and thirsty and demands his followers to welcome such people to their house. And where they do so, they have offered shelter to Him personally (Matt. 25, 34-45).
According to the Master we Christians are obliged to care for the refugees coming to us. They are a vital part of our missionary task. To neglect them is equal to neglecting the Lord himself.
Christians, who are privileged to own a house, have a secure income and are in a state of a comfortable life, must understand that all of this is given to them by the Lord, and it is Him, who finally decides what our possessions are good for.
The famous words of Joshua “I and my house will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15) describe the right attitude of the faithful.
How come, then, that we Christians feel burdened by those we are supposed to care for?
I believe the main reason for this is the fact that the vast majority of Christians do not understand the very term missionary task and experience the challenge as a growing burden.
The truth is that all Christians are called to mission. They are saved by grace for good works God has prescribed them to do (Eph. 2:10). No one can exempt himself or herself from mission.
Everyone received at the day of the new birth special gifts of the Spirit for special ministries of the Lord, and wherever they start doing what they have been called for, they will experience energy and power of God.
As Paul writes in 1Cor. 12:4-6 (NIV): “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.”
Not knowing the gifts given by the Spirit, not knowing which gifts correspond with which ministry or simple inactivity in areas of our calling, Christians will soon experience an existential luck of energy. In other words, they will feel tired and disabled to invest themselves for the good of others.
In terms of refugee-ministries Christians often help because of a general human need and out of philanthropic motives, instead of doing what needs to be done out of their own missionary calling. Humanitarianism, as great as this might be, has unusual short legs.
The missionary task and responsibility
The missionary task of Christians is completely God centered. Jesus said: “As the father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). And He said: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke. 4:18).
His gospel was a gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23). He cared for the needy, healed the sick and changed their social status (for example in the case of the demonically possessed and the leper).
And the needy, the healed and freed followed him consequently and became His disciples and engaged in His kingdom building mission.
Nowhere do we see Jesus helping people for the sake of helping. Instead He transformed their lives so they could help themselves and help others. And nowhere he acts out of his own motivation. It is the Spirit of God on him, who determines what He does and when.
Even His own mother Mary could not force him to act upon a need in a wedding celebration which run out of wine in Cana (John 2). He obeyed God, kept God’s aim for His mission in mind and finally won the victory over death and the devil. And as He was – we are sent too.
For our Christian missionary responsibility this means at least four principal decisions.
- As followers of Jesus, we will never stick to aid for the sake of aid only. Jesus is interested in the transformation of people and their life conditions. So shall we! Wherever Christians just help, they fall short and it will not take long before their desire to help will tire them out. Mission in Gods name rests in God’s blessing and where His blessing is missing, human energy will dry out.
- As the followers of Jesus, we will do what the spirit sends us to do. And the Spirit of God gave different gifts to the particular members of the Church. There is no general commission to care for the needy. Every member will exercise his or her special gift in caring. The one might feed, the other comfort, the third see for a place to live and yet another will help to reorient the refugee under the new condition. Proper care requires the whole church in order to be lasting and transformative. Single helpers are predestined to become lonely rangers and frustration will soon take over.
- As followers of Jesus, we will be always interested in leading those whom we help to a personal faith, discipling them and incorporating them into the church (Mt. 28:19). This does not mean the existential need of a refugee will serve as a welcomed chance to evangelize. Christians help wherever help is needed, but they do this as evangelists, who witness to God’s love and salvation. And seeing refugees find peace in Christ is the greatest reward a Christian may expect.
- Christian mission aims for discipleship (Matt. 28:19). It helps the needy, leads them to know Jesus as Lord and teaches them to become followers of Jesus, who then will be able to witness to others. Wherever this happens to refugees, they become potential missionaries to their own people and a cycle of diaspora mission starts to unfold.
The four basic principles, applied in a local church, will encourage a strategic approach to mission and this will soon lift all potential frustration and empower refugee missionaries.
Understanding the diaspora as chance
Refugees build their own communities in countries of refuge. Such communities are called diasporas. Often this also leads to the founding of diaspora churches, which in turn may become powerful agents of mission and evangelism in the countries of origin.
Churches with a world mission perspective will, therefore, consciously invest in evangelizing refugees and planting diaspora churches.
Ideally this is done in what is known as multicultural churches. Such churches are much more than foreigner friendly. They invite foreigners to join the church and view the otherness of them as a very special gift, a proper contribution to the fullness of God’s kingdom on Earth.
In foreigner friendly churches Christians serve the refugees, while in multicultural congregations they serve together with the refugees. One is mission for the people, the other mission with the people.
Right from the first meeting, the church appeals to the gifts and dignity of their guests and utilizes their potential for the good of refugees as well as the natives.
An Ukrainian refugee by the name Natasha, a well-educated Christian councilor and psychologist, started two weeks after she arrived in Germany to counsel her highly traumatized fellow Ukrainians and the local German church provided the space and the needed financial support for the ministry.
Indeed, the Germans invited her to do this. Soon Natasha was paired with a German counselor and together they offered their service far beyond the Ukrainian refugee community.
Natasha invited her clients to the church, which offered various services to them and where possible invited Ukrainians to join in. Many of them turned to be very skilled and soon a number of creative projects were realized by the church and their Ukrainian friends.
Only one months after Natasha started her trauma therapy, the Ukrainians gathered for their first worship service inside the German congregation.
They proudly claim to be one congregation, since the German church is multiculturally minded, and beside the German and Ukrainian services, other groups of foreigners enjoy both services in their mother tongue as well as joined projects for the good of their neighbors. Together they serve their families left behind in their homelands.
The refugee work in that church is intensive and it consumes a lot of energy of the church members, but there is a growing excitement among them.
“I have never been spiritually closer to the Lord”, says one of their members. It is as if the Holy Spirit would fill me day by day with an extra portion of his strength. Yes, I am also tired here and there, but never weary. My new brothers and sisters and co-workers in God’s kingdom make me strong. I wish all Christian would understand that.”
This example proves that refugee work must not de-energize Christians. The opposite is true. Done properly, it will lead to a deeper experience and generate more energy.
Johannes Reimer, director of public engagement for the World Evangelical Alliance