Frontier Ventures recently sent a team to minister to refugees in Berlin for two weeks. Below are a few reflections from our time there. Names have been changed for security reasons.
The first thing that hit me when we arrived in Berlin was the sheer number of Muslims and Middle Easterners in the city. Go to any public space and you'll hear Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, and Turkish mixed in with German. We ran into groups of Afghan teens and young Syrian men in nearly every restaurant and department store. Women wearing headscarves were pushing strollers through every park.
Our team was divided and assigned to five or six different refugee centers that we would rotate between during our stay. Most are converted schools, gyms, or community centers that have become makeshift housing. The living areas are cramped and lack privacy; sometimes families can only hang sheets around their floor space for walls. To be respectful and culturally appropriate, women on our team interacted with women and girls, men with men and boys. We got to know people in informal settings: playing volleyball or soccer together or talking over a meal or coffee. Twice we were able to help with a conversational English class designed for refugees wanting to go into the IT sector, and some brief but warm friendships came out of those sessions—one person on our team was invited to a dinner where he was able to share Jesus with the host couple.
We met Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians, Kurds, and Pakistanis. Many of the Syrians are highly educated and have had to cut short their careers as doctors, software engineers, or professors because of the war. They've lost a good life. Syria was a fairly stable place ten years ago. Unlike many Afghans, who have known no other reality, Syrians only recently became acquainted with such intense violence and loss. Talking with them you feel their confusion, their lingering shock at how fast the country disintegrated. And "disintegrated" isn't mere metaphor: search Google Images for Homs or Aleppo and you'll see whole neighborhoods that have turned to powder and tangled rebar.
To my delight I ran into many Afghans, so my halting Farsi came in handy. It was also useful as a bridge language with people who had learned a little here or there. I spoke with an Iraqi Kurdish man named Aras, a former taxi driver whose home was set on fire by IS soldiers after he refused to drive for them. (The Kurds have been one of the strongest fronts against IS in Iraq.) He was badly burned, and his mother, who was inside at the time, later died in the hospital from her wounds. After this he fled the country, paying a smuggler to transport him to Germany in the back of a truck. He arrived with nothing. During our talk he kept apologizing for being so scattered - he said that he had no inner calm and no hope for the future.
What do you say to a story like that? All I could do was offer the presence of Jesus through prayer, to which Aras said yes. In broken Farsi, I asked God to be near to him, to fill his heart and mind with peace from heaven. I know that the Lord will continue to reveal himself to Aras through the other believers he meets. Please pray for him and the many others whose lives have been disrupted by IS; only Jesus can heal such deep wounds.
My friend John and I met a young Syrian Christian man with a quick smile named Hanna. Like most Christians in the Middle East, his family can trace their faith to the early days of Christianity - probably not long after the apostles. We got to take him out for coffee one day and hear about his life in Syria. He hadn't been to church in Germany yet, so despite how brief our time together was, he seemed encouraged to spend time with other believers.
Christianity in the Middle East is often at least as much entrenched culture as it is faith (not unlike in America). It marks out a community that not only worships Jesus but also eats and drinks differently, uses different names and a different vocabulary. For Hanna, Muslim and Christian are settled categories with a sharp boundary; people almost never cross from one to the other, and the idea that God might use him to bring Muslims to Jesus seems both frightening and wildly unrealistic. But as we talked, John felt the boldness to ask him if he had considered this and challenge him to pray about it. And Hanna took it seriously. I watched his face change as he began to contemplate the possibility that God had more for him in Germany than finding an apartment and a steady job.
Wanting to help Hanna find local fellowship and continue to be discipled, we connected him to a German believer who has been working in the camps. We are praying that Hanna will catch Jesus' vision for his life and be used greatly by God to reach other refugees!