Refugees in Germany – it’s a topic that seems to be everywhere these days, at least in the media. As I follow the current news coverage, my feelings run the range between helplessness, horror and hope. The plight of people in need unsettles me; it grips me and won’t let go. There are times when I just want to tune out the images and stories, the destinies, and stick my head in the sand, disappearing into my intact, comfortable little German world.
The influx of refugees overwhelms me, tempting me to give in to despair, and a sense of helplessness creeps up on me as I search for quick and perfect answers. The challenge is to not just look away, but rather to allow myself to be touched by the tens of thousands of sometimes desperate people flooding our land in search of help. It’s tempting to just close my eyes, pull down the blinds and hope for politicians to somehow find a magical solution.
It shocks me to see how the challenge we clearly face is being used to fuel fear, to derive political gain from human predicament or to make shady business deals with desperate people. I’m shocked over the horror scenarios some are painting on the wall. Fears of infiltration, Islamization and terror are being fuelled, and many gullible people are starting to follow nationalistic pied pipers. Christians, too, are often gullible victims, thoughtlessly and carelessly repeating inhumane slogans or even deliberately spreading them. Just take a quick look at any social media outlet for proof of that.
I’m hopeful and encouraged to see how many people in Germany are eager to help, trying to do their part to not only help manage the refugee flow, but also to genuinely help the refugees themselves. I’ve got to admit that I hadn’t expected so many to get involved, especially since most of the work is volunteer, and it makes me feel so proud to be a citizen of this country. It’s also encouraging to see some politicians responding positively to this challenge, not basing their decisions on fear or on the approval of the polls.
The greatest challenge, of course, still lies before us: a lot of these people probably won’t be able to return to their native countries for a long time, if at all. Integration is key. And the government can’t do it all; it can only provide the necessary framework. We all, you and I, are part of the solution! We need to get to know people, share our values and culture with them. This starts with making contact and growing a relationship. Without relationship, what’s left is isolation. Isolation, over time, leads to subcultures that often stir up trouble.
For a lot of us, though, it isn’t easy to seek and find contact with others: fear of “foreignness” runs deep and holds us back: we resist unfamiliar customs, clothing styles, sounds, unaccustomed gestures and a score of other kinds and degrees of otherness. This doesn’t make it exactly easy to take the first step. And then there’s the biggest hurdle on both sides: the language! “For the Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid (fearful, discouraged); instead, his Spirit fills us with power, love, and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). Don’t give in to fear! Fear of foreignness has a way of turning into fear of “the foreigner”! Instead, make the experience that what seems “foreign” can be a positive impact and enhancement for your own life. This requires people of courage who are not merely touched at the sight of need, but who are willing to take action to help meet this need. It takes more and more courage in our society to take a stand for these people in need!
Let your heart be reachable, touchable and vulnerable! The highest walls and fences that refugees face aren’t in Hungary, they’re the ones built around some people’s hearts. Don’t build a wall around your heart! “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Lev. 19:34). If I pour cement around my heart, my love will harden and turn cold. “But what does migration have to do with me?” you might ask. “I’m doing fine and I want to keep my comfortable lifestyle for myself.” “Let them fend for themselves. Can I help it if they’re having a hard time?” I hear this kind of talk again and again. But is it true that we CAN’T help it? This isn’t the place to go into detail. But isn’t it true that we’re now reaping the fruit of decades of exploiting Africa, of egotistic trade and subsidy policies that forced many into lives of poverty, our oil wars and supposed anti-terror operations in the Arab world that spurred radicalization, our weapons exports, etc., etc.?
I often have to remind myself that all of these numbers really mean one thing: these are all people! People like you and me. Well, maybe not just like you and me; that’s not quite the case. I have a job, money, a roof over my head, a social sphere I feel comfortable in, I can choose what to eat and where to shop, can travel where I want and take time off. Should I feel guilty for all of this? Not at all! Yet Jesus tells me to be thankful and not to forget that refugees don’t have these privileges. To be honest: refugees make me uncomfortable. They disturb the comfort of my orderly life. I’m called upon to turn my sights to others and not just myself. This also presents an opportunity, because as I encounter these needy people, I encounter Jesus in them. The first issue is to manage the sheer number of refugees, but in the long run the challenge to us is whether we’re willing to share and live generously. Generosity founded in love itself is one of God’s central character traits as depicted in the Bible.
You may be wondering: what difference can I really make? In the New Testament there’s a story that’s long been a staple for the nehemia team: the feeding of the 5000. It was an impossible order for twelve tired and hungry young men to fill, especially since they barely had enough for themselves. Maybe just as impossible as some people see the refugee crisis today. What does Jesus tell his disciples to do in this situation – send the people away, we can’t handle it? NO! It touches his heart and he feels compassion. And so he turns to his disciples: “You give them something to eat.” And then: “See, how much do you have?” Of course it wasn’t enough! This is the challenge we face: are we ready to invest the little we have, knowing it can’t be enough? Will we offer Jesus what little we have (time, money, space in our apartment, friendship, aid, clothing, recreation, etc.) – also for the refugees? If we do, we’ll experience the miracle of how the needs of all these people will be met. And in the end, more than enough remains for the disciples’ own needs! If each one of us responds according to his possibilities, however limited, and helps out, together we’ll experience the miracle of social walls tumbling down!
Yes, I’m proud and encouraged to see how many people in our country listen to their hearts and take action. I want to be a part of it and not allow fears to paint horror scenarios, not just watch as movements gain popularity while spreading hatred, racism and heartless, stupid slogans. I want to learn to take the first step towards refugees, to do good and share with them. I want to pray for the politicians, government offices and the media. I want to seek friendship with refugees. I want to reach out a helping hand, smile at them, greet them when I see them. I want to explain how Germany “works” so they can feel more at home and so we can feel more at home with them. Yes, I want to use my personal gifts, and we from the nehemia team want to do our utmost to help bring about the miracle of mass integration! We’re thankful for everyone who pitches in and helps us.