This past summer one of our blog’s contributing authors, Dave Ketter, joined a team of five from Ambridge, PA who traveled to Germany to receive training in cross-cultural outreach among the refugees living there. The trip was organized through All Nations, a Kansas City-based mission organization that reaches out to unreached people groups around the world.
Background on the Situation
In the wake of the Syrian civil war, Germany has welcomed over a million displaced people from Syria alone, with hundreds of thousands more still expected to arrive. Displaced persons in Germany also come from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Nuer people groups from Africa.
The team from Western PA was stationed in a suburb of Hamburg, Germany. There are eleven refugee camps in the Hamburg area, with more in development. “They’re like an American summer camp with cabins but no tents and a common mess hall,” Dave comments.
Dave describes the German response to the refugee crisis as “efficient and effective”. Refugees in Germany maintain refugee status for three years, after which they must either return to their home country or apply for asylum. Qualifications for asylum include taking classes in German, obtaining permission to work (or starting a business), and having the ability to function in German society.
All Nations helps refugees find work. The organization also helps organize and lead churches, which meet outside the camps, and many of which are home-based. Regular churches include a Protestant free church and a Polish congregation which has partnered with All Nations.
Working with All Nations
The team from Western PA was expected to maintain a fairly strict schedule while they were there. Days began at 8:00AM with prayer. In-class training followed from 9AM-3PM with courses including Muslim History & Religion, Church History, and Church Planting. In the afternoon from 3-6PM the team would divide up with translators and go out to have conversations with people: some pre-arranged, others ad-hoc.
The goal of conversation was not to “push religion” but to seek out “persons of peace” (Luke 10:6) Team members were expected to be able to discern whether people were truly interested or merely being polite. “If they offer you tea, you’re staying awhile; if they offer you coffee, the meeting is over,” Dave commented – a handy Middle Eastern cultural tradition to take social cues from.
A Conversation Leads to More – Much More
Dave shares an experience he had while walking around Hamburg with his translator, a Syrian of Druze background. The two of them would prayer-walk the marketplace and speak to people as the Spirit led.
One day had been particularly discouraging, when they noticed a handicapped woman (Fatima – not her real name) struggling to leave the subway with some packages. They approached and spoke with her and offered help. They discovered Fatima had lost her husband – physically lost, not dead – during their flight from Syria. The two were separated at a border crossing, lost their papers, and had no way to prove their relationship. Fatima was literally carried across the border from Turkey into Greece by strangers who had compassion on her. She was now living alone in Hamburg: a stranger who is only beginning to learn the language.
Dave and his translator shared with her the Old Testament story of Hagar, who also ‘lost’ her husband through no fault of her own and found herself alone in the desert. She had a vision of God and said “you are the God who sees me”.
Fatima related strongly to that verse. She then shared a story of Elijah from the Koran. Later on, at their invitation, Fatima attended the local Farsi service even though she doesn’t speak Farsi.
Fatima’s handicap was caused by damage to her right leg which happened when she was 18 months old, leaving the leg un-usable. She had never walked more than three steps in a row in her life. During the church service, a group of people gathered around her to lay hands on her and pray for her healing, including some new believers from Iran and Afghanistan. To (just about) everyone’s surprise, Fatima immediately received healing and proceeded to walk the length of the church aisle and back! All Nations gave her a copy of the Injil (New Testament in Arabic) and the church invited her to keep on coming back, which she has.
Fatima’s doctors meanwhile are totally confused: they have observed marrow growing, and atrophied muscles gaining strength, which ‘isn’t supposed to happen’ in cases like Fatima’s. Fatima is now in physical therapy, and she and Dave still keep in touch by text.
Asked what initially motivated him to travel overseas to minister to refugees, Dave comments “[Pastor] Dennett was the one with the vision. I didn’t feel particularly called. I submitted to the discernment of the community of faith.”
Dave’s original motivation was to receive training in a technique. Once on board, though, he was excited to be part of the outreach. “I came back a different person. I sense a new voice, a fresh perspective, and an ability to initiate witness while leaving the results to God. It also unlocked my ability to pray with faith: ‘Lord, it’s not our reputation on the line.’”
While not all Germans approve of their country’s borders being so open, on the whole the German people Dave spoke to said, “we haven’t had a problem” with refugees in their country. They have discovered “it does not help the jihadist’s cause if we [in the west] are helpful to their neighbors!”
Dave says after this experience, he would like to teach others to disciple refugees. “Anyone can do it,” Dave says. “Just start with ‘may I tell you a story?’”
[photo credit: Dave Ketter. On board a boat on the Elbe.]