European Baptists were challenged to change their 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 at European Baptist Federation’s (EBF’s) Mission Conference “Welcoming the Stranger” that took place in Elstal, Germany, from May 31 to June 3, included Pastor Dagmar Wegener working with refugees in the SchÃ¶neberg Baptist Church in Berlin, and Juliet Kilpin, who is involved with refugees in “The Jungle” camp near Calais, France.
They emphasized this perspective through the 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 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 Turkey, where several of the small Baptist churches are organizing 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 aging 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.
Programs have been set up to help those from a Muslim background explore this further.
One church now has 90 percent 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, which have significant outreach among refugees, and also an official center 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 neighborhoods.
Fifty 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 prioritize and focus its work among refugees, both in Europe and the Middle East.
Wegener, the Berlin pastor, 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, which for some of the churches has instead become a blessing.
More information about what the EBF is doing among refugees can be found here.
Tony Peck is general secretary of the European Baptist Federation. A version of this news article first appeared on the EBF news page and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his blog, and you can follow him on Twitter @EBFGS.