Transform 2016: Bringing love from the Sunshine State

07 Sep, 2016 | Germany
Nicole James
It could be argued that these three things are universal: coffee, football and the card game UNO.

For a handful of Americans, these activities also bridged multiple language barriers during a ten-day outreach to refugees in Wilhelmsburg, a district of Hamburg, Germany.

From 16-27 July, the group of five college students from Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla., plus one long-term OM worker from the Near East field, partnered with OM Germany’s Team Nord to facilitate afternoon programmes for children in two refugee camps. They also volunteered with a women’s sewing circle at another camp and supported the OM team’s weekly outreaches in local parks.

On an orientation tour of Wilhelmsburg at the beginning of the outreach, Daniel, one of the participants, asked a local man in a park what his one wish from God would be. “I just want the sun to come out,” he replied, referencing northern Germany’s usually dreary days.

At first Daniel brushed off the request, thinking the man had simply tried to shift the conversation away from spiritual topics. However, upon further reflection – and a look at the weather forecast – the team decided to pray for sun.

“For a lot of us, our first impression of the area was darkness,” team leader Shannon shared at an evening debrief meeting. Recognising spiritual implications of allowing the sun (and the Son) to shine through, the Floridians asked God for good weather.

During the first outreach in one of Wilhelmsburg’s refugee camps, Marie*, joining the team from the Near East field, sat to the side with a Syrian lady enjoying the rare sunshine. Nearby, the others played football, jump rope and Viking chess with the children, including the woman’s twin daughters. After introductory small talk, Marie told the mother about the significance of the afternoon sun: “It was supposed to rain today, but we prayed for sunshine because we were coming to the camp to play with the children. God answered our prayer!”

A few minutes later, the woman repeated the message to another lady passing by. Indeed, every day, the team enjoyed sunshine for their afternoon outdoor programmes, where they played with children and interacted, as best they could, with the families they met.

“I think all we’re supposed to do is just love them,” Daniel said. “We can’t do anything else. We can’t talk to them. They have food, they have housing. I think the only thing they lack is love.”

In the refugee camps, according to team member Katie, “there was definitely a sense of contentment and adaptability and community.” The team’s goal, she agreed, was to bring love— “in the crafts, in the games, in sitting and having tea with them, that’s our role.”

For Daniel, many connections happened wordlessly on the football field. One afternoon, he spent time playing with three refugee men. “I couldn’t really talk to any of them,” he remembered. But “in the situation where I really can’t communicate with them verbally, soccer is the same everywhere, just being able to pass the ball around and mess around with them. I would do something; he would do something cooler.”

Meanwhile, the girls on the team regularly used UNO to interact with the younger children. On the first day, they learned numbers and colours in German whilst playing the card game with a young girl from Syria, already able to communicate well in her new host country. One night, after spending close to two hours playing UNO in a camp full of children – from Albania, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Macedonia – team member Chetia announced her latest accomplishment: “I just learned how to count to ten in five languages!”

Before arriving in Germany, the short-term team participated in OM’s weeklong summer Transform conference in Barcelona, Spain, where they received input on working with refugees and connected with Ali*, a Muslim background believer who shared his story of fleeing from Syria through Russia and finally obtaining residency in Europe.

The conference as well as the subsequent relationships forged by the team during the outreach significantly altered the young adults’ perception of the ongoing refugee crisis. Since summer 2015, they had heard – like other Americans – “whatever the media says about what’s going on over there,” explained Daniel. By hopping on a transatlantic flight and sitting down over coffee and tea with refugees in the camps, the team heard individual stories and gained new perspective on the situation.

“You can’t mentally picture three million people or six million people, but when you see one face and another face, they become real. When you hear stories of living on the side of the road and taking the clothes on your back, then it becomes real,” Shannon shared.

“It feels good to be here,” she said. “It feels good that I can be part of taking their mind off of something for five minutes—playing with their kids, sitting over coffee with them, hearing their story. It’s something that I’ll never forget.”

Within OM Europe, more than ten countries have projects working with refugees alongside the church. In places like Hungary and Austria, OM teams have reached out to refugees for five years already, while other countries have responded to the recent influx of refugees into Europe by expanding existing ministries and creating new ones. Under the Safe Haven initiative, which spans work in Europe with refugees who have settled into a particular country, OM desires to use this unprecedented opportunity to reach communities of people who have never heard the Gospel by connecting churches with refugees and sharing the love of Jesus with them as they adapt to their new surroundings. For information about how you can be involved, contact your local OM office to learn about current projects and discover how you can start similar work with your church in your local area.

*Name changed for security

Nicole James is a freelance journalist, ESL teacher, and adventurer. As a writer for OM Middle East North Africa, she’s passionate about publishing the stories of God’s works among the nations, telling people about the wonderful things He is doing in the world.

Credit: Nicole James · © 2016 OM International This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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