I am taking German classes at a refugee camp in Wedding, Berlin. My classmates are intrigued by me.
“Why are you here?” is the most common question.
I tell them I am a Christian Missionary from the U.S.
They are starry-eyed about the West and especially about America.
When I tell them I am from Albany, N.Y., they say, “Ahhh, New York!” and fail to understand the huge difference between Manhattan and the 12209 zip code!
Many of the refugees in Germany have hopes of learning the language and staying. Some want to stay but don’t feel they should have to learn a new language. Many more want to push farther west, even to America, the mythological promised land. These are the challenges that we grapple with here in Germany as we try and reach out to this disparate group.
I had a chance to meet with a young German Christian who works in the refugee camps in Saxony, East Germany. “The camps are almost empty,” he quipped.
When I pressed him, he said that most refugees want to head to the Western cities such as Cologne, Hamburg, or even Berlin. They don’t want to be Germans. They didn’t come here to change their identities. In these Western cities there is more of a chance to gather into communities that speak their native tongue.
This ghettoization is precisely what the German authorities have been trying to mitigate. Although there is nothing wrong with giving in to one’s natural inclination to live with like-minded individuals, many of the problems with the more radical forms of Islam have come from such communities.
Jesus is the only person in history who can bridge this gap. He is the only one who can inspire the kind of life change that needs to happen here. How else could we possibly expect a Syrian Muslim named Ahmed to become best friends with a German Christian named Hans who lives in rural Saxony? And by what other name can anyone expect that a 50-year-old professional from a destroyed village in Northern Iraq will learn a new language, with a whole new alphabet and wholly different system of grammar in order to obtain a menial job in a place where he feels no connection?
We must not give up on this bridge. Jesus’ call is clear. With well over a billion people calling themselves Muslims, we cannot afford to keep ourselves in the dark about who they are, nor should we let them remain ignorant of who we are. The light of Jesus must shine on them so that they, too, may know Him, and that He would reveal to us how He loves each of them!
I think we have a major opportunity. These wide-eyed newcomers are open to our values and our culture. We cannot let their only interactions be with other refugees and the guards who keep the peace.
We need teachers and auto mechanics. We need clerics and poets. We need people from every corner of our society to be present in front of these would-be ambassadors to the Middle East.
We need to be humble about all of this at the same time. The Middle East is an ancient society. Don’t forget that it was on the road to Damascus that a certain Jewish man came face to face with Jesus. And don’t forget that there are among these refugees Christians who have endured losses beyond belief.
May the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the same God who promised blessings to the son of Hagar, watch over us as we demonstrate His love in our actions.