Archive | September, 2013

The strangers among us

13 Sep

Xenos 01-08-2013 16-55-03“It’s a miracle that we made it,” Amira* told me. She explained how she and her husband had scraped up 50,000 US dollars for people smugglers to get them and their two children out of Iraq, to a safe place. “At many points I thought we would die. My husband says if he’d known what would happen, he’d never have risked his family’s lives. But every day there are more bombs and more people dying. Everyone is desperate, sick and tired of war. That is why people like us pay every penny they have to leave, to give their children hope for the future. We had to do it for our kids.”

Like most people I had heard some of the horror stories about people-trafficking. But sitting across from Amira in OM’s Xenos centre in Germany and watching her emotion as she described her family’s traumatic, three-month flight to freedom was very different.

“It took three months. When we finally got to Germany our youngest child had a fever. Our marriage certificate was lost along the way, so we had no papers for the hospital. A Christian organisation suggested Xenos, and Martin and the other workers helped us. Since then we come all the time to the centre,” she smiled. “I love it here! And I thank God many times every day that we are safe.”

Finding the ultimate safety
“Xenos” is Greek for “foreigners”, and that what OM’s team in Heilbronn, buried in the southern half of Germany, is all about. Germany has served as host to a tidal wave of foreigners in recent decades but you might be surprised to learn that 47 per cent of residents in cities like Heilbronn have an immigrant background: either foreigners or the children of foreigners. Almost 10 million people living in Germany today were born outside the country.

The man who started Xenos was a foreigner himself, the son of a police officer in Iran who was sentenced to death during Khomeini’s regime. After seeing friends killed Navid had little choice. His long journey took him to Dubai, Hungary and the Netherlands before he landed in Germany. Six months later, sitting in the back row of a church he’d been invited to, he silently cried, “Help me, God. I’m at the end”.

Once Christ came into his life, Navid discovered he had a gift for evangelism and planting new churches. He helped to start a fellowship in Essen and an Iranian church in Stuttgart. Seeing the many foreigners who lived in the refugee camp outside Heilbronn, he and others felt God wanted them to start an international fellowship in that city in 2004. OM’s Xenos team now has eight members, many of them with significant experience of working in countries like Morocco, Afghanistan and India. They have also recruited some 30 volunteers from local churches.

Raising awareness
“In the South of Germany there’s a church on every corner,” says team leader Martin,”so when we tell people we’re missionaries here it’s a hard concept for them to understand.”One major aim of the Xenos team is to mobilise and train local churches to reach the world on their doorstep.”

Martin initially found a way to meet foreigners by volunteering as a translator for the Red Cross. Later he was invited to give cultural orientation to newcomers. He discovered in Germany a freedom to share Christ–and willing Muslim listeners–that he had never encountered in countries where he’d previously served.

A home away from home
The Xenos centre is a hive of activity with a kitchen, kids’ room and bright, attractive meeting area set up informally like a café. The team helps people on a practical level with thing like household needs, doctors’ visits, and official paperwork. They also provide German lessons and homework support for kids. Once a month the usual Thursday evening worship is followed by a pot-luck supper. Three spin-off Bible studies also currently take place in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu.

Why start an international church? “Trying to integrate new believers from other countries into German churches doesn’t work,” Martin answers simply. And sitting in a Xenos worship service with a continuous murmur of several translations going on all around me, I began to realize why.

I smiled as Navid, who was leading the service, quoted a Persian proverb. “‘A camel sits in front of every house,'” he told his audience and explained, “We can all meet the same God, the same Jesus. We can all feel His touch and know His joy. It’s for everyone!”

The land of beginning again
Afterwards I talked with a young computer technician from Iran. He has been in Germany only a few months; the previous four and a half years were spent in the Netherlands, hoping for asylum. After making friends and learning the language, however, he was informed that his application had been rejected. So now Esmail is starting all over again, struggling to hold on to hope.

Teams like Xenos that offer practical and spiritual help to newcomers like Esmail and Amira’s family desperately need to be replicated all over the country. No single mission or church can meet the growing crisis. But when German Christians allow themselves to be channels of God’s compassion, all things are possible.

OM Germany Leader Tobias Schultz is eager to see that revolution of love. “The German church at large hasn’t understood cross-cultural ministry,” he observes. “There are so many immigrant churches that are not included in the German Evangelical Alliance. And just think of the second generation kids who would be well-equipped to participate in missions! Our hope and goal in the next seven years is to build strong relationships with these immigrant churches.”

Coat of Arms of Heilbronn *All names in this article except for that of Tobias Schultz have been changed.