Shortly after the start of the European refugee crisis, Cedar Springs responded by getting involved with local ministry partners. We realized that there has never been a time in history, since the inception of Islam in the 7th century, when so many Muslims have been open to learning about Jesus. We believe God has orchestrated the diaspora of refugees into Europe to provide an amazing opportunity to reach them with the gospel.
Dale Berry is leading Cedar Springs in its refugee crisis involvement. He and three others recently visited with churches and ministry partners on the ground there and returned with this interesting, in-depth report. Read on to find out about countless opportunities to get involved!
“Many people believe the Europe refugee crisis is over because the numbers of incoming refugees is lower and the media is not covering it much now. However, on the Greek islands, the numbers appear to be increasing again before winter arrives. The opportunity for reaching refugees for Christ is actually greater now than previously. Earlier, the focus has been on meeting very basic needs; now with the integration process, there is more opportunity and openness to invite them into Christ. Now is the time to engage and support our partners overseas, especially since NGO crisis aid is decreasing.
We think this window of opportunity to reach Muslims in Europe is time-limited due to the growing organization of Islam there. Saudi Arabia has been funding the building of mosques. Turkey has sent 1000-plus Imams to Germany. As the Islamic hierarchy and leadership develops, there will be more fear and less freedom for refugees to inquire about or attend anything associated with Christianity. This is why we are expending so much effort now, while there is still openness and freedom. Here is what we experienced during our most recent visit.
Our arrival in Hamburg was well-timed. We met with Az*, a former Muslim from Afghanistan who become an Atheist and then a Christian while on the diaspora. He was having his appeal interview with a German judge the next day, and we participated in prayer for him. His request for asylum had been rejected previously, as are most Afghans, because the German government does not recognize Afghanistan as actively at war. In contrast, almost all Syrian applications for asylum are accepted. Refugees like Az are allowed to appeal by getting a lawyer and giving their reasons for why they should be given asylum. In his case, he would be killed by the Taliban if he returns home due to his outspoken criticism of Islam, both in person and online. The appeal interview commonly lasts for three to four hours. The judge asks people like him all about his story in an attempt to identify inconsistencies. Later in our trip, we received word that Az did indeed pass the test and will receive asylum. Praise be to God!
On another note, the leaders we partner with in Hamburg have discerned that they need to open a community center where refugees can come, in order to meet freely without fear of persecution. A good number of Iranian refugees have been trained to lead Bible studies, but they cannot do this in the camps due to harassment and physical violence from the more radical Muslims. Most of the Muslims do not care and are more nominal in their belief, but a small percentage of them (approximately 10 percent) cause much trouble for everyone. The refugee center would provide a place for meetings, language classes, and Bible studies. Not being a church building makes it safer for Muslims since they are often prohibited from entering a Christian church. Please pray for them as they seek the location of the center and attempt to raise funds for the startup. In addition to start up funds for the refugee center, the ministry leaders in Hamburg are looking for more workers to come to live and work with the discipling of refugee leaders.
We headed on to Berlin where we met with leaders of three ministries: Visioneers, the Refugio, and the Kreuzburg Projekt (church).
Visioneers. Visioneers is a ministry started by Rob and Natascha Tepass. They have a refugee center in Berlin where unaccompanied minors come to study after school, attend language classes, and are invited into fellowship with Christ. They also teach sewing, play soccer with them, and help with cyber-security to counteract ISIS’s recruiting efforts. They work with approximately 300 youth. They say it is about a 2-5 year process to build trust and relationship that eventually results in a young person coming to Christ.
In the summertime, they run a series of week-long English language camps where they present the gospel in the evenings. They invite church teams to come to assist with these camps. Cedar Springs has officially been invited and hopes to participate in 2018.
In addition to camps and assistance for the unaccompanied minors, they hold a refugee community worship service where refugee adults, families, and unaccompanied minors attend. They are seeking ways to develop leaders among the refugees (like what is being done in Hamburg), but they also need additional people to join their ministry to help in this way. They are also looking for a pastoral leader to be involved in the work, as well as an older couple who could serve in the role of being loving parental figures for the kids and the staff.
Refugio. Refugio is a place where refugees and Berliners live together in a sharing community assisting with the integration of the refugees into Germany with their cultural roots being appreciated. This program is over two years old now and the founder Sven Lager is now directing his efforts to start more Sharehauses elsewhere in Berlin and beyond.
The Kreuzburg Projekt. The Kreuzburg Projekt is a church plant supported by Cedar Springs, founded by Fridtjof Leemhuis. The church has grown over the years and they are trying to transform from a pastor only led church to a pastor and member led church. They have recently held congregational meetings to build this new vision.
After our meetings in Berlin, we boarded the train to Prague, which is quite the beautiful city. Our purpose was to meet ministry leaders there who have been called to assist and minister to refugees in the Czech Republic. We met with a woman in leadership, along with the pastors and elders of two churches that support her work.
Life for refugees in Prague is very difficult, causing many to leave the country. The population of refugees is much smaller (approximately 700 families) than the massive numbers in Germany or Greece, but their lives are no less valuable. 75 percent of them are Christians fleeing persecution from their Middle East countries. The other 25 percent are Muslims. There are two international churches led by American pastors that support this work. One church provides space for a refugee supply and meeting center where they organize volunteers to help refugees with food, clothing, and other basics.
A refugee named Mohammed* was a former atheist and then Muslim and now Christian Iraqi Kurd who speaks six languages and is called to share the gospel with the other Muslim refugees in the Czech Republic. His story is absolutely amazing. When he became a Muslim in his teen years, he had developed a profound hatred for women, taking it out on his younger sister whom he beat her daily in spite of his parents’ protests. Mohammed said that Islam takes away the value of yourself and of other people.
He was first touched by Christianity through a short radio broadcast talking about a God who loves. He had never heard that before and he tried to tune back in secretly, but without success. He later found access to a Bible and was told not to read it because, if he did, he would leave Islam. Of course, this made him want to read it. The verse that touched him most deeply is John 8:7 where Jesus says, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’
Eventually, the struggle within Mohammed culminated in his going to a solitary place to commit suicide. There, he cried out to Jesus that, if He was real, to bring peace. Indeed, he experienced the peace of Christ that passes understanding. Upon his return to his home, he sought out his sister, hugged her, and began to reconcile. Needless to say, his family noticed the change in him. As he began sharing the Bible and Christ with his sister and mother, his father sent him away fearing what would become of his family if they became known as Christians. This began a course of him leading many others to Christ and being a leader of the Christians in Northern Iraq, where ISIS recently invaded, killing Christians in large numbers. Mohammed said, ‘Persecution brings down blessing from heaven.’ He, along with many others, migrated to Europe. He said, ‘I became a real refugee. God is using it so I can be equipped well.’ He now works with the leaders in Prague to reach the Muslim refugees in Czech.
The leaders in Prague shared their vision for buying an apartment house to help provide temporary housing for refugees similar in nature to the Refugio in Berlin. Houses of this nature cost approximately $150,000. This house would contain 6 or more apartments to house many families.
Bridges of Athens. In Athens, we were graciously greeted by Voula and Ilias. They have a powerful ministry serving both humanitarian needs, but also spiritual needs inviting the refugees to become followers of Jesus. The love is infectious. More than 200 Arabic speaking Muslims have come to Christ in the three years of their ministry. CSPC currently supports them by helping with staff to carry the load of ministering to hundreds of refugees during the week. They have requested prayer and support for an additional $6,000 per month to provide funds for additional staff.
FAROS, The Center of Hope, and the Exarcheia Church.
In 2014, a Danish woman living in Athens noticed that there were a large number of unaccompanied minors living on the streets who were taken advantage of in every way imaginable. She approached Tim and Alex, the co-pastors of Exarcheia Church, about addressing this issue. Out of these meetings developed a non-governmental organization named FAROS, which means Lighthouse. This NGO, which is part of the mission of Exarcheia Church, established a day center and home for orphan boys (which we visited). As the refugee crisis developed, they established the Center of Hope, a refugee center in the heart of Athens where volunteers from CSPC worked in August.
The At Home Project – Glyfada Church. Later, we traveled to the southern Athens suburb of Glyfada to meet with pastor George Tolias. George has a vision to assist both Greeks and new Greeks (refugees) with mentoring and support for developing business ideas. They interview each person to learn their background, skills, and hopes. Next, they help with resume building, consulting, and business plan development. They invite successful businesses to come to Glyfada to inspire and educate. Later this year, Chick-fil-A, is sending people to provide help and education.
The Houses of Hope. Our final meeting of this journey was with Pastor Giotis Kantartzis who updated us on the Houses of Hope project, where First Greek Evangelical church (along with the help of Cedar Springs) gives temporary housing to refugees as they either transition to countries further north in Europe or stabilize in their asylum in Greece. (We’ve posted about this project before…) Giotis took us to two of the Houses of Hope apartments where we met some of the families being supported. We heard the story of one man who tried to go further north in Europe with his wife and twin children. Their story was stressful and harrowing, resulting in them getting arrested and spending time in jail in several countries. It was amazing sitting there with them. His wife’s eyes were so kind and grateful. They really appreciated the security of this House of Hope.
It is an honor to represent you with all of these European ministry partners and the refugees themselves. Our involvement is making a difference. I now better understand Jesus saying that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Now is the time to jump in with prayer, finances, and possible service. Please also consider getting involved locally with the refugee ministry in Knoxville or the city where you live.
Please contact me with any questions and if you feel led to get involved or contribute to any of these mission opportunities.”
Blessings to you in Christ,