Volker and I met with the leaders of the refugee home on a Thursday night. Volker is one of the leaders at our church, a very missional-minded man with a heart for refugees. The leaders of the refugee home were friendly, chatty, and clearly reeling from some recent event. As they described the home and how it functions, they were clearly talking around a major problem without addressing it directly. I kept wondering, "what is the elephant in the room?" It came out in bits and pieces: their recent director had just quit. He hadn't lasted much longer than the previous one. This small band of leaders were now left picking up the pieces of a disorganized and spiritually dark refugee home. We could feel the tension in the room.
As it came our turn to introduce ourselves and state our purpose in coming, I braced myself for the inevitable: skepticism and rejection. I watched their faces closely as we talked about our vision as a "free church" and desire to "serve in our neighborhood." No reaction. We continued. "At our church we've started an international cafe which meets every two weeks with the hope of welcoming refugees from the area, teaching them German in a fun and relaxed atmosphere, and looking for ways to integrate them into Berlin by building relationships with Germans." No reaction. "So, would you be open to us hanging up flyers, possibly coming by and picking up refugees, and bringing them to our cafe?" I braced myself for rejection.
The leader of the meeting, sat up in his chair and said, "that's a great idea! In fact, we'd love nothing more than for our refugees to get out of the house/compound more. We'd love for them to come to you at your church." I was floored. He knows we're a church. He knows we are a free church. In Berlin that means a sect. I couldn't believe my ears. But what happened next left me utterly fassungslos—shocked.
"But … the reality is, they will never come. They will never come unless they get to know you first. We've seen this with other offers from other groups. However, I have a proposal for you. What would you think of coming to the refugee home and offering your international cafe here, in our rooms, every week?" I felt for a brief moment like I no longer knew the city in which we've ministered for the past 15 years. I thought I knew it, but this was totally unexpected. It's not supposed to happen like this.
The refugee crisis has opened doors for free churches like ours with both secular institutions and state churches alike. Crisis has broken down barriers, opened doors to service unthinkable just a few years ago.
This past week was the start of our ministry at the refugee home. The home houses 200 refugees mainly from Syria, Albania, Eritrea, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. We've decided to team up with another evangelical free church to run this ministry together. Both of us are small church plants and would have a tough time shouldering a weekly outreach alone. Every Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. we will be there. We call the cafe the Teestube—tea parlor. A relaxed place for whole families to speak and meet with Germans—German Christians.
Our first week drew close to 40 refugees! It was a delightful time. It is just a beginning, but a great one. Continue pray for chances to serve and speak in the name of Christ. Our hope is get to know refugees there, invite them to church where they can get to know a loving community of Christians. The Lord has opened a door to us to make known the riches of Christ!
David is an MTW missionary serving in England, France, and Germany.
*last name withheld for security reasons