German bishop on migrants: ‘Meet people, not problems’
Reports of the Syrian refugee crisis bring us images of children and families caught in unbearable circumstances that seem too big to confront. Because the world is our parish, as John Wesley famously proclaimed, United Methodists are called to reach out in the name of Jesus to those seeking refuge from violence and poverty.
No one act will resolve the struggle, but many little acts of love by a worldwide, connectional church have the power to change the world.
To learn more about how The United Methodist Church is responding and what still needs to be done, we turned to Bishop Rosemarie Wenner of Germany. Many consider Germany one of the nations in Europe most welcoming of refugees.
The church responds
As migrants from Syria arrive in Germany, “Many people offer a warm welcome,” Wenner reports. “But there are also groups who act with hostility and even violence.”
Wenner is happy to tell of the extravagant hospitality offered by United Methodist congregations.
“Recently I spoke with the pastor of Freiburg, a city in the south of Germany near the border of Switzerland. He spoke of church members of his fairly small congregation who went to the shelter in Freiburg where refugees from Syria were just arriving. They asked their fellow Methodists to offer clothes, toys for the kids and sanitary products. After only few hours, they sent a message that people should stop sending their gifts; they received far too much to cope with it.”
“In addition,” Wenner adds, “several churches … offer apartments for refugees. In places where asylum seekers live for a couple of months, churches offer fellowship groups, children programs, language classes and so on. And many individuals serve as ‘godparents’ and provide support to individual refugees. Of course migrants are heartily invited to worship with the churches and many of them make use of the invitation.”
Participation in worship has provided a spiritual home for many displaced from their physical ones.
“Several congregations tell stories of migrants and refugees who attend worship services,” Wenner shares. “The small congregation near Heidelberg where my husband and I live recently baptized an Iranian couple who came as asylum seekers.”
The Heidelberg church members speak both German and English—a great asset to use in ministry with guests from other lands.
"Nothing to offer but our love"
Churches with limited resources are also participating, offering what they have. Wenner recalls, “The spouse of a pastor recently said: ‘We have nothing to offer but our love. Obviously this is enough for those who come!’”
Love is a key component of what we offer as followers of Jesus, whom the Gospels tell us shared his love with many who felt displaced.We share Christ’s love whenever we treat others with dignity and respect.
“In Germany many people say: ‘We have to solve the refugee problem!’ We as Christians remind ourselves and others that we meet people—not problems. Of course, we have to deal with questions like: ‘What causes people to leave their home and how can we work for peace and bridge the huge economic gaps?’ But those who come have to be seen as human beings who deserve to live in dignity because they are God’s creatures as you and I.”
One of the ways we accomplish this is by coming alongside those most deeply affected. “We have to listen to the migrants themselves,” Wenner explains. “It is about them, not about us.”
Many little acts can change the world
One of the wonderful aspects of being part of The United Methodist Church is that we are a global connection of congregations and individual church members.
“We who claim to be a worldwide church can make use of our connection in order to create a network of care and of political engagement,” Wenner states. “Since we live in a tradition where ministry with the poor is not only an act of charity, but a means of grace, we are called to join hands with all Christians and all people of God to transform the world.”
How to Help
Welcoming the Stranger: Difficult and Necessary - Learn ways you can join the work of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church in a variety of ways like prayer, giving, and resettling refugees.
Disaster Response, International - Contributions to UMCOR’s ongoing work with the refugees/migrants in Europe and the Middle East should be made to the International Disaster Relief Fund, Advance #982450.
Wenner finds encouragement in the words of a song. “In Germany we sing a hymn: ‘Many little people at many little places who do many little things will change the face of the world!’ Nobody has to save all the people. But everybody is able to contribute. And prayers are a source to strengthen us for a long journey.”
Many little things—coordinated together—will change the face of the world. This is our call as the people of God, the people of The United Methodist Church.
Bishop Wenner is drawn to a description of a day yet to come given to us by Jesus.
“I love Luke 13:29 [NRSV]: ‘Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.’ Several of our churches discover that eating together helps to build up relationships and proves to be a foretaste of heaven.”
Sharing our resources, lifting our prayers, and meeting those in need, may not seem like much, but through those small acts we participate in that vision of a day to come when all nations will eat at one table in the kingdom of God.
As the hymn says, “Many little people at many little places who do many little things will change the face of the world!” Let it be so. Amen.
*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact him at 615-312-3733. Diane Degnan, of the Office of Public Information at United Methodist Communications, also contributed to this story.