HALLE, Germany -- “Above all, we want the refugees to receive what they need in the name of Jesus, for His glory and fame. They need Him more than they need clean bedsheets, but we want to give them both!” say Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) workers in Halle. As Germany continues to wrestle with Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, EMM workers in Halle have joined in the emergency relief efforts. (Note: Names are omitted due to a growing backlash against refugees and those assisting them.)
To assist in this crisis, EMM is appealing for charitable gifts. Donors may give here, with “Refugee crisis” preferenced, or give via check to EMM (P.O. Box 458, Salunga, PA, 17538). EMM has collected more than $38,700 thus far.
A group of Halle citizens collected "welcome packets" containing five specific toiletry items; they aimed for 750 kits and collected more than 2,000 -- as well as hundreds of other items. The group had no place to store the donated items, so the church with which EMM workers serve offered to help. “Generally we are not a ‘handout’ church, but this is an anomalous circumstance,” say the EMM workers.
Multiple storage rooms at the church are now filled with clothes, toys, household goods, and baby items. The citizens and church members have been sorting the masses of goods. At present, many refugees are living at a local hotel. “When a refugee family has a need,” the EMM workers say, “the hotel contact person asks our group to retrieve the items -- usually coats and shoes, but also games, school supplies, strollers, and even a wheelchair. Two new babies have been born to families staying in the hotel, and our ‘warehouse’ was joyfully plundered for baby items.”
Thus far, the group has distributed more than 130 boxes of goods (mostly warm winter clothes, toys, and school supplies) to refugees at the hotel and to those waiting at the border.
“Our hope is to eventually use the church's storefront to display the goods in a boutique-style manner, allowing the refugees to come and ‘shop’ with dignity. This format is also more conducive to relationship-building, which is at the heart of our work,” say the workers. The church’s storefront had been a prayer room and office before becoming the relief distribution center. The Halle citizens and church members will work together to staff the "store."
With the funds that are coming in, the church is now employing three interns for dedicated work with refugees. The EMM workers say, “Germans can help with donation of goods; the government is helping with language and housing. But the need we as the church see is for people with time to help them assimilate, and who are willing to be a Christian friend in a new land.”
Through the relief distribution, the EMM workers have formed strong relationships in the community and have seen an increase in the community’s awareness of the church. The EMM workers have also been able to interact frequently with the refugees. “Some have come to our church,” they say. “Some come to weekly Bible study -- not because they're Christians, but because they want to learn about Christianity.” One of the workers also helped a group of young refugee men watch a big soccer match.
Though many Germans are concerned about the long-term change this type of mass immigration will have on the country, the EMM workers say that generally, the population in Halle recognizes the emergency circumstances and therefore welcomes the refugees. The University of Halle-Wittenberg is allowing refugees to attend without paying tuition, so current university students are partnering with refugees to help them navigate the hurdle of registration paperwork. One local restaurant has held weekly meals to welcome refugees, so that the newcomers can network and find friendships.