This article originally appeared in Burning Bush, a newsletter of Franklin Mennonite Conference. Some names and locations withheld due to security risks.
HALLE, Germany — Now it seems hard to believe, but Kaylene Derksen remembers a time when Eastern Mennonite Missions’ (EMM’s) church plant in Halle, Germany was close to dying out.
Kaylene served on the church planting team in Halle with EMM for six years before transitioning to her current role as Development Director at EMM. When her family left Germany, the little church was struggling and there was only one missionary family left to keep it going.
Then 2015 came. Over a million refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other locations started flowing into Germany. Suddenly the struggling Mennonite church had the job of welcoming the newcomers.
Today, seventy people enter the Halle church plant on Sunday mornings. Half of them are refugees, most of whom are from Muslim backgrounds. The EMM missionary team is amazed and overwhelmed — the world is appearing on their doorstep!
As the Mennonite church plant in Halle grows, the missionaries, now a team of two families, are realizing that all along, God was preparing their church for such a time as this. “Starting life in Germany can be complicated,” said an EMM worker. “Fleeing the trauma of war and political instability while trying to adjust to a new country and learn a new language — where do you begin to help?”
“Holistic ministry involves the whole person. We are providing a safe place to gather and learn language, socialize and develop friendships,” said another worker.
As the refugees find their way in a new land, many are navigating new beliefs. An EMM worker writes about one young churchgoer from a Muslim background who asked if he could adopt a dog. Islam forbids owning dogs, as they are considered unclean animals. The EMM worker explained that in Christianity, God looks at the heart and we do not need to earn our way to heaven through keeping regulations. Soon, the young man began looking for a canine companion.
A woman from a Muslim background asked the same EMM worker if she would need to wear her veil once she had decided to follow Jesus. She was in the baptism class at church and enjoyed reading her Bible at home. It was “an opportunity to tell her that Jesus looks at the heart even though people look at the outward appearance!” said the worker. He told her of the freedom Christians have in Christ.
The woman was soon baptized and was joined by many others in her decision. Since 2015, the Mennonite church plant has baptized 23 refugees. Eight more will be baptized this spring.
In an October 2016 newsletter, one missionary reflected on the miracles happening in Halle.
“One year ago, the first large refugee wave arrived and changed our ministry overnight. The first group of Iranian seekers are such an integral part of us now that it’s hard to imagine our church life before they arrived. A second set of new believers is taking a faith and baptism course …. The Halle harvest grows!”