“I have never seen anything like this before,” the leader of the Oasis team said after he saw a large crowd of Arabic speakers respond to the Gospel in Germany. “I saw the Holy Spirit like an athlete running around among the people, and he was very excited.”
For many years, the Oasis team has been working among Arabic speakers in North Africa and the Middle East. But in the midst of the current refugee crisis, God has opened a door in Germany where they are seeing him move in ways that are unprecedented.
Last year, Johann Matthies, MB Mission’s Regional Team Leader in Europe, invited two key leaders from the Oasis team to visit the Mennonite Brethren church in Neuwied, which is not only one of the oldest MB churches in Western Europe, but probably the most culturally diverse. Most of the members of this strong and lively congregation speak multiple languages. They currently translate their weekly services into Persian and Arabic, and they are building their capacity to translate effectively into nine languages.
Under the leadership of Pastor Walter Jakobeit, the church in Neuwied has also been actively engaging the refugees in their community. In the past few months, they have begun various initiatives to help meet the practical needs of their new neighbors. But they have been asking for help in evangelism, discipleship and shepherding.
Johann Matthies began to envision a partnership between MB Mission and churches like the one in Neuwied. Johann knew that Oasis was able to supply an evangelist who spoke Arabic, as well as other resources for Arabic speakers, such as online Bible training.
When the Oasis team stopped over in Germany on their way to North Africa, Johann introduced them to Pastor Jakobeit in Neuwied. In turn, the pastor introduced them to a young couple in his church from Iraq who were meeting regularly with a group of about twelve other immigrants from the Middle East. It was an encouraging beginning.
During the following months, as refugees continued to flow into Germany, the Oasis team began to prepare for another visit to Neuwied. In September, when they arrived, the church in Neuwied had gathered a group of about seventy-five people together, most of whom were recent immigrants from Syria and Iraq, and many of whom had never heard the Gospel. At the church, they hosted a one-day conference with the theme: “A New Beginning with Jesus.”
The Oasis team leader, himself an Arabic speaker, shared all morning about Jesus and what it meant to be his follower. He knew that Arabic people were usually quite reserved in public gatherings, but he could see the spiritual hunger in their eyes.
“You know when you haven’t eaten for a few days,” he said, “then any food that you get tastes so good and you don’t leave anything behind. That’s what it was like as these immigrants heard the Gospel.”
After lunch, the people did not want to leave. Everyone stayed into the afternoon to hear more. Later, after he had made the Gospel plain to everyone, he invited them to respond. In his own mind, he was thinking that there would be a handful of people who were ready to follow Jesus. But a majority of the crowd was eager to respond.
“I was shocked,” he said. “I didn’t just ask people to raise their hands – I asked them to come forward. I knew that this would be very tough in their culture, but they came forward with tears in their eyes.”
He asked them again if they had understood his message, and they insisted that they had. That day was a new beginning for many Arabic speakers as they came forward to receive prayer. Some not only heard the Gospel but came to know Jesus and trusted in him for their salvation.
For the Oasis team, this was a clear signal of a new season in what God was doing in the world. They had never seen a group of people like this with such a high degree of readiness to respond to Jesus.
However, this move of God was not only happening at one church or in one area. This hunger was being reported among other congregations as well. In another city where the Oasis team visited, they were approached by a young refugee couple who said, “We came to Germany to find Jesus.”
In November, church leaders from two Mennonite conferences in Germany (BTG and AMBD – see sidebar) met with MB Mission leaders to discuss strategies on how to best respond to this colossal opportunity among refugees. One outcome of the meetings was the appointment of two ministry coordinators who would help to organize outreach among new immigrants and to mobilize the churches to engage their new neighbors with practical help.
“There is an eagerness for partnership,” said Johann Matthies, “among both church and mission leaders. The challenge is too big. No one can do this alone.”
Much work yet remains, including the details of these newly formed partnerships, but there seems to be a strong sense among the churches in Germany, and among mission leaders, that now is the time to come together and embrace the opportunities among refugees. As they look to the Holy Spirit for direction and inspiration, they anticipate great things.
PARTNERS IN GERMANY
MB Mission is thrilled about opportunities to partner with churches in Germany to serve among refugees. We are working closely with two church conferences: Bund Taufgesinnter Gemeinden (BTG) and Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Mennonitischen Brüdergemeinden in Deutschland (AMBD), which are both members of the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB).
For the BTG churches, their own history motivates them to help. These churches are predominantly made up of people who came from the former Soviet Union only twenty to twenty-five years earlier. They remember what it was like to arrive in Germany as immigrants, so they are sensitive to the needs of those who are arriving from the Middle East.
AMBD congregations have also been seizing opportunities among their new neighbors. In Neuwied, church members noticed more and more Iraqi men in their community who were looking for a place to gather. Many of these men were also interested in lifting weights. So the church made space available in their building for a weightlifting ministry, providing these men with a place for community, for fitness and for discussions about faith.
More recently, Pastor Walter Jakobeit reported that the local government in Neuwied had offered the church an opportunity to buy an old hotel in the city at a reduced rate in order to provide housing to refugees. The latest word from the church was that they were still discerning how to respond to this opportunity.
If you would like to contribute financially to the work among refugees, please make a donation to Urgent Relief Ministries.