NEUWIED, Germany — The leader of MB Mission’s Oasis team had never seen anything like it before: a large crowd of Arabic speakers responding to the gospel in Germany.
“I saw the Holy Spirit like an athlete running around among the people, and he was very excited,” he said.
The Oasis team has been working to reach out to Arabic speakers around the world. It is most invested in supporting and training a church-planting network in North Africa and the Middle East. But in the midst of the current refugee crisis, they believe they are seeing God move in unprecedented ways.
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. The congregation is not only one of the oldest MB churches in Western Europe but probably the most culturally diverse.
Most of the congregation’s members speak multiple languages. They translate their services into Persian and Arabic and are building capacity to translate into nine languages.
Under the leadership of Pastor Walter Jakobeit, the church in Neuwied has been engaging refugees. In the past few months, they began initiatives to help meet the practical needs of their new neighbors. But they have also been asking for help in evangelism, discipleship and shepherding.
Matthies began envisioning a partnership between MB Mission and churches like the one in Neuwied. He knew Oasis was able to supply an evangelist who spoke Arabic, as well as other resources for Arabic speakers, such as online Bible training.
MB Mission is working closely with two Mennonite Brethren conferences: Bund Taufgesinnter Gemeinden (BTG) and Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Mennonitischen Brüdergemeinden in Deutschland (AMBD).
The BTG churches’ history motivates them to help. These churches are predominantly made up of people who came from the former Soviet Union only 20 to 25 years ago. They remember what it was like to arrive in Germany as immigrants.
Nobody wanted to leave
When the Oasis team stopped in Germany on their way to North Africa, Matthies introduced them to Jakobeit, who introduced them to a young couple in his church from Iraq who were meeting regularly with a group of about 12 other immigrants from the Middle East. It was an encouraging beginning.
Refugees continued to flow into Germany. The Oasis team returned to Neuwied in September, the church had gathered a group of about 75 people — mostly recent immigrants from Syria and Iraq — many of whom had never heard the Gospel. The church hosted a one-day conference, “A New Beginning with Jesus.”
The Oasis team leader shared all morning about Jesus and what it meant to be his follower.
“When you haven’t eaten for a few days, then any food that you get tastes so good, and you don’t leave anything behind,” he said. “That’s what it was like as these immigrants heard the gospel.”
After lunch, nobody wanted to leave. Later, after he had made the gospel plain to everyone, he invited them to respond. He thought a handful of people 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.”
The Oasis team had never seen a group of people with such a high degree of readiness to respond to Jesus.
He asked again if they had understood his message. 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.
Eager to work together
This move of God was reported among other congregations as well. In another city the Oasis team visited, they were approached by a young refugee couple who said they had come to Germany to find Jesus.
In November, church leaders from two MB conferences in Germany met with MB Mission leaders to discuss how to respond to this opportunity. Two ministry coordinators were appointed to help organize outreach and mobilize churches to engage their new neighbors.
“There is an eagerness for partnership among both church and mission leaders,” Matthies said. “No one can do this alone.”
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