HALLE, Germany — Eastern Mennonite Missions workers here say refugees need Jesus more than clean bedsheets, but they want to give them both.
As Germany deals with Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, EMM workers in Halle have joined in the emergency relief efforts.
(The workers are not identified in this article due to a backlash against refugees and those assisting them.)
A group of Halle citizens collected “welcome packets” containing five 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,” the EMM workers reported.
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. Many refugees are living at a local hotel.
The group has distributed more than 130 boxes of goods — mostly 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,” the workers said.
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 to work with refugees.
“Germans can help with donation of goods; the government is helping with language and housing,” the EMM workers said. “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 church recently held a Christmas service for the neighborhood, and several from the sorting group attended.
The EMM workers have also been able to interact frequently with the refugees.
“Some have come to our church,” the workers said. “Some come to weekly Bible study, not because they’re Christians but because they want to learn about Christianity.”
Though many Germans are concerned about the long-term impact of mass immigration, the EMM workers say that generally the people of Halle recognize the emergency circumstances and therefore welcome the refugees.
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