Robert Beutler knows all too well what it means to be persistent. After hearing of a Syrian refugee family’s arrival in his hometown of Enkenbach-Alsenborn, he made a point of contacting the family to welcome them. It was only after the third attempt, however, that Mr. Beutler finally caught the entire family at home.
“These refugees come here to a completely foreign world, but we expect them to integrate,” says Mr. Beutler. “It’s necessary for them to get a foothold, and that means helping each other out and supporting each other.”
Sometimes that support is as simple as making sure the mailbox is properly labelled with the new family’s name or helping get the trash out on the proper day. Filling out complicated paperwork and attending appointments are also on the agenda.
Mr. Beutler is a member of the Mennonite church in Enkenbach-Alsenborn. When the church board heard of the wave of refugees coming to Germany, they organized a meeting of local churches, clubs and politicians, out of which a citizens’ initiative grew.
“When the number of refugees and asylum seekers swelled right on our doorstep, the public authorities were faced with a huge, almost overwhelming task. That makes it all the more important that we as a church community step up and help where we can,” says Rainer Burkart, pastor of the Mennonite Church in Enkenbach-Alsenborn. “Right from the beginning, we worked closely with the Catholic and Protestant churches, and with town authorities.”
This group calls itself “Begegnungen in Enkenbach-Alseborn: Menschen helfen Menschen.” The title makes the purpose clear: Encounter – people helping people. Regular visits to make certain basic needs like food and clothing are being met, a weekly 10-kilometer run, and free German classes are a few examples of their activities.
One particular opportunity for building relationships is the Begegnungscafé, a meeting for young, old and everything in-between. Each Tuesday afternoon, a neighborhood church’s fellowship hall resounds with Arabic, Farsi, Urdu or Albanian, mixed with English and German. Everyone is invited – regardless of official residency status, nationality, language or religion – to eat cake and drink tea or coffee while laughing together over shared language attempts and hearing of new and interesting cultures.
At the café, Mr. Beutler makes contact again with individuals or families he has visited in their new homes. They are usually reserved at first, unsure of Beutler’s intentions. “But their eyes always light up when I see them again. Eventually they build enough trust to open up a little bit,” says Beutler.
As with any work where people are involved, aiding refugees can be very demanding and disappointing, especially when cultural differences seem insurmountable. One can feel exploited or frustrated by inaccurate perceptions of what life in Germany will be like. Conversations with others in the community and church family can be a positive way to deal with these difficulties.
This area of community development gives Mr. Beutler the most joy. “The work with the refugees has something satisfying and comforting about it. But it is the overall trend that makes me happiest. Many from our church family and community are really dedicated to the work. There’s something warm and familiar in our interactions with each other. It’s great.”
Written by Dora Schmidt, a member of Mennonitengemeinde Enkenbach (Mennonite church) in Enkenbach-Alsenborn, Germany.
This testimony is part of the World Fellowship Sunday worship resource for 2017. Click here to see more: www.mwc-cmm.org/worldfellowshipsunday
To read this article in German click here.