Learning with Iraqi refugees in the Department of Ain – France
Moved by the situation caused by the advance of Daesh at the end of 2014, 20 members of three Christian communities in the small town of Bellegarde decided to accommodate a family of refugees from Iraq. After nine months of waiting, the Mikho family with two grandmothers, two parents and three boys was announced in the train station one Saturday evening.
The media were eager to show a more positive story than the decline of a fearful Europe, so a photographer and journalist covered the arrival. A media parade continued in the days and weeks that followed, and made the response given in our modest homes appear disproportionate.
Within one month, the family received a minimum income and a housing allowance. Nine months later, the family was so well integrated that Arabic-French translators are no longer needed, and both the husband and wife have employment. Our Christian communities have become like a new family to them, stepping in to replace those from their homeland.
The wealth of skills others bring to our group has been valuable in giving ideas, and letting the family know they are at home. Our group accompanied the family in obtaining refugee status, their residence cards, medical papers, etc. We also supported the parents in education, children’s activities, and access to employment.
Catholics, Protestants, Adventists and Mennonites learned to better know and appreciate each other as we work together. We often find ourselves in the situation of the learner. When I try to use a few Arab phrases, I realize the road they have to travel in the opposite direction to reach us. We try to show as much as possible our songs and readings in both French and Arabic. We are happy to share with them our understanding of the Christian faith.
Both grandmas spend much time embroidering colourful pictures evoking biblical or religious scenes. We thus discover an ancient culture: our Iraqi friends are from the province of Nineveh.
Their Christian history is impressive. From Roman times, they have resisted influences from the East (Persian mystery religion) and the West (Rome, Byzantine Orthodoxy, Islam, even Catholic and Protestant missionaries). The intervention of the U.S. army in the 20th century ended their way of life, motivating other regional reactions, with the catastrophic consequences that we now see.
We are on a journey with our friends; a journey of language, history and culture. This is not just about being welcoming and hospitable, but about being brothers and sisters in humanity who meet across borders.
Written by Daniel Goldschmidt, a member of Eglise Evangélique Mennonite (evangelical Mennonite church) in Saint-Genis-Pouilly, France.
This testimony is part of the World Fellowship Sunday worship resource for 2017. Click here to see more: www.mwc-cmm.org/worldfellowshipsunday