As we sat down for our meal, Ali* asked if he could take a picture. “I want to remember this time together,” he explained.
Let me back up. We had invited our friend, Hajir*, a refugee from Afghanistan to come over for dinner at our home. Hajir lived with us in Vienna, Austria for a couple of weeks in the summer of 2015. He was going through a challenging time and needed the extra support of a safe home in which to live for a while. Little did we know what joy he would bring into our lives. We loved our evening prayer times and felt honored to learn about his story and journey to Austria.
Hajir was granted asylum in Vienna before the crush of refugees in Europe last fall. In Austria alone, the number of refugees seeking asylum in 2015 tripled the previous year’s applicants. Many refugees are fleeing war and persecution, but they face a tremendous challenge in finding safe passage to a better place. There is plenty of discrimination and hardship to be found in their search for a peaceful life.
The day of our dinner, Hajir asked if he could bring a friend. Of course, I always cook too much food anyway. I just want to be like my niece’s Italian mother, whose motto is “FEED ALL OF THE PEOPLE ALL OF THE FOOD ALL OF THE TIME.” There was plenty to share.
Hajir guided Ali to the family room. Ali is blind and works as an interpreter. Both men grew up in Muslim families, but are now both following Jesus because of the kindness of Christians they encountered upon arrival in Europe. It has been beautiful to see European Christians reach out with love and help to newcomers.
Many churches are experiencing revitalization by the new believers from Muslim backgrounds who have joined their fellowships. After listening to moving testimonies, I’ve witnessed baptisms of Iranians and Afghanis to the jubilant cheers of Austrian believers. Last fall I attended a full day workshop on how churches in Vienna can minister to refugees. Registrations were closed at 200 participants, because the room could not hold any more. The director of a refugee ministry center near the largest refugee processing center in Vienna told me that she was astonished. “We’ve been working with refugees for over 20 years and have never seen such a response to the need.” God is using the church to display His love and grace to Muslims who are now next-door neighbors.
I don’t know the details of Ali’s blindness, but when he explained why he wanted a picture, I was amazed.
“I hope to see someday, so I am taking pictures of all the places I visit so I will be able to see them then.”
Ali was taking action on future belief. His hope compelled him to do something now.
These two questions are still ringing in my head: For what am I hoping? And, What am I doing about it?
I am hoping for a space where believers are freely in relationship with people who are not like them. The church must not be a club that is separate from the world. We must engage the world, be in relationship with people who do not think like us, who did not grow up like us, who do not share our history. We must grow in our confidence of who we are as believers, of our identity as God’s image bearers, in order to have the freedom to engage in conversation with Muslims, outsiders, and the “other.”
I urge you to get to know an immigrant in your community. Immigrants are people. Don’t underestimate the power of hospitality and friendship. Being in relationship with an immigrant will erase the generalizations thrown around, and just may even inspire you to hope.
Image attribution: linephoto / Thinkstock
*names have been changed