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What Do Immigration and Refugee Resettlement Have to Do With the Gospel?

What Do Immigration and Refugee Resettlement Have to Do With the Gospel?
Tens of thousands of newcomers live in Berlin. That’s why Resonate missionaries David Kromminga and Mary Buteyn started a church plant with and for refugees.

Salman* moved to Berlin, Germany, from Iran. Like many people in Iran, he came from a Muslim background, but one of the first things he sought out was Willkommens Gemeinde—a church that Resonate Global Mission missionaries David Kromminga and Mary Buteyn started with and for newcomers to the country.

Hundreds of millions of people in our world are on the move every year. Like Salman, some are forced from their homes because of war or persecution. Some are in search of education, job opportunities, medical care, or what they hope will be a better life for themselves and their families.

How does this movement of people throughout the world affect the spread of the gospel? As Christian Reformed churches, ministries, and missionaries extend a warm welcome to newcomers in their communities, they’ve had opportunities to share the love of Christ in ways that might not have been possible before.

Extending a Warm Welcome to Newcomers

It’s right there in the name: translated into English, “Willkommens Gemeinde” means “The Welcoming Church.” The community worships in beginner-level German and seeks to warmly embrace newcomers in Berlin. 

“We want to mirror the hospitality of God,” Kromminga says. “God welcomed us into existence. God welcomes us into a redeemed relationship with him. We want to mirror that on a human level—that you are truly welcome here because our God is a welcoming God.”

When Salman first visited Willkommens Gemeinde, he was greeted at the door. “I suspect he was looking for a community that speaks German at his level,” Buteyn says. “He just hung around with us, and there were some other Iranians too.”

Salman was interested in the gospel and joined a class Kromminga was leading for Muslims interested in Christianity. In Iran, it would have been dangerous for Salman to show interest in the gospel. Converts from Islam to Christianity are at risk of persecution from the government and, in some cases, from family, friends, and the community. But in Germany, Salman did not face the same risk. 

The coronavirus pandemic forced Kromminga to stop meeting as a group after just a few classes. Instead, Kromminga started taking walks with Salman and talked one-on-one.

One day Kromminga asked Salman, “Do you have any questions?”

“I think I’m already a Christian,” Salman said. “I think I’ve believed this for quite some time.”

On Easter 2021, Salman was baptized, and he remains a committed member of the church to this day.

Kromminga and Buteyn witness an openness to Christianity every day in their ministry and community.

“I think people who are displaced and on the move are open to new relationships that long-settled people are not open to, and there’s also a willingness to think about things differently,” Kromminga says.

“There’s also a huge hunger for community,” says Buteyn. She and Kromminga note that extending a warm welcome to newcomers like Salman is just as important as the classes, worship, and prayer gatherings they lead.

“Our church is simply radically hospitable,” said Buteyn.

Advocating for Families

When Mahmoud* and his daughter Rayya* came to Canada in 2018 to seek medical treatment for Rayya, they had to leave the rest of their family in Yemen. The medical visa by which they came to Canada allowed for only one parent to accompany a child seeking treatment. With violence and danger affecting everyday life back in Yemen, they claimed refugee status soon after arrival. Mahmoud and Rayya connected with Open Homes Hamilton, an organization that works with churches to support refugee claimants by offering home-based hospitality. Soon Mahmoud began working toward obtaining permanent resident status so he could bring the rest of his family to Canada. 

That’s when Meadowlands CRC entered the story. Several volunteers with Open Homes Hamilton attended Meadowlands CRC in Ancaster, Ont. When they heard of Mahmoud and Rayya’s story, they invited their church to advocate alongside them as they worked toward permanent resident status. To do that, they participated in a Faith in Action workshop led by Cindy Stover, Canada Justice Mobilizer with the CRCNA.

As part of the workshop, church members sent letters to their member of parliament in which they encouraged the MP and his office to do all they could to assist the processing of Mahmoud’s application for permanent residence so he could bring the rest of his family to Canada.

“The Faith in Action workshop was designed so that congregations can take it and adapt it to the justice issues that are priorities for them,” Stover says. “In this case it meant that Meadowlands CRC was able to do direct advocacy for Mahmoud and Rayya and their family.” 

Soon after the workshop, some of the people who had sent letters got a response from the MP’s office, and some even received a phone call from the MP himself. “The Spirit moved in many ways from there to see the family united,” said Stover.

One of those ways was through the providential hospitality of Jeffrey and Melissa Bos at the Al Amana Centre, a Christian ecumenical and interfaith organization in Oman supported by the CRCNA that works to promote peace and tolerance among Muslims and Christians around the world. As the final step in their paperwork process, Mahmoud’s wife Aisha and their children had to stop at the Canadian embassy in Oman to receive their visas. A couple at Meadowlands CRC knew the Bos family, so they reached out to let them know about the family. When Aisha and her children arrived in Muscat, they were able to stay at the Al Amana Centre while completing their final paperwork.

In February 2022, exactly one year after the churches joined them in advocacy, Aisha and her children reunited with Mahmoud and Rayya in Canada. “Reuniting with my family was the happiest moment of our lives,” Mahmoud said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who stood by us.”

Today Mahmoud and his family are enjoying life in Canada together. “The kids are enrolled in school, and though the weather was difficult when they arrived, they are glad for warmer temperatures now,” said Danielle Steenwyk-Rowaan of Open Homes Hamilton. “It has been challenging to live in a one-bedroom apartment while they wait for a larger one to open up, but they were so happy to go through Ramadan together as a family recently.”

Stover mentioned the importance of recognizing God’s hand moving in multiple different communities to work toward the reunification of Mahmoud's family.

“We had no idea that we would get such an immediate response from the MP’s office,” she said. “We had no idea there was another church in Mississauga praying about this at the same time. It’s a reminder of how God can use our everyday work and bring others in to build on it to see miracles happen!”

As people move throughout the world, the church can play an important role in helping to meet the needs of immigrants and refugees. Salman found a welcoming faith community where he learned about the grace and hope of Christ. Mahmoud’s family was able to be reunited.

“If the church can be a healthy Christian community,” Kromminga says, “that can be an empowering thing for somebody who has left or walked away—or had to run from—their home.”

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
**Elements of this story originally appeared in the February 2022 CRC News article “Prayer and Advocacy Help Reunite a Family.”

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