Photo: Paul Sydnor (IAFR) talking with a refugee in the abandoned warehouse
This is one of many rooms in an abandoned warehouse that has become a makeshift refuge for 200-300 refugees and asylum seekers here in northern France. Conditions are terrible. Overcrowding and lack of sanitation make this a place in which sickness is inevitable. It is temporary home to mostly men, but some women as well. Nights are said to be somewhat frightening. But these people have nowhere else to go.
During our brief 1-2 hour visit, we met people from Gambia, Cameroon, Mali, Albania and Afghanistan. I have no idea what other nationalities are represented in the space.
A group of Afghan men invited us to sit with them beside their tents in the building. One was disappeared when we accepted their invitation. He returned moments later with a bowl filled with fresh fruit to share with us.
Photo: with two of the Afghan refugees by their tents
They spoke openly of their difficult journeys from Central Asia to Europe. One of the men shared with me has he has been denied asylum repeatedly by different countries – and how he is into his 4th appeal here in France. He’s been searching for refuge for 24 years now – including 10 years in Iran.
When I told them that I would pray for them – that God would lead them to a place that they could call home. Their eyes brightened. “That is What we need! Thank you!”
Please pray with us that God would call people to join with our team in Lille, France, full-time to help these friends survive and recover from forced displacement together with the church.
What word would you guess is the opposite of “hospitality”? A look into a couple of other languages might help us…
Philoxenia = hospitality. Transliteration: love of strangers
Xenophobia = fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign. Transliteration: fear of strangers
Gastfreundschaft = hospitality. Transliteration: friend of guests
Auslanderfeindlichkeit = xenophobia. Transliteration: enemy of foreigner
It seems pretty straightforward that Jesus’ famous words below are calling us away from xenophobia and into philoxenia:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies…” Matt. 5:43
In an age of growing xenophobia, those who identify themselves as followers of Jesus will do well to remember and practice our divine mandate to practice the love of strangers. Hospitality.
Looking for a good book on the subject?
Rachel Uthmann, IAFR Director of Church Training, recently told me about the book “Making Room” by Christine Pohl. Published in 1999, it remains as relevant as ever – perhaps even more so today than when it was first released.
After a day of encouraging meetings with our partner IAFR organization in Canada, we went to a house sheltering asylum-seekers for a feast that included tasty Persian food, a birthday cake for a mother from Mexico and a father from Azerbaijan and a time honoring Muslim guests (from Nigeria and Sudan) as they ended the month of fasting called Ramadan. A Lebanese woman facilitated a beautiful time of friendship building, prayer and fun. The house was filled with diverse nationalities. And it was good.
Photo: with Herr Kaltenböck
I will never forget Mr. And Mrs. Kaltenböck. They were the first people to take me in when I was a young stranger in a remote rural area of Austria known as the Mühlviertel. I was fresh out of college and 6 months of German school (in Bavaria) and following the unmistakable call of God to serve refugees in a nearby village. There weren’t many rooms for rent in the region – and even fewer people willing to consider renting to a young foreigner. But Herr Kaltenböck and his family took me in. Frau Kaltenböck even did my laundry and invited me to join their family every Sunday for lunch.
Such hospitality is never forgotten.
It was a blessing to be able to visit Herr Kaltenböck while on vacation in Austria this past week. He’s 94 years old now. Sadly, his wife passed away a few years ago.
It did my heart good to tell him thank you – for I was a stranger and you invited me in.
I last saw him about 3 years ago while visiting Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi. So you can imagine how surprised I was to bump into Anthony at church this morning. I had not heard that he and his family were resettled to the US – much less to St. Paul, Minnesota, a couple of months ago.
Anthony is originally from DR Congo’s volatile eastern provinces. Last I knew, over 2 million people had been forced to flee the country. They have been scattered all over Africa and the world.
I can’t imagine what it must be like for Anthony to move from a forgotten refugee camp’s mud houses without running water and electricity to downtown St. Paul – in winter.
But refugees are defined by being people on the run – people on the move. So Anthony seems to have taken his latest move in stride, as if transcontinental moves were normal.
Now he’s looking for a job that will pay their bills. Fortunately, Anthony worked hard to learn English and can speak it well. That will help. But the transition will still not be quick or easy.
A family from our church had already invited him to their home for lunch. Wow. That is the church at its best. And it is an important offer of new friendship and community for Anthony, without which it is nearly impossible to recover from forced displacement.