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WEEK OF PRAYER: European refugee center lacks funds but not opportunity

EDITOR’S NOTE: This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention will be Dec. 4-11 with the theme of “His heart, His hands, His voice — I am Southern Baptist missions” from Acts 1:8. Each year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering supplements Cooperative Program giving to support Southern Baptists’ 5,000 international missionaries’ initiatives in sharing the Gospel. This year’s offering goal is $175 million. To find resources about the offering, go to imb.org/offering.

EUROPE (BP) — She is looking for a little good news.

Shirin has found her way to a refugee center in Europe run by Southern Baptist workers. A worker calls Shirin’s grown daughter in the United States — Shirin is desperate to reconnect.

Once a businesswoman in Kabul, Afghanistan, she also was a mother and a wife, married to a man with a prestigious government job. Then the Taliban showed up. They mercilessly killed her husband. Her children were taken from her and raised to hate her and the more culturally liberal way of life she embraced.

She eventually left Afghanistan, joining thousands of other refugees migrating through Iran, Turkey and Greece toward the hope of a better life.

Wandering is part of the nomadic history of many minority peoples of Central Asia. Sadly, running is part of it as well: running from war, persecution, discrimination, poverty.

“War! War! War!” Shirin laments. “Why?”

The news from Shirin’s daughter is devastating. “Tell her I died 20 years ago” is the message she receives.

For a woman tired of running and longing for a home, the words strangle what little hope she has left.

Where is home? It is not with her daughter. It is not Afghanistan. It is not the refugee center in a country that neither welcomes nor supports immigrants.

Shirin wants freedom to live as she chooses and rest from the battles that have shredded her home and her family. She wants respect as a Hazara, a marginalized minority in Afghanistan.

She also is spiritually hungry. As she processes the news from her daughter, a Bible study begins at the refugee center. Suddenly breaking off a conversation, she moves toward the front of the room for a better seat.

Southern Baptist workers find that many refugees like Shirin are eager for the Good News of Jesus’ love. Many have lived in places where the Gospel message is not welcomed. However, once they begin living as modern-day nomads, they are eager to hear the words of One who points them toward an everlasting home.

Eventually, when the refugees arrive at their destinations — France, England or Germany, for instance — their openness to the Gospel tends to evaporate as they settle into Central Asian expatriate communities. They find mosques and other familiar support systems.

“France provides lodging and food,” a Southern Baptist worker explains. “They can settle into a sort of normalcy there. Here they have nothing; they are vulnerable.”

The refugee center that welcomed Shirin has been open for six years. Each week, it provides meals for about 500 people and distributes approximately 150 bags of staple groceries to needy families. Other ministries at the center include clothing distributions, worship services, Bible studies and language classes.

The center used to provide showers, but that ministry was cut as a result of Lottie Moon Christmas Offering budget shortfalls. The workers use some of their personal support funds received through the offering to maintain some of the other ministries.

Convinced of the strategic importance of refugee ministry, workers at the center are committed to making do with what funds they have. They saw 70 baptisms in one year as a result of their outreach, and they are witnessing the growth of a Persian church led by Persian believers in their midst.

Refugees are not required to stay for the Bible studies offered at the center, but they often do.

Shirin stayed.

Despite the bad news she received — or perhaps because of it — she sits on the edge of her chair waiting to be encouraged. A Persian pastor who once was a refugee himself speaks of the hope she seeks — from a God who is faithful — using Hebrews 10 as his text.

Jesus made it possible for people to run into the arms of God, the pastor explains.

“Jesus came to give life, not war,” he says.
Beth Alexander is an International Mission Board writer in Central Asia. To learn more about Central Asian refugees, go to imb.org/wp/europeancity.

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  • Beth Alexander