New friendships: Regional office engages with refugees in Busingen
Although European Nazarene College (EuNC) campus closed its residential program in Büsingen, Germany, in 2012 and sold the property to the town in 2015, the apartment building there has been given a new purpose: Housing refugees.
While EuNC has expanded its reach to 18 countries through 17 learning centers, educating nearly 300 students across Europe, the former college campus is finding a new life as a refuge for those hoping to find their own new life in Germany.
Europe is currently facing a historic influx of refugees escaping conflict in Syria, Eritrea, and other war-torn areas. Germany has led the European Union in efforts to resettle these displaced peoples, and that is exactly what the town of Büsingen decided to do with the grounds acquired from EuNC.
As of September 2017, about 15 flats are being used to house displaced families and individuals seeking refuge in Germany.
Annemarie Snijders, a missionary serving the Eurasia Regional Office (ERO) adjacent to the former campus, explained how the effort began.
“I had a dream in which I felt strongly that Jesus asked me that we had to buy Easter eggs for our neighbours, and give them just before Easter,” she said. “It would be a natural opportunity to connect, and we also could give them an invitation to join us in the communication building on Monday afternoon for coffee and tea. So a few weeks before, Arthur and I started buying Easter eggs.”
Annemarie, along with Arthur Snijders, the Eurasia Regional director, shared the idea with the rest of the ERO staff and invited any who were interested to join them. The office group – a mixture of missionaries and German team members – were ready to participate.
The week before Easter, missionary Sandra Tibi went along with Annemarie and Arthur to deliver the gifts and invite the families to a tea and coffee at the office conference room on Easter Monday. Sandra speaks Arabic, and so was able to help with interpretation for some families. They were joined by Uwe Burmeister, the groundskeeper at the college for decades, who has stayed on to help with the property’s transition. Since the first refugees had moved in, he has befriended them. He is seen now as a fatherly figure by the new tenants because he has spent time with them, learning their stories and helping them navigate life in Büsingen.
Sandra said, “We told them, ‘We are your neighbours. We are Christian; we celebrate Easter, and this was formerly a Bible school campus from our church. It’s not ours anymore, but we are happy you can live here now. We want to welcome you and we want to invite you for tea and coffee and get to know you.’”
They left printed invitations and an Easter egg with each of the residents. For the children, there were special bags with Easter eggs. They were received warmly, and some residents even invited them to come in and have tea right then.
One family, a mother and her children who came from Syria, were Christians. The mother was out when the invitations were distributed, but she later told of how she was unsure she would be able to get Easter eggs for her kids, as was their tradition at Easter.
“She said to me, ‘I was so glad when I came home to see the invitation from Christian brothers and sisters and to see Easter eggs for my kids,’” Sandra said.
In Germany, Easter Monday is a national holiday, and with their day off some of the ERO staff baked sweets and brewed tea and coffee.
“All the people who we invited came. It was really neat because they had never interacted among themselves, so this was the first time they came together in the same spot,” says Sandra.
Altogether, around 45 people gathered at the regional office’s conference room, communicating through German, English, Arabic, and Eritrean as they were able.
In thanks for the generous welcome, the families have returned the invitation, hosting a meal for the ERO staff.
Because of these meetings, now everyone can greet each other when they pass in the village. Several regional office staff agreed to serve as backup drivers for one of the refugees who was pregnant, in case her husband was out, when she would go into labor and needed to go to the hospital.
The story is very much still being written, but it began with a simple idea. Now another meal has been planned, and opportunities for connection continue.
“[We’re] just being a neighbour, like many other Nazarenes do every day,” said missionary Heidi Bowes.
Heidi, Sandra, and other ERO staff are finding ways to help their neighbours make a new life – and see hope for a life abundant.