EBF Refugee Integration Conference

EBF Refugee Integration Conference

Eveline Johnstone, Westbury on Trym Baptist Church - May 10, 2018

25-28 April 2018, Götebro Study Centre, Sweden

On 25th April over thirty people from all over Europe gathered to consider the question of refugee integration in their communities. We came with different experiences and from countries with different attitudes towards refugees but we had one thing in common – a desire to take seriously the biblical mandate to welcome the stranger and to find practical ways of doing that in our particular situations.

We began our reflections by looking at the story of Ruth, perhaps the first success story of a refugee. We noted that Ruth had a ‘mentor’ (Naomi) to the new culture and that Boaz let her become part of the community. Ruth received enough help but not too much; she was given space to grow and create her own life. We also looked at some aspects of the triune God. Helpful ideas were of oneness and diversity, of community without uniformity. We learned that to live in harmony requires both movement and space. There are lessons for churches, many of which are mono-cultural. How do we need to change to allow refugees to be integrated and for them to feel at home?

The following day we had an opportunity to visit two places where refugees are integrating successfully. Our first stop was Laxa, a small town which had been declining. When refugees began to arrive there was plenty of cheap housing for them! In fact, the whole community has pulled together to welcome the refugees. Churches, the local authority and the football club are all involved in settling them in. The church runs a shop where goods are available cheaply and also a café, where some of the refugees do the cooking. The refugees have brought new life to the town and contributed to a sense of hope for the future.

Next we were off to the much larger town of Orebro. The district we visited is one of the most deprived areas in Sweden with poverty, unemployment, crime and extremism as some of its problems. Here we found a Folkshögskola, run by the church. This is a high school for older students to enable them to complete high school, something they did not do at the correct age for whatever reason. Once they have finished the school, they can then apply for vocational training or higher education or a job with good chances of success. The school is attended by refugees and immigrants but also other students who have dropped out at some point. It gives them hope and purpose as well as confidence and paper qualifications. Our visit ended with a delicious meal cooked by some local Iraqi women.

On the final day we heard more about experiences in different countries – issues of places where there are large refugee camps, where there is a war in progress, where immigration authorities are tightening regulations constantly. Each person had their own stories of good news alongside challenges. Lastly we attended a series of workshops dealing with questions of human rights, religious freedom and others where there were no easy answers, but a fruitful sharing of ideas and experiences.

We left, having learned a lot and made new friends. We had been greatly encouraged by hearing from each other and seeing how God is at work in all places and at all times building up his kingdom.

Photos: Toma Magda, Croatia