the least of these

"Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Mathew 25:40


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In the midst of a miracle

I was told Zwickau is the most spiritually dead place in all of Europe. I
imagewas told that east Germany is the grave yard of church plants. Well then I must be in the midst of a miracle, because what I have seen, and what I have heard is nothing short of amazing. Stadlicht Church is on Fire! People by the hundreds are getting to know Jesus, lives are being changed, and they are truly a City Light.

I was asked by my team, “What has touched you so far this week?” My response was, “Them.”image They have
touched me, they have amazed me with their hearts to serve in such a joyful way. We are having so much fun together. We are always laughing, and working together is so much fun. I experience this with both the team from Forum Wiedenest and Stadlicht. All of them are all amazingly gifted and anointed by God. I truly believe I am in the midst of a miracle.

On Monday night, as I sat on the floor and had dinner with a man who fled from Syria, he shared pictures of Damascus both before and after the war. I was moved by the sadness in his heart for the incredible loss of his home. I could not help but weep for him. Yet, when I looked at imagethese pictures God placed hope in my heart, as I was reminded of Germany after the allied air attack of world war II. It hit me, there is hope. Like Germany, Syria can rebuild again into a great nation. This message of hope Germany can tell so well. I just love how God is at work in this way. I love how God uses our brokenness to teach us and bring us closer to Him. I love how God is near the broken hearted, the widows, and the orphans. I love how God restores us.

Tuesday and Wednesday our team split into many groups. Together, amongst other things; we taught German classes, served refugee families, showed the Jesus Film in Arabic, distributed over 200 bibles in Arabic, and hosted a soccer tournament at a men’s refugee facility. I joined the team hosting the soccer event, and it was nothing short of awesome. Forum Wiedenest had sent a trailer with a complete indoor soccer arena called a Sport Kit, which we set up at Max Bahr. Max Bahr is like an old Home Depot, that now houses refugees in Zwickau. This facility is currently hosting about 500 men, of all ages, and many countries. The tension can be high at times in this place as the men don’t have much to do. They can’t work or travel until they receive the proper passport which can take over a year. So they sit, and drink tea, and try to pass the time. Almost like in prison. Yes, they can go out into town, but often going into town is not nice for them. Almost every refugee I spoke with has experienced some form of racism or even physical violence while in Zwickau. So we brought the City Light to them. Over 50 men participated, and many more watched and imagecheered.

All of our work has had one simple theme, relationship. We are simply building relationships. All of the activities and events point back to relationship. And it is through these relationships, that love is on display, hope is offered, and the Holy Spirit does it’s finest work. After such a hard journey, and reaching a place where it is easy to feel unwelcomed, we have been blessed with the opportunity to bring hope. To let them know that there is God who loves them, and has not forsaken them. A God that cares for their deepest needs, and will provide for them everything they need. My favorite part is to say with a smile and handshake, “Welcome.”

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Prepare to be Amazed!

imageI am officially old. Considering that I am the oldest of my group by 15 years, it is very clear I am no longer 25. On Saturday I was assigned my team, which consists of 12 FW Bible Schools Students, 1 missionary from Mavuno Kenya, and myself. It is awesome to experience this time through the eyes of a young adult who still has the eyes of optimism and the ability to do so much.

The first day in Zwickau started the week off with two amazing worship services. The first at our host church, called Stadtlicht, and the second was a refugee service hosted by a local church network called Cross Culture Network.

Stadtlicht is a church plant with a vibrant congregation of 20-40 year olds. The worship was great, and the imagemessage was impactful. Pastor Henry Dietrich message centered around Mathew 14:28 when Jesus calls Peter out of the boat; ““Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.’’. The idea of stepping out of ones boat/comfort zone into faith hit me. This was in part my story regarding this whole trip. Should I go? Should I sacrifice 12 days away from my family, 7 days from work? Will this trip mean anything? Jesus called me out of the boat and said, “Come.”

The other piece of his message was the idea that God will bring people into our lives that need our help, even when we think we are not able to care for them. This is an obvious reaction to the refugee crises. But I a reminded God brought them into my life for a reason and he will provide imagewhat I need to help fullfill his plan. I just need to do what I can, and let Him do the rest.
I love the emphasis on “Just bring what you got, let God do the rest.” God is telling me just step out in faith, and I will handle the rest. So good!

Cross Culture network is an amazing concept. It is a coalition of about 5 local churches in Zwickau which come together and pool resources to host a church service in the neighborhood where many refugees live. They are exploring imagetogether what it looks like to serve the needs of the city. The service consists of a message translation along with many biblical resources in Arabic. The service has lots of worship music, message, and the best part was the food and fellowship after. This is a great way for refugees to connect with each other and local Germans. This is a grass roots effort by all means. For example, about 20 of us split up into groups of 2-4 and went door to door throughout the apartment buildings which house refugees. We used Arabic invitation cards, and spoke German & English to invite people to church. Talk about ‘stepping out of the boat,’ it was amazing!

The most resounding message I am experiencing is at the attitude of those I am serving with. There is no talk of imagepolitics, no talk of if this work with refugees is right or wrong, no talk of terrorism..Instead, they are joyful, and confident in what they are doing. It is such a blessing for me to watch the Holy Spirit lived out in this way.

So I feel like a young adult again, full of hope and optimism about how I can “Step out of the boat.” I look fwd. to letting God use these Bible students and refugees to teach me things about life I never learned, and most importantly how to walk in faith.image

“.. as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him—”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭2:9‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

 

 


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What will happen to the Welcome Culture?

welcome2Over the summer the world witnessed beautiful displays of Germans greeting refugees as they arrived.  It was by far the most positive moments of the current crises in Syria.  The footage of support for refugees from train stations, and professional soccer matches have become iconic symbols of this time.  However, as it is with time, things of this world fade.  And as time goes by, and more acts of terror take place, one could wonder if the spirit of the Welcome Culture will fade in Germany?

Since summer, we have witnessed horrible acts of terrorism in France and the United States, and more recent news of Arab or North African men sexually assaulting women in Cologne during the New Year’s Eve celebration.  Despite our best efforts, the terror has not stopped.

Further, like the political climate and media inflammation of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States this winter, Germans also face the growing rhetoric of right wing extremist and a media that is hungry to exploit a story.  Yet, according to German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA), refugees are no more likely to conduct criminal acts than citizens.  Which would make sense, that refugees really come to Germany for protection and peace, not to cause problems.  As the battle for good & evil rages on, the media stands by like hungry vultures.

Here are three examples to re-frame this topic.

The town of Madaya, Syria has not seen CaptureUN aid since October.  This picture is worth a 1000 words.  The people Madaya are so desperate they have conceded to emanate death, and they only plea for the world to save their children.  It is said, “No one leaves home unless their home is a sharks mouth.” Syria is currently a sharks mouth.

 

In 2015, theCapture2 UN received only 58% of the requested funds for the Regional Refugee Plan (supporting refugee camps in: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, & Turkey).  The locations many in the Untied States and beyond think is best for these people to stay.  It is also important to note that in many of these countries, not only are refugees not receiving necessary funds, they are not allowed to work by the host country.  One could hardly say these camps provide Hope for displaced Syrian Refugees.

Capture3

Meanwhile, in Germany, refugees are settling into their new life.  Experiencing holidays like Christmas, and preparing to contribute to the economic strength of the country. They have also found peace and safety for the first time, in a long time.  Hope is at hand. “I’ll always be homesick in some way, but in another way this is starting to feel like home.” “In Berlin we are comfortable.  The people in Berlin are very nice.” – Khawla Kareem/Syrian Refugee

The life and ministry of Jesus Christ of Nazareth is made up of love, and compassion for others.  More importantly, love for the marginalized and reject12212538_10208145459903717_1981180623_ned.  Love for the sojourner, foreigners, and refugees(Leviticus 19:33-34).   Because through Him, the lost and broken are found, reunited and saved by God.  A God of Love.

Syrian refugees are marginalized by their government, and rejected by many in the west who fear them. So then,  “What would Jesus do?”

Mathew 9: 36-38   When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

I believe Jesus weeps for these Syrians and is building a fire in our hearts to help them.  The Welcome Culture represents that fire in our hearts.  I believe God is smiling on the Germans for how they, as a country, have boldly chosen to embrace “the least of these.”  Let us pray for the hearts and minds of those in Germany.  May God give them strength and discernment.  May God richly bless them for boldly taking action in the face of terror.  May God grant them protection and peace.

Things of this world will fade, but God’s love will not fade away.  The Welcome Culture is Gods love. To quote the great Buddy Holly, “Love is Love and will not fade away.”


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Radical Terrorism Vs. Radical Love

12246837_857700030995742_8238123569461118218_nAs our political & military efforts long for significant signs of progress, I am inspired by another option,  Love.  As a follower of Jesus Christ, I need to remind myself that Jesus reigns, his kingdom will come, and love wins! No matter what headline comes up or article I read, love wins!

I am not implying an easy solution or wish to minimize the loss of some many who have died because of ISIS or the current conflict in Syria.  But I do want to be reminded, as a Christian, that Jesus reigns and love wins.

12212538_10208145459903717_1981180623_nThat said, I propose fighting Radical Terrorism with Radical Love.  Holding tight to the promise that “Perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18).  Let’s lean into this crisis and Welcome Refugees with the expectation that we can change the world.  From what I understand the goal of ISIS is to kill the infidel, cause chaos, and divide us.  The opposite of this would be to Love thy 12218725_10208145461263751_1230554957_oEnemy, provide order through Justice, and unite in Love.  Not just unite as Christians, but as brothers and sisters of all race, gender, religion, and nationality.  This will drive back the enemy.

I encourage all of us to not let fear, but love drive the narrative.

As a follower of Jesus Christ I feel called to a higher purpose, so I look to the simple and timeless wisdom of the Bible.  FullSizeRender (1)Thankfully the Bible speaks clearly of how we as Followers of Christ should treat immigrants, refugees, and those in need of help.  I encourage you to read and pray over these verses, and listen to what God wants you to hear in all of this.

Love Refugees As Yourself

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

Leave Food for the Poor and the Foreigner

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. (Leviticus 19:9-10)

God Loves the Foreigner Residing Among You

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

The Sin of Sodom: They Did Not Help the Poor and Needy

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. (Ezekiel 16:49)

Do Not Oppress a Foreigner

Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

Do Not Deprive Foreigners Among You of Justice

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 3:5)

Do Whatever the Foreigner Asks of You

“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name. (1 Kings 8:41-44)

Leave Your Door Open to the Traveler

No stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler (Job, discussing his devotion to God) (Job 31:32)

Invite the Stranger In

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:25-36)

We Were All Baptized By One Spirit

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

Have Mercy on Your Neighbor

He asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37)


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Here to Serve

12212538_10208145459903717_1981180623_nThey say to get to know someone you must walk a mile in their shoes.  In our case we tried to walk 1,400 miles in  a few hours.  Although this is impossible on most levels, I felt connected and blessed to be given even a glimpse of the life many from Syria face.  The most resounding message I heard God speak through my experience here in Berlin is that helping refugees is not about programs, but Relationships.

I believe Satan loves to immobilize us with logistics planning when Jesus is calling for action.  Where we will find the volunteers, where will we do this event, how much will it cost are all common stalling points.  Maybe it is our western thinking that makes us feel the need to answer these questions before we act, or maybe it is an attempt by the enemy.  Either way, relationship is as easy as just showing up.

Personally, I relate to the saying that, “If Satan can’t get you to Sin, he will get you to be busy.” When we are busy we have not time for relationship, no time to serve others, no time to reflect on what God is calling us to do.  Often, I have really good excuses to not serve. For example, “I am too busy with my family to serve.” In this case, not only have I missed Gods call for me but potentially kept my family from experiencing God as well.  I ask for forgiveness that I have used busyness and logistics as a way to avoid Him.

Each day in Berlin has built on the next.  Yesterday, we were blessed by refugees 12191580_10206844241040712_8781825635494990251_nliving in the community.  When I was with them I felt a closeness to God I long for.  Just sitting down and drinking coffee, listening to their stories, playing games has changed my heart forever.  The Syrians are beautiful people.  The ones I met never once spoke against America or Christians.  They knew who we were and where we were from, and this did not matter in the slightest to them.  What mattered was we were there.  They could tell we wanted genuine relationship with them, and so they poured out their hearts, minds, and stories to us.  They told us they wanted to work, they loved their country, and they were grateful for Germany.  Whatever negative stereotype I have heard, the people I met were not it.  These are people I would like in my community.

God addresses the need to care for refugees directly all throughout the bible.  My hope and prayer is that as our team returns to the USA we can help our community to embrace refugees from Syria and other war torn parts of the world.  I pray for open hearts and a Welcome Culture in the USA.  I pray that Jesus would reveal himself to these refugees, and they would some day return to Syria to rebuild a new nation. Let us not be distracted, but united in Love.  We should look to Germany for the example, and remember we are Here to Serve.


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Soul Care, perhaps our best response?

Germany creates a unique environment for ministry. Most Christian churches are used to traveling to Third World countries, and providing basic needs such as food, medical aid, and shelter. However, when you’re dealing with a country that is as wealthy and strong as Germany, we must look at providing help in a different way. For example, some organizations in Germany have stopped receiving hard goods because they simply cannot store them. This does not mean, however, there is no need for help. It is easy to focus on “Getting stuff out,” but tending to the soul and the restoration of hearts and minds is a different matter.

It’s not hard to find stories of women, children, and men who have gone through incredibly traumatic experiences. Stories of violence, rape, abuse are all too frequent. One has to ponder what these experiences have done to these people. The psychological damage that has been done to millions of refugees is astounding.

Another challenge in this regard is understanding the cultural differences between American, German, and Syrian responses to modern psychotherapy and support groups.  Understanding, for example, how each of the respective societies all grieve is paramount to understanding the bridge between problems and solutions.  In other words, what works for helping Americans who have suffered a loss or traumatic experience may not work for a refugee from Syria.

Expecting refugees with these traumatic mental experiences to seamlessly merge into German society is probably unrealistic. This is why Soul Care, or Christ Centered Psychotherapy is perhaps the best help we, as Americans, can provide to refugees in Germany.

In the immediate future, we foresee a need for trained specialists to aid in preparing Germans in the task of facilitating support groups and psychotherapy in the following areas:

  • PTSD
  • Grief support
  • Women / Child Abuse support
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Addiction Recovery

At this point, we would like to have conversations with individuals that can help us navigate down this path. If you, or anyone that you know, is trained or has experience in the mentioned areas and willing to help please contact us.  We would also like to speak with anyone that can help understand psychological and cultural aspects of these matters as related to Arab culture.
Please contact:       Ben Benjamin – webjamin@gmail.com