Much fear surrounds the issue of refugees in Germany. Since 2015, around a million refugees from mostly Islamic countries have streamed in to the country, promising to change its face forever. Many questions have surfaced, the answers to which have yet to be seen. Will they integrate into this democracy or destroy our culture? Will the country be able to absorb the financial shock waves of such an endeavor? And what about the terrorists among them? Though there is a place for such questions, fear should never be the driving force in God’s Kingdom. For a church or individuals responding to the refugee crisis, the driving force ought to be the power of the gospel.
Religious fanaticism has never been a problem for God. Saul, later known as the Apostle Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles, had himself once been a Jewish religious fanatic. It was his ISIS-like behavior that had led the first-century believers who first heard about his conversion to react with skepticism and fear. “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” (Acts 9:21) Was he a genuine convert or would he use it as a guise to gather information against them? God, in his wisdom, handpicked one of his greatest enemies to be his most powerful servant. In fact, later we find this very same Paul preaching the following about God’s sovereignty at the Areopagus:
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us (Act 17:24-27).”
Paul believed that God, the maker of all nations, is the mover of peoples. God rules over history and appoints boundaries and dwelling places for men. According to Paul, the reason God orchestrates people movement is so that they may find him. This is exactly what we have experienced here. God has moved a mass of people to Germany who are now free to explore the Christian faith without repercussions. “We want to change our religion,” explained two young women who met with me at a downtown Starbucks. “We have come to the conclusion that Islam leads to death and we want nothing more to do with it. We want to follow Jesus!” All one now needs in order to be a missionary is a change in perspective. Syrians, Afghans, and Iranians are on our doorstep and many of them come with great openness to the message of salvation in Jesus. This is our new reality. We can either stand on the shore of disbelief and incredulity or we can hop on the tidal wave God has created. We can either cower, paralyzed with fear, or we can move out boldly, confident that our sovereign God has prepared these times for the ingathering of more of his lost sheep into his fold.
From Crisis to Blessing
For the most part, refugees are people like you and me, fleeing war, oppression, and the very same extremism and persecution we fear. They simply want a quiet and peaceful life for their children, but, surprisingly for some of them, they are meeting Jesus on the way. This encounter has changed their lives quite radically for eternity. One of the refugee ladies new to our church shared at her baptism last week: “during my journey towards the Christian faith, I had started to pray that God would reveal himself to me because I did not know who he was and I desperately wanted to know his name. One night I had a dream in which a man stood behind me. I could not see him and he spoke in a language I did not know but somehow I understood him. He said to me: ‘all you need to know about me is that I am who I am. I only realized later that this was Jesus’.”
God is turning the curse of the crisis into a blessing for many. He is bringing in a new harvest of Christ-followers who have the ability to turn this world on its head. Fear should not detract us from spreading the good news of salvation in Jesus. God has changed the heart of terrorists before. He could do it again! Is it scary? At times. Do we feel like it is an impossible task? All the time. But we must remind ourselves that God loves to move in impossible situations, to open up Red Seas and barren wombs, to feed thousands with just a few loaves and fish and make God’s enemies into his closest friends as far as the curse is found.