In Meßstetten, Germany, where a former military barrack serves as an initial processing center for asylum seekers, the town’s 5,000 residents are coping with an influx of some 1,000 refugees.
It is part of a new wave of migration that has washed across Europe, increasing in volume over the past year.
United Methodists in Meßstetten are working with others “to offer services so that the newcomers feel that they are welcome,” report Bishop Rosemarie Wenner and the Rev. Johannes Knoeller, a district superintendent, of The United Methodist Church in Germany.
The increasing numbers of migrants this summer has raised concerns among members of the European Union, overwhelmed train stations and border crossings and even led to the hasty construction of border fences. The situation also has generated acts of compassion and outpourings of support from local citizens.
A challenge and a blessing
Wenner calls the situation both a challenge and a blessing. Churches in Germany, she added, are worried about the deaths of those trying to make their way to Europe and the increasing number of xenophobic acts against refugees.
“The right of refugees to seek asylum is one of the human rights that we — especially we in Germany — have to protect,” she wrote in an email to United Methodist News Service.
“Germany is complaining because of the weakness of other European countries to take care a fair percentage of refugees. Together with many other people, I am convinced that we are able to respond to the challenges, and I am referring to our history where we managed to integrate for more refugees and newcomers than today.”
Meßstetten is only one example of how United Methodists in Germany are responding to newcomers “in a very open and caring way,” the bishop said.
The gift in return? “It is a blessing for many of the congregations that migrants — amongst them a big number of asylum seekers and refugees — come to the worship services,” Wenner noted.
Church’s stance on global migration
The United Methodist Social Principles affirm that, “In order to provide basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, and other necessities, ways must be found to share more equitably the resources of the world.”
If their own countries do not - or cannot - meet those needs, people will move elsewhere. “That many people will resist poverty and war through migration is an ancient and modern fact of human existence,” a resolution on global migration in the 2012 United Methodist Book of Resolutions points out.
Sometimes, the consequences are deadly.
The Rev. Lothar Pöll, United Methodist superintendent of the Austria Provisional Conference issued a statement labeling the deaths of migrants, including the discovery of 71 dead refugees in a truck on an Austrian highway, as shocking. He called upon Austria to make war refugees welcome and treat them humanely.
Addressing the crisis
Urs Schweizer, assistant to Bishop Patrick Streiff, United Methodist Church of Central and Southern Europe, also reported possible new assistance in Macedonia.
“The United Methodists in Macedonia have, on a very limited scale, provided refugees with bottled water and clothes in the past, and they are currently exploring ways to help those people longing for a better future,” Schweizer said.
In Hungary, United Methodists are uncertain how to help migrants in their quest to get to Germany and western Europe and are praying that European leaders find an acceptable solution.
UMCOR assists local partners
In Sicily, where many migrants have arrived to gain entrance to Italy, the United Methodist Committee on Relief has paired with a local partner, Pellegrino della Terra, to provide emergency food vouchers for the new arrivals.
The Rev. Jack Amick, head of UMCOR’s international disaster response program, said the agency is continuing to look “at the more urgent needs” as refugees and migrants flow through Europe.
Just recently, UMCOR gave a $50,000 grant to GlobalMedic to provide food packets and hygiene kits for 750 families who arrived on the islands of Kos and Lesbos in Greece, he reported.
The Waldensian and Methodist Churches in Italy have provided funds for a migrant project of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy called “Mediterranean Hope.”
Advocacy on a larger scale
Last December, The United Methodist Church in Germany and United Methodist Board of Global Ministries sponsored a consultation in Freudenstadt, Germany, where nearly 40 participants explored trends and causes of the forced shifts of people from their countries of origin.
United Methodists also are part of larger coalitions dealing with issues of refugees and migration.
Churches Witnessing With Migrants will hold an October consultation in southern Europe that will include significant United Methodist participation, says the Rev. Liberato “Levi” Bautista, United Methodist Board of Church and Society, who is part of the consultation’s international steering committee.
“We’re talking no longer just of forced migration (such as sex trafficking) but of enforced migration just because of domestic policy,” Bautista observed. “Some of the populations in Syria cannot be protected inside Syria.”
Presenters will include the Rev. Michael Nausner, a United Methodist who is a professor and dean of international affairs at the Reutlingen School of Theology in Germany.
Carol Barton of United Methodist Women said the organization has focused on the “long-haul work” of education and advocacy around global migration.
The agency is among those who fund the Women and Global Migration Working Group. The group pulls together women’s groups, faith-based organizations, human rights and civil society groups and migrant organizations “to have a better understanding of the particular ways that migration patterns and migration policies are affecting women and children.”
Members of the working group, including Barton, will attend a civil society meeting prior to the Global Forum on Migration and Development Oct. 14-16 in Istanbul, Turkey.