Lyndsey Seale-LONDON, February 2019—–The refugee highway partnership (RHP) is laboring to remoniker the refugee crisis into a refugee opportunity.
An opportunity for the church to care for foreigners as their Christian teachings command.
“We have to recognize that while this is an opportunity for us to do much good, it is still very much a crisis for these people displaced from their homes,” says Karina Martin, director of Welcome Churches and director board member for RHP.
This opportunity is currently being spearheaded by the Europe-wide and world reaching Refugee Highway Partnership and the members thereof.
On 4 February through 8 February, 193 refugee care providers from 27 countries, yet all serving across Europe, gathered in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The theme: Removing Barriers, Embracing Strangers.
Removing barriers for whom, specifically? A palpable edge of reluctant acknowledgement settled on the event as breakout speakers from America to South Sudan initiated the conversation regarding members of the church who needed theological reconciling for caring for the displaced person. One Tuesday discussion was entitled, “Barrier: Our Cultures (Overcoming Prejudices and Ethnocentric “me first” values that prevent Christlike embrace”.
Spirits quickly lifted with worship in multiple languages and roundtable discussions focusing on understanding all that the church is currently doing to aid the crisis, and the myriad ways to partner across the globe.
Nightly jam-sessions with Bosnian orchestras and folk singers ended each day with a sense of hope sounding out from a city too recently making refugees of its own.
Sarajevo itself seemed a secondary member of the round table, a paralleling backdrop for such discussions. As the seventh lowest GDP per capita in Europe, $4,617.75 per year for its 3.5 million inhabitants, the pockmarks of civilian war are visible throughout the city. Sometimes called “The Jerusalem of Europe” for its diversity of rooted religions sharing a space, Sarajevo is still recovering from the break-up of Yugoslavia. War was officially ended in the capital city merely 25 years ago.
An overwhelming feedback was heeded from the annual RHP gathering last year in the Netherlands. As members went from teaching session to learning to networking and partnership meetings, the director board heard the cohort cry out, “slow down!”. This year, three hour day breaks were offered with guided tours around Sarajevo. This provided conference attendees the opportunity to learn about the recent war and Sarajevo history as well as speak with Muslim leaders and learn from their perspective on the migrant concerns in the city. As tours led groups around the War Child Museum and former Olympic ground-turned sniper vantage points, one couldn’t help but consider, “will we one day be walking around Aleppo in the same way, talking about refugees from yet another conflict?”
This thread of question was fully established in hope as former refugees told their stories and shared the ministry they now oversee in order to help other refugees.
As the keynote speaker, Dr. George Dr. Kalantzis addressed the crowd on the first night, “Is there any difference between a Christian and a good person?” By the end of the week through the sharing of burdens, and the realistic summation of current affairs, conference attendees left with the knowledge that they were not alone, there was much to do but also much being done, and with a renewed vantage point it’s possible they uniformly if not unwittingly answered Kalantzis’ query with a resounding, “Yes, and amen!”