Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

A child shall lead them

By Linda Unger*

October 9, 2015—The arduous and determined journeys of refugees and migrants around the world were on the hearts of the directors of the General Board of Global Ministries as they gathered last week in New York City for the second of their semiannual meetings.

Global Ministries’ board member Frank Aichele of the Germany Central Conference.
Global Ministries’ board member Frank Aichele of the Germany Central Conference. Photo: Bob Gore

Frank Aichele, of the Germany Central Conference of The United Methodist Church, said the large numbers of refugees arriving in Europe represent both a “challenge and a chance,” an opportunity for the church “to live God’s love out” in response.

The newcomers, he said, “will change the church and make it more open, more missional,” as even small congregations extend a hand to new neighbors. “In Germany, church members are going on marches in solidarity with the refugees. They are opening their doors to make them feel welcome,” he said.

“It is a different focus,” Aichele continued, in which congregations are not so consumed with their own state of dwindling numbers and aging members but, rather, are cooperating with God’s mission, reaching out with compassion, purpose, and welcome to the other, the newcomer.

Hearing him speak, Yeabu Kamara, a director from Sierra Leone in the West Africa Central Conference, cited Jesus’ words to his disciples before a hungry and tired crowd: “You give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37). “It is not easy to be a refugee,” she said. “Those of us who have been, know.”

A child came

“We are receiving more people today than ever,” said the Rev. Tove Odland of Norway, in the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference.

Global Ministries’ board member the Rev. Tove Odland of the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference.
Global Ministries’ board member the Rev. Tove Odland of the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference. Photo: Bob Gore

She’s right. According to the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), refugee migration to Europe increased by 51 percent in 2014. Around the world, the number of refugees and forcibly displaced persons is the highest in history, with the war in Syria, since 2011, “the single-largest driver of displacement,” UNHCR said.

Odland noted that during World War II, some 60,000 Norwegians sought refuge in Sweden. “Now it is our turn. We have to open our homes and our hearts as they did,” she said. Norwegians are doing this, she added. They are opening their homes to refugees, and providing food, clothes, and blankets.

When the wave of refugees and displaced persons first became noticeable in her country and in Europe, Odland said, there was a lot of discussion about how to respond and what to do.

She said discussion turned to action when the body of a small child, Aylan Kurdi, 3, of Syria, washed up on a beach in Turkey. He, his five-year-old brother, and their mother all died when the small, overloaded dinghy they were traveling in toward Greece capsized. Of the family, only the boys’ father survived.

Fifty percent of the world’s refugees are children, according to UNHCR.

Scripture says, ‘a child shall lead them,’” Odland said. “This little boy turned the world around with his death. A child came and changed us.

*Linda Unger is a senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.

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