I was a stranger and you welcomed me

“Church and Migration is a topic that deals with people in church and society worldwide. Depending on the context, the challenges are different, but as a church, we are all confronted with the issue of migration,” reads the letter of invitation from the EkvW to its International Ecumenical Conference.

From June 18-19, the Evangelical Church of Westphalia (EKvW) held an International Ecumenical Conference: I was a stranger and you welcomed me on the topic of Church and Migration. 52 ecumenical guests from 22 countries gathered in Haus Villigst, Schwerte, Germany for the conference, where the Reformed Church in Hungary was also represented.

Under the biblical heading, I was a stranger and you have welcomed me, the Synod of the Evangelical Church of Westphalia published a discussion paper in November 2018 to inspire issues regarding church and migration issues at all levels of the church and encourage dialogue with ecumenical and international partners. The Conference was held so that the different perspectives from Europe, Africa, Asia, and South and North America may be discussed with each other.

Representing the Reformed Church in Hungary (RCH), Rev. Balázs Ódor, the ecumenical officer of the RCH, and Dóra Kanizsai-Nagy, the head of Kalunba Social Services Ltd. of the Refugee Integration Unit of the RCH and the vice-moderator of the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME) attended the conference.

The Reformed Church in Hungary has been working with refugees and supporting refugee integration since 2006. Due to the withdrawal of grants from the Asylum Migration Integration Fund (AMIF) in July 2018, Kalunba was forced to take a step back. However, thanks to the financial and moral support of international church partners of the Reformed Church in Hungary, including the Evangelical Church of Westphalia, Kalunba Social Services Ltd. has been able to continue to provide integration services to recognized refugees and migrants.

The EKvW invited partner churches to share a written reflection on the topic of Church and Migration, as well as the published discussion paper of the Synod. Although the Presiding Bishop of the RCH, Rev. Dr. István Szabó, could not attend the Conference, he presented a written reflection on the publication, sharing the Hungarian and Eastern European context and the initiatives of the RCH in refugee assistance through its efforts in the transit zones at the Hungarian-Serbian border with the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid (HRCA), refugee integration with the implementing partner of the Refugee Integration Unit of the RCH, Kalunba, and in addressing the root causes of migration in the Middle East with partner churches.

“In the last few years, we have engaged in discussion with churches in the Middle East, specifically in Syria […] We have heard their plea for support so that they may stay in their homeland to continue to serve the people. We have also understood that we must address the root causes together with them, as much as we can. And we welcome the support of the Hungarian state to empower the Christian communities to stay and serve in their homeland. Whenever we address the issue of migration, we must also keep in mind this aspect. This is what we have learned throughout our common journey with our Syrian partner churches in the past years which is captured in the memorandum of commitment which we signed with two Reformed churches in Lebanon and Syria, “As “Ambassadors for Christ” in promoting peace and reconciliation, we strictly condemn and oppose any form of religious discrimination, oppression and persecution. In our cooperation with the churches in the Middle East, we give special attention to helping Christian communities to remain and serve God in their homelands and be witnesses to the Good News of Christ, and thus invite and encourage others to join and support our common mission.” (Excerpt from the written reflection of the RCH Presiding Bishop, Rev. Dr. István Szabó)

The program of the Conference was based on the responses of the international and ecumenical partners of the Evangelical Church of Westphalia to the publication of the Synod on the same topic, Church and Migration.

On Tuesday, representatives from South America, Africa, Asia, and eastern and western Europe shared their perspectives on Where do we stand? — How do we as churches in our contexts experience the challenges of the globalized world that is characterized by migration and diversity? Representatives from North America, Africa, Asia, and eastern and western Europe shared their perspectives on Where are we going? — What biblical images and ecumenical insights guide us as churches in view of the challenges of migration and diversity? Following each of the perspective points, participants of the conference were split into smaller groups for discussion. The Conference concluded the next day with a discussion on the challenges in the ongoing process for the EKvW, to face together, and that must be faced in the respective churches, regions, and contexts, followed by a final plenary on the conference findings.

The International Ecumenical Conference on Church and Migration provided space for common encounters and sharing of experiences that has deepened the partnership between the two churches, as well as with other ecumenical churches.

Priscilla Yang

Source: Church and Migration

Photos: Evangelische Kirche von Westfalen

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