Fear is all around us these days. Wars. Shootings. Bombings. An upcoming presidential election. I could go on and on, but I know it’ll stress you out as much as it does me.
When I felt God’s calling to sign up for a mission trip to share the love of Jesus with refugees, I was confident. My heart felt so overwhelmingly burdened for these people that I knew I had to do SOMETHING.
But with every bit of passion and joy I had in signing up, I was also battling something else.
I had no idea what to expect. How would I/we be received? Would we be met with hostility? Violence? Something else? We were going to Germany to hear their stories, to show love and compassion, but also to share the love of Jesus. Would we be met with something stronger than ordinary rejection?
The day I flew out to Germany, I learned of the Munich shooting just hours before my flight. Details were sketchy at that point, but my stomach was in knots as I flirted with a decision: Do I get on that plane and go in faith…or do I stay home?
I knew I had to go. Beyond wanting to live a life with no regrets or “what ifs,” I knew, more importantly, that God had placed the love for and passion for the refugees in me. It was no accident, and living in fear and staying home in my bed for a week certainly wouldn’t remove it. The Bible talks about how perfect love casts out fear, so I decided to lean into my First Love and follow Him.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” – 2 Timothy 1:7
A few days later, there I was. In Germany. Bawling. We were in the middle of a morning meeting as we prepared to go to the refugee centers for the first time, just reviewing last-minute information and praying together, and I had my head in my hands, sobbing. I had woken up that morning to news of another attack overnight near Munich. I was scared. So freakin’ scared.
My head was cycling through worst case scenarios. Though a teammate had said something super profound and very true to me at breakfast when I briefly mentioned my stress (“I figure, if I’m going to die, what better way to go than on a mission trip telling people about Jesus?”), though I was reading and praying through Philippians 1 all morning (“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”), I was struggling. I was afraid.
Another level of anxiety came from the fact that I was specifically concerned about what my interactions with the male refugees would be like. I’m not naive — I know many of their home countries definitely have misguided, and oftentimes downright wrong, views about women. I didn’t know what to expect, at all.
Teammates put their hands on me and started to pray, silently. I sat there and begged God to take all the fear from me. I asked Him why I was so afraid. I know my eternity is secure in Him. I know He alone knows the number of my days, but I was holding so tightly to my dreams and hopes for the future. I realized the possibility of surrendering my own desires was driving my fear. The fear of losing what I want. The fear of the unknown.
I had to give it all over to Him. I know it’ll be an ongoing process of surrender for the rest of my life. But for that day, that trip, I was able to just place it all in His hands and surrender.
God not only protected me during my time with the refugees, He truly opened my eyes to love and care for these dear people. Most of the refugees I met were men, the vast majority of whom are searching for more, for the love and security only Christ can give. I saw with my very own eyes how God is moving, taking a great tragedy to open so many eyes, cause so many hearts to search, and bring so many to Him.
I feel it’s important to share that I never felt dismissed or ignored when talking to any of the refugees. I never once felt threatened, endangered, looked down upon, or discounted by any of the men I met. They were all kind, courteous, and open when I engaged with them, oftentimes going out of their way to make me feel comfortable. They let me leave my shoes on when it’s customary to take shoes off before entering their homes. They offered us their beds to sit on while they sat on the floor. My teammate and I were, during one visit, asked what we wanted to drink; twenty minutes later one of our hosts returned with drinks and cookies he ran TO THE STORE to buy for us, using some of his precious weekly allowance of Euros to feed us.
I’m not attempting to make a blanket statement about all refugees, but I want you to know what my personal experience was, because it was completely different from what I expected from media coverage. Completely. Different.
God opened my eyes and stripped away so many fears and prejudices I had. I was humbled and honored to meet such incredible people. My life is better and my heart is more open having met them. Admittedly, I’m still learning. But I pray I’m able to speak up on their behalf and share my experience as much as possible.
My prayer is that my personal experience will make a difference, perhaps change or soften hearts, like mine was. All I know is that I feel an obligation to share what I saw, felt and experienced. I know my thoughts and experience may make some uncomfortable. My hope is that I am speaking truth in love.
At the end of the day, please know that these refugees — most of whom are, yes, Muslim — are people the Lord loves just as much as He loves me and you. They are made in the image of God, just like you are. Please know that these are real people with real families and real losses. Please care. Please pray for them. Please.