Being a friend
to strangers

In 2016, more than one million refugees arrived in Germany alone. Most of them come from crisis areas and have experienced sad things.

It was the main topic in the media for a long time: the number of refugees exceeded the expectations of politicians, authorities and volunteers were overwhelmed, and many people were worried about the high number of strangers.

However, what newspapers, television and the Internet cannot convey over distance is that most of these fugitives are friendly and interested individuals and families. And what they need is our friendship.

Family and friends first

Many of the people who now live among us as strangers come from collectivist cultures. This means that family and friends come first for them. The extent to which a person from a collectivist culture identifies with his family is difficult for us as Germans to understand. For this reason, we encourage you to approach guests in our country because they long for connection and relationships.

Such friendships then lead, for example, to an escaped lady giving birth to her baby in the presence of her German godmother. A man from Iraq, who has been through a terrible experience, opens up and tells his story to a German friend for the first time in months. A young woman from Afghanistan is attached to her new German friends as if they were family members. And an Albanian lady opens up to a German volunteer and feels understood by her.

How can we practically offer friendship?

The most important principle for any friendship is: No relationship is formed without time. All the more so when dealing with the fugitives, who often have an event-oriented way of thinking (instead of a time-oriented one like us Germans).

Whereas in Germany you can simply finish a conversation in three minutes, in other cultures it is often important to clarify the “sides” before you can get down to business: How is your family? How are your parents? How are your children? By showing interest in the private life of the other, you signal that you want to be his friend.

Being good neighbours

Are there refugees living in your neighborhood or in your district? Take the time to greet them. Introduce them to your family and show them where they can shop or go to the doctor. Just become their “favourite neighbour” :-). In this way you will not only help them to find their way in everyday life and to integrate here, but you will also show them that they are welcome.

In the Bible we find God’s instruction on how we should behave towards strangers: “If a stranger is going to live with you in your country, you shall not offend him. You shall behave toward the stranger who is staying with you as if he had been born with you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were also strangers in Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.” (Leviticus 19:33f)

Meeting people respectfully and lovingly

Even if it is important that the foreigners get to know the German culture, it is necessary to respect the people in their cultural habits. Most of the refugees have experienced bad things. Many of them have left their family, their wealth, their work and live here with little belongings in mass accommodation. How valuable it is here to meet people who meet them with a humble heart and at eye level!

For example, men should build friendships with men and women should build friendships with women. In most cultures the distance to the opposite sex is much greater than in Germany. If you visit Muslims, you should take off your shoes before entering their room. Be sensitive, and if you are not sure, observe how others act first.

Helping to learn German

As is well known, language opens doors. Without understanding the language, foreigners cannot shop, make friends, visit the doctor is difficult and integration is practically impossible.

You have a few hours off a week? Visit a family at home and gradually teach them some German. Maybe you can also get together with someone and teach a group (e.g. in your community rooms). Or you could meet with one person regularly and teach them something. Such a thing makes a big difference in people’s lives!

Here you can find some materials and information about language courses:

Teaching materials for German as a foreign language:
www.lingolia.de

Wycliff German courses for refugees:
Wycliff-refugee pages

Explaining culture and life

It is obvious that Germany differs in many respects from Syria, Iraq and other countries. Many things are different for the newcomers, and they quickly realize that they cannot continue life as they know it from home here in Germany. In this time they need friendships!

Open your “heart and house” and give them an insight into your life. Show them what you eat for dinner in Germany (and let them taste :-). Describe to them how celebrations (birthdays, Christmas etc.) are celebrated in your family. Explain to them which values are important in German society (e.g. punctuality when visiting the doctor or cleanliness even in public places) and encourage them to ask questions.

This also includes the Christian faith, which many have hardly encountered in their countries of origin. As friends we also want to share the most valuable things with each other. It is important that you do not criticize their religious content. Just tell about your life as a Christian and about Jesus as your Savior. If you know of problems, ask them if you can pray for them. And the most important thing: Be respectful, but courageous!

Materials for understanding culture:

A guide to life in Germany:
www.refugeeguide.de

Biblical stories etc. in more than 6000 languages:
www.globalrecordings.net

Other materials

ERF media: available in 30 languages on the phone free of charge
daily five-minute messages

Ev. foreigners service Dortmund: foreign language bibles
www.ead-direkt.de

MSOE: Christian calendars in many languages
www.MSOE.org

Tools and movements that can contribute to multiplicative growth:
www.4training.net

T4T discipleship training program:
http://www.trainingfuertrainer.de/mehr