After working for one year at the Lutheran Office for World Community (LOWC) in New York, I was excited to return to Germany and learn how the current refugee situation had changed my home country. Though I had expected some changes, I was surprised just how the refugee crisis has changed the everyday life here in Steinbach, a town of 10,000 inhabitants near Frankfurt.
One day after my arrival, I was invited to the staff meeting at my home church. We spoke about the situation of the refugees in Steinbach almost the entire morning. Both pastors in my Lutheran church dedicate a huge amount of their time on this situation. They spend time with the refugees, help to organize sustainable circles of support, and recently, the congregation discussed the option to offer church asylum to those in need.
Around 50 refugees are already staying in Steinbach. 120 more are expected to arrive by the beginning of next year. The municipality is eager to organize the necessary accommodation, using for example the old changing rooms of our soccer stadium and the building of the former youth center. And there are so many details needing to be organized: Herbert, one of the pastors, checked in with the municipality to make sure that every refugee has enough space in his or her future rooms.
I am positively surprised about the involvement of so many volunteers in my home town: people donate bicycles, blankets and clothing. Sixty people are on a volunteer`s mailing list of the group “Refugees in Steinbach” – led by a member of our church. The rooms of the Church Center are occupied with German courses. And the parish council has decided to build a new house in order to offer more housing to refugees – and to low-income individuals, once the refugee crises has come to an end.
Of course, there are critical voices as well. My neighbors are concerned whether it will be possible to integrate individuals without any knowledge of German culture. Some people remark that many municipalities can hardly fulfill their normal duties since so many resources are allocated to the refugee situation. And also that some of the volunteers will need a break one day.
But most Christians I have talked to agree with the parish’s efforts. Last Sunday, we celebrated an ecumenical divine service, dedicated to the refugee situation. The small church was packed. “Mary and Joseph knocked at Christmas at so many doors – but they were closed. Let us do it differently – even if we don’t know what’s going to happen” – Pastor Herbert encouraged the attendees to continue their efforts to make Steinbach a hospitable town.