Commercial and bureaucratic hindrances collided with an uncontrollable reality: the faith of many players.
The Refugee Highway Partnership (RHP) roundtable brings together people from across Europe every year. “Christians can guide refugees and help them meet the Prince of Peace and the Real Comforter which is Jesus”.
The Refugee Highway Partnership (RHP) is the movement of evangelical Christians working with refugees in Europe.
Once a year, they meet to learn from each other, build networks and share resources and experiences.
This year, more than one hundred people will travel to Helvoirt, Netherlands, for their roundtable, 5-9 February 2018.
“All sorts of people” are joining the movement. “Experienced leaders and those who are just starting to work with refugees”, explains Jan Witsel, member of the European RHP committee.
Witsel has been working with refugees for a decade, and he actually first met his wife, Zinash, in a refugee camp. He believes Christians can go further than most other social actors. “Governments and organizations often provide first aid like housing and food, churches can help people feel part of the community, and care about their emotional and spiritual well-being”.
Witsel told Evangelical Focus about this year’s RHP gathering in the Netherlands.
Question. This year the European conference is the Netherlands. What trends in the work among refugees are interesting in the country?
Answer. Churches and organizations in the Netherlands have a long history of experience in refugee ministry. A good example is the organization called Gave. They help and train Christians and churches all over the country to be involved with the life of refugees. To see them and to love them. They also have plenty of experience in giving legal advice - this year Gave plays a big role in organizing the Roundtable meeting together with RHP.
Q. How would you define the evolution of the Refugee Highway Partnership in the last few years – especially since the strong arrival of refugees in 2015?
A. There seems to be a growing interest in refugee ministry. The RHP roundtable meetings have been growing in the number of visitors. It is encouraging to see that God is bringing works with a heart for refugees.
Q. What do you believe can Christians offer to refugees?
A. Refugees look for safety, peace and comfort. They are people like all of us who want to live happy lives. The church is a strong community with a powerful message. Christians can guide refugees and help them meet he Prince of Peace and the Real Comforter which is Jesus. In Jesus Christ people find more than a new legal status, they can find an eternal status.
The community of the church also can play an important role in becoming friends and helping people find back their confidence, value and meaning in life. Governments and organizations often provide first aid like housing and food, churches can help people feel part of the community, and care about their emotional and spiritual well-being.
Q. Have the local churches in the last years taken initiatives that are making a difference in countries? Is there still reluctance towards foreigners among Christians in some countries?
A. A great initiative in the Netherlands is the movement of being a host family for a refugee. This idea came into being after the arrival of 400 refugees in a local town. A pastor and his family wanted to help these people, giving love and helping them where necessary.
They opened a Facebook page ‘I am a host family for a refugee’ with the aim to find host families for these 400 refugees. Reactions came from all over the country. Meanwhile, more than 26,000 host families from across the country have signed up.
At the same time there is also reluctance towards foreigners. Some people just fear the unknown or are afraid that strangers will take over the place and they will lose their own cultural identity. The recent terror attacks in Europe also make people afraid for welcoming Muslims and strangers.
Q. What kind of people attend the European RHP conference?
A. At the RHP conferences we have all sorts of people. Experienced leaders and those who are just starting to work with refugees. Some work with teams like OM, others are part of a local church, while others are doing fulltime refugee ministry with an NGO. People also are doing very different jobs. Some are helping provide first aid and food, others are policy makers and others are missionaries.
Q. Personally, what is that you enjoy the most of these annual RHP gatherings?
A. I really enjoy the feeling of unity at the roundtables. It is so great to be with so many people from different countries and backgrounds, working in the same Kingdom of God and having a heart that is burning to reach refugees with the love of Christ.
Also hearing encouraging stories and testimonies as well as learning from workshops and speakers make it a real privilege to be part of the roundtables.
ABOUT JAN WITSEL
Jan Witsel lives in Antwerp (Belgium) and serves as the Assistant Pastor at the Antwerp International Protestant Church. Jan has about 10 years of experience in working with refugees both in church and legal settings. He knows the refugee realities from close by as he is married to his Ethiopian wife Zinash that he first met at a refugee camp. Jan is part is one of the leaders the Refugee Highway Partnership Europe and helps organizing the Roundtable meetings.
More information abut the 2018 RHP roundtable here.