Archive for September 2018

Creating Community through the World Cafe

September 27, 2018

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Like the rest of Europe, life for asylum seekers in Gloucester, England, is a ‘liminal space’ where they survive and wait, knowing they could be moved by the authorities at any time.  “It is like living in an open prison without a status, charged of a crime without a name,” says ECM missionary Rita Rimkiene, who with her husband Vidas Rimkus, founded the World Café.

world cafe foodThe World Café is not a ‘ministry’ however – it is a community where the emphasis is on hospitality, friendship and valuing everyone’s contribution.  “My family in Lithuania was great at hosting parties and as a child, our flat was a place where people gathered and shared life. God brought that back to me when I met Him. Vidas and I have always been fond of having people join us for dinner, lunch and sometimes even breakfast”

As more people joined them, they began meeting in a church hall in central Gloucester, and the World Café Community was born.

Twice-monthly social events are held for between 80-150  people, sometimes even more. The asylum seekers and refugees cook meals from their own countries, with occasional British cuisine. “Everybody comes together to eat, share their joys and troubles, celebrate child birth and mourn, share joys when receive refugee status and be encouraged when they are refused. This is the night when friendships are formed,” says Rita.

While local people are encouraged to befriend the refugees and asylum seekers, “at the end of the day it does not matter who befriends who, we all just  need to be encouraged and loved and experience unity despite of our religious, social or ethnic backgrounds. I love seeing people moving on in life and when it is really tough we can stand together.”

The World Café supports asylum seekers who have particular professions like GP’s where Home Office without a refugee status gives work permission. Generosity of local folk enables World Café to fund some of the exams. Recently, a Pakistani lady passed all the exams and is looking for a job.

Dalal was a Syrian 5 Star Hotel chef who recently arrived in Gloucester with his wife and three children. He has been volunteering at the World Café and using his amazing cooking skills around the city at various church events. The next step is to get Dalal into his own catering business with the help of local business people.

The café has also built relationships with other organisations, such as GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) as well as with Fair Shares, a secular organisation, which helps to find volunteering jobs for all willing.

Rita sees the local involvement as two way: “we want to help local people to use their gifts,” she says “such as sewing, English language teaching, arts, anything really, that can help people to connect and find a new trade or help develop friendship by doing something together.”   This has included a local English teacher who had young children, so couldn’t teach evening classes – but was available for the daytime English club, and even a local charitable trust who has been impressed by World Café’s self-sustainable model which meets both physical and spiritual needs.

And the spiritual side is important too. “The World Café is funded and runs on the compassion and love of local people and churches,” explains Rita. “It welcomes everybody, no matter of their faith and background and is a safe place for inter-religious dialogue. It is a place where Buddhists, atheists, Muslims and Christians feel equal, loved and nurtured.

“Muslims began to come to church on Sunday services. As a result of this, men’s Bible study group started. When people make friends, we hear stories of churches looking after a refugee or an asylum seeking family or an individual. People celebrate Christmas and Easter, take people on holidays, camps and have Sunday dinners. During Ramadan Christians fast together and break fast. People started to pray together and read Holy Books.”

“For example, a young Iranian came to the World Café for a meal. On Sunday he came to church to find out about Jesus, where he joined men’s Bible study group. He went to every housegroup during the week until one day he accepted Christ as his Saviour and got baptised shortly after that. Now he is active within a youth group and has become one of World Café leaders.”

So while asylum seekers and refugees are amongst the most marginalised in society, the vision of the World Café is to give them somewhere to belong  through creating community.

As Rita explains: “The World Café has endless opportunities! ‘The table’ is the beginning of a journey together. As food sustains us physically, open conversation opens a door to our very being – our soul.”

Jo Appleton

Mission from the Margin in Kosovo

September 13, 2018

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Christianity as default is gone: the rise of a non-Christian Europe’, was the title above a recent article.1

We see this kind of message in publications with some regularity, but it struck me that this research was all about young people aged 16-29. I asked myself, a bit skeptically, ‘what will the future church look like?’ I can imagine from a Christian perspective, this is often exactly how the decrease of Christianity is seen. It feels painful and we feel skeptical. What will the church be in the future?

But then, in the same article, another sentence struck me: ‘In 20 or 30 years’ time, mainstream churches will be smaller, but the few people left will be highly committed.’2 Small in number, but highly committed. The church in the margin, as minority, but faithful present in the society. The aspect of Christian alienation might help us to understand the decreasing position of the church in a more healthy and positive way.
In this article we will look at 1 Peter 1:1 and at the Protestant-Evangelical movement in Kosovo. This church exists in the context of Islam, and has already been in the margins for decades.3

In the beginning of 1 Peter we see the author of the document calls his readers: ‘God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered’. (NIV) There are three elements in this verse which relate to Christian alienation: Identity, Estrangement and being Scattered. I will describe each and include some modest comments related to the church of Kosovo to give us possibly a more optimistic and hopeful view on the future of the Christian movement in the margins.4

Kosovo demographicsIdentity of the Christian movement

Why are Christians alienated on earth? It seems logical to say that this is a consequence of being Christian. But, in my humble opinion, it is often seen as an unintended – and even maybe unwanted – consequence. It might have negative associations. We do not long for Christian alienation. But in 1 Peter 1 Christian alienation is related to God’s sovereign love. The author speaks about God’s election and this makes the church a movement of strangers. Because of God’s sovereign love he has chosen the movement of Christians as His representatives on earth.5 So, if this is the case, Christian alienation is not, by definition, a negative consequence of being Christian or an unintentional aspect of Christian life. No, it is just a positive consequence of being chosen and intentional in nature. This is a radical other perspective which might be often overseen.

This consideration can be helpful for churches in the margins. In Kosovo for example, Christians have to face social persecution.6 There is tension within their families because they become Christians. Gossip, insults and disdain occur regularly. But, despite these difficulties which I don’t want to downplay, they may see that alienation, with all the challenges and difficulties, is intentional and a consequence of being chosen through godly love. That’s why Paul said: ‘You are no longer foreigners (…), but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household (…) with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.’7 Such a clear identity gives a great comfort in all circumstances for the church in Kosovo as well for all churches all over the world.

Estrangement

The author of 1 Peter speaks about ‘strangers’. What does this mean?
First of all: believers are mentioned as strangers in this world. This because of their calling to live a holy, i.e. distinct, life.8 This holiness makes them different from their environment, because of their identity, because of their calling to live a holy life.
This difference is twofold in nature. 1) Christians feel themselves different in their own environment. This gives an inner estrangement to a non-Christian context. But the distinction also works the other way around: 2) The non-Christian context sees Christians as strange because they have other convictions and they behave differently. The latter one is an external perspective.

In relation to the external perspective Christians in Kosovo are often seen as foolish and even as traitors. This has to do with historical tensions between Serbs and Albanians. Kosovar Albanians know that Serbs are (Orthodox) Christians. From their perspective, the Christian Serbs killed and raped a lot of Albanians during the war at the end of the 90’s.9

With regard to the inner perspective Christians do face the fact that they have to behave differently. On the one hand they keep some distance and on the other hand they try to reach to their own people. This paradoxical attitude, inspired by the notion of Christian alienation, raises the question of how to protect the churches’ identity and at the same time try to be of value within the public sphere? Christians have to live their lives in the seemingly contradictory position of neither distance nor assimilation. Alienated but as seed in their environment.

Scattered

According to 1 Peter, Christians are apparently scattered in their non-Christian environment. This translation emphasizes the notion of being a minority or at the margin of a society. A movement which is scattered has no religious or political power. In Greek the term ‘diaspora’ is used. This also reminds us about the exile experience of the people of Israel during the Old Testament. What was one of the characteristics of the exile? Longing for their home, Canaan.

So, somehow Christians have a kind of diaspora experience.10 They are longing for their home country,11 the eschatological reality with God, and powerless in the earthly reality.
In Kosovo there is no Christian political movement, no Christian lobby, no big churches. In Kosovo we have only Christians who live their lives and share their hope within their families, within their villages. They share their hope for a future reality, but also hope for their country in this earthly reality. There is no room for any kind of escapism. And just in this paradoxical engagement they live their godly missional lives.

Godly lives, in the margin, in a non-Christian society. And from the margins Christians try to live in the midst of their (non-Christian) neighbors. Not as victims, but as victors, as chosen people. Alienated on earth, but not alienated before God.
I know; Christianity as default is gone, but I see the rise of a church in the margin in a non-Christian Europe. Right there where God called the church to be.

Rik and Matched Lubbers are ECM missionaries who have worked in Kosovo since 2013.

Endnotes
1. Sherwood, H., ‘Christianity as default is gone: the rise of a non-Christian Europe’ in: The Guardian, 21 March 2018. See: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/21/christianity-non-christian-europe-young-people-survey-religion (Last consulted on 4-6-2018) Compare also: Bullivant, S., Europe’s Young Adults and Religion: Findings from the European Social Survey (2014-16) to inform the 2018 Synod of Bishops (London: St. Mary’s University, 2018)
2. Ibid
3. Because of the given space I cannot work out all the Bible passages related to ‘Christian alienation’. I chose the first letter of Peter because it is just this letter that turns a marginal indication of Christian alienation to a more prominent quality of the church. Cf. e.g. Gen. 23:4; Ps. 38:13 [LXX: 39:12] and Hebr. 11:13. At the same time we recognize that this designation of the Christian movement never had a central place in the NT. It is just one of the designations for the church.
4. Christian alienation contains a lot more, but for this contribution I have to limit myself.
5.. 2 Cor. 5:20. We deliberately use the terms
‘church’ and ‘Christian movement’ alternately to
emphasize the church as collective.
6.. With social persecution I do mean social tensions which expresses as e.g. discrimination, tension within families, disadvantaged positions on the labour market etc. In Kosovo is, as far as we know, no physical persecution.
7.. Eph 2:19.
8.. Cf. e.g. 1 Pet. 1:15, 16; 2:5, 9.
9.. The difference between the Serbian orthodox church, the catholic church and the protestant church is often unknown in Kosovo. I want to emphasize that it is, in no way, our intention to interfere in any political debate related to the existing tension between Serbs and Kosovar Albanians.

10. I am careful in using the notion of ‘exile’ for the Christian church. This has mainly to do with the fact that the exile was in the OT a punishment and judgement from God.

11. See e.g. 1 Pet. 1:4.