When Grace Killian came home to Pittsburgh last Fall after two year’s service as a Global Mission Fellow in Israel/Palestine, she learned that her church’s partner congregation and others in Germany were reaching out to help refugees in their communities. Now Grace is going to work with them.
Mt. Lebanon UM Church, Grace’s home church, is linked with the Zwickau UMC and is part of the Western PA-East German Partnership, set up before the reunification of Germany. Those involved in the partnership have built relationships over the years through exchange visits and joint work trips by youth and adults to areas in Latin America, Russia and Eastern Europe.
“I have been on the partnership committee for years and it seemed natural to do something,” Grace said. “My interest in the vital work of our partners comes primarily from time as a Global Mission Fellow in Mafraq, Jordan, working with Syrian refugees.”
During a period in 2014 when she had to leave Israel because of visa regulations, Grace worked with the Christian Missionary Alliance Church's ministry to Syrian refugees at the Zaatari Refugee Camp, about 15km from the Syrian border, where nearly 107,000 were living. A lot has changed globally since then, Grace said.
Last year, refugee migration into Europe reached crisis proportions. United Methodists in Germany responded to refugees and asylum-seekers from Syria, Afghanistan, North Africa, and elsewhere. They have provided an array of services, from shelter, food, and counsel, to German-language classes and bicycle repair, as local communities and migrants live into a new reality together.
Congregations in eastern Germany, which still have economic challenges from their time behind the Iron Curtain, were among those reaching out directly to assist with cultural adjustment, medical care, clothing, food, and more.
Last September, after Mary Garber of Mt. Lebanon UMC emailed Pastor Lutz Bruckner of the Zwickau UMC to ask how they could help, they immediately sent donations for materials so Zwickau church volunteers could set up a space for children in a local gymnasium where refugees stay before being registered and processed.
Then, in response to a November-December appeal from the partnership, Western PA congregations contributed more than $17,000 to help the East German partner churches.
Inspired to join the effort, Grace said she looks forward to “strengthening the WPA-East German partnership and exploring the ways churches in Germany and Western PA can welcome migrants and refugees in their own communities.
“I will be living and primarily working in Chemnitz, about one hour from Dresden, and staying for about three months, working with various congregations providing services to refugees.
“Almost all of the refugees receive housing through the government. Chemnitz is the first part of registration that they go through,” she explained.
At first, she said, she’ll spend some time visiting the different congregations that have refugee outreach programs, mostly around Dresden. She hopes to help mobilize the church volunteers to use their skills and encourage additional volunteers.
Grace speaks Arabic. “I studied it in Bethlehem and had to rely on it in Jordan,” she said. “That was a large part of my motivation for wanting to go.”
Another goal, she said, is “learning how our German partners are doing this and perhaps find ways to normalize the acceptance of refugees in the U.S. We have so much to learn about welcoming the other and welcoming the people who are different from us.”
Grace will cover some of her expenses with a donation she received when the Immanuel UMC in Waltham, MA closed. She attended the church while studying at Brandeis University. Donations toward work with the refugees in Eastern Germany may be made through local churches to the WPAUMC Treasurer's office designated for the WPAUMC-East German Partnership (WPA Advance #SS003500E).