A large number of refugees from Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia have streamed into Europe in recent years. To help them, state agencies and local volunteers are working to provide food, shelter, and medical care.
Of course, refugees need more than physical assistance. Many of them suffer from trauma, so they also need comfort and hope. Jehovah’s Witnesses in central Europe are endeavoring to fill those needs by listening to the refugees and by sharing consoling thoughts from the Bible with them.
Comfort From the Bible
Since August 2015, Witnesses from over 300 congregations in Austria and Germany have made a special effort to comfort refugees. They note that refugees especially enjoy discussing the Bible’s answers to these questions:
Between August and October 2015, the local Witnesses ordered more than four tons of Bible-based literature from the Central Europe branch office and offered the literature at no charge to the refugees.
Bridging the Language Gap
Many of the refugees speak only their native language. Therefore, the Witnesses make use of the jw.org website, which features articles and videos in hundreds of languages. “Sometimes we communicate with gestures, pictures, or drawings,” say Matthias and Petra, who volunteer in Erfurt, Germany. They also use JW Language, a language-learning app that helps Witnesses to share the Bible’s message in a refugee’s mother tongue. Others use the multilingual JW Library app to read scriptures and show videos.
An Overwhelming Response
“Droves of people surrounded us,” relates a Witness couple from Schweinfurt, Germany. “Within two and a half hours, refugees accepted some 360 pieces of literature. Several of them bowed their head a little to thank us.” “The refugees are happy that someone takes an interest in them,” says Wolfgang, who volunteers in Diez, Germany. “Sometimes they ask for literature in five or six languages.”
Many start reading a publication right away, while others return to thank the Witnesses. “Two young men took some literature,” relates Ilonca, a Witness in Berlin, Germany. “Half an hour later they returned with a gift of some bread. They apologized for having nothing else with which to express their gratitude.”
“Thank You! Thank You Very Much!”
Social workers, officials, and neighbors appreciate the Witnesses’ voluntary efforts. “Thank you!” exclaimed a social worker who cares for some 300 refugees. “Thank you very much for being so concerned about the welfare of foreign residents!” Another social worker at a refugee camp told the Witnesses that giving refugees something meaningful to read in their own language is very good, “since their life at the moment consists of nothing more than three meals a day.”
Marion and her husband, Stefan, who live in Austria, explained the purpose of their volunteer work to two police officers who came by on patrol. The officers thanked them and requested two books. Marion observes: “Again and again the police commend us for our work.”
A woman in Austria who regularly donates goods to a camp kept noticing that regardless of the weather, the Witnesses made themselves available to help the refugees. One day she told them: “The refugees surely need material help. But what they need most is hope. And that is exactly what you are giving them.”