Acculturation: a nifty word used in cross-cultural ministry to describe the process of “fitting in” to a new life, language, economy, socio-economic group, etc. It involves taking a good long look at who and why you are and then figuring out how to best shape-shift into a whole new culture. It’s exhausting, rewarding, frustrating and one of the best personal growth tools available.
In the bustling European capital where I live, the idea of acculturation becomes a bit complicated as about half of the city’s population has a migrant background. The city’s ethnic divide became wider during the 2015 Syrian Refugee Crisis and continues to grow as refugees from all over the world arrive seeking safety from war, poverty and oppression.
It’s not difficult to see that the need for Christ is just as real inside this closed-off community.
Walking through the streets you will hear English, German, French, Turkish, Hungarian, Serbian, Farsi and Arabic. This culture clash leaves many newcomers in a difficult position: which culture do we acculturate? Western European culture? One of the various subcultures created by immigrant groups who live and work together? A hybrid of East-meets-West that leaves us all confused?
As team members of Global Partners’ newest field focusing on Muslim immigrant and refugee outreach in Europe, we’re faced with the same acculturation questions as many of our friends. The good news is that when it comes to refugees, this can be a point of connection. Struggling through the red tape of bureaucracy? We get it. Can’t find a grocery store open on Sundays due to long-standing Catholic tradition? Tell me about it. Not sure whether to shake hands or hug? Me neither!
What’s even better is that many refugees are looking for a whole new life, family and faith. One of our friends, Hamed, had been questioning the Muslim faith for years before leaving his homeland, but was unable to legally look for answers outside of Islam. Once his plane hit the ground in Europe, he sought out a local pastor and decided to follow Christ within three hours of his arrival. To us, that’s incredible and portrays the ripe harvest among refugees.The guidance and hope Christ offers is something these now nationless people crave.
Many refugees are looking for a whole new life, family and faith.
Things become a bit more complicated concerning our Muslim immigrant friends, many of whom have been here for years if not their whole life. From the outside, it would seem they have attained the “better life” their parents or grandparents sought. They are surrounded by family, their worship community and their self-sustaining subeconomy. This large people group operates almost exclusively inside of their own cultural bubble and have for several generations.
However, it’s not difficult to see that the need for Christ is just as real inside this closed-off community. They face hardships such as prejudice, employment instability and lack the rights of the European citizens that surround them. They are forever in limbo, stranded between a home country most have never been to and a new land that will not fully accept them. Understandably, this creates an atmosphere of suspicion when it comes to outsiders. It takes much more effort on our part to gain the trust necessary to build sustainable relationships.
"Through Christ we can celebrate differences in language, culture and upbringing, while remaining united by his love.”
The task before us is overwhelming, especially given that the evangelical presence here is small with roughly three percent of the country’s population claiming to be Protestant. However, we are determined to share the good news of Christ to anyone who will listen — no matter how culturally confused we all are. We know that through Christ we can celebrate differences in language, culture and upbringing, while remaining united by his love.
So, what is God doing here amidst the chaos? He is drawing his loved ones closer to him. He is redeeming long, hard journeys and jail-breaking those who are fleeing systematic, racial and religious oppression. He is allowing peace and joy to drift into lives that have seen only injustice and fear.
God is transforming individuals who are transforming their communities and awakening a spiritual hunger across the city. We hope that with God’s help his light will break through the cracks of inequality and neglect to reach our Muslim immigrant friends.