Church Planted in Europe Refugee Camp
When Assemblies of God missionary Michael McNamee, director of Convoy of Hope Europe, led a team that placed a tent church in a refugee camp outside Calais, France, he encouraged Christians in the camp to give the church a name.
"I said they could name the church anything they liked," McNamee says.
A long-standing tradition within the U.S. Assemblies of God is to name the first AG church in a community "First Assembly of God." Another tradition -- to feature a theological concept within the name. Evangel Assembly of God, Grace Assembly, and Calvary AG are examples. The refugees at the Calais camp posted a simple sign -- "Church."
But that one word speaks volumes.
The tent was completed on Oct. 3 and is the lone evangelical gathering point for Christians among the predominantly Muslim camp bursting with some 5,000 people. The camp is home to a dozen temporary mosques. Turmoil, overcrowded conditions, and poor sanitation have earned the camp the nickname "the Jungle."
"We purchased a tent that seats around 50 people," McNamee says. "In just a few hours we had assembled a small community of Christians, a representation of the kingdom of God in the middle of that camp."
Volunteers from Christian Center International Church in Brussels, Belgium, and the French AG church in Tubize, Belgium, assisted the Convoy of Hope Europe team. Along with the tent church, volunteers constructed four small wooden huts to be used by African Christian women and erected four smaller tents to be used by some of the Christian men. This will give the Christian group and the church increased security.
As well, team members cleared garbage in the camp and brought 2,500 rain ponchos to be distributed later as the weather changes.
"Conditions continue to deteriorate," says McNamee. "Food is scarce, and the rainy season has begun. With temperatures dropping, the situation is already critical."
Authorities recently bulldozed sections of the camp that had outgrown the land allotted by the government. Other nearby camps were also dismantled in an effort to bring all the refugees into one area.
"Please continue to pray for the refugees and migrants in the Jungle, and for the COHEU team and their continued ministry among them," McNamee says. "We have made a long-term commitment to this project, and are continuing to identify ways we can be involved."
The Convoy-led outreach in the Jungle is part of a multinational effort by Assemblies of God World Missions to address Europe's refugee crisis.
The same weekend that teams completed the church tent in the Jungle, AG missionaries in Macedonia distributed 1,300 food packets each day.
"Between 5,000 and 6,000 new refugees came through our area each day on Saturday and Sunday," says missionary Tim Bentley. "I talked with some Iranians who arrived on Sunday, and learned it had taken them 10 days to get this far."
For many refugees, Macedonia is just a first stop on a much longer journey. In Austria, Vienna Christian Center is intent on serving the material and spiritual needs of the overcrowded camp just a 20-minute drive from their church. Regular visits and distribution of essential supplies from representatives of the church are building relationships with families in need.
"Sunday we had five of the Afghan teenagers we are working with show up for service," says AG missionary Larry Henderson, who pastors VCC with wife Melinda. "When we took one of our Iranian men from church on a recent visit to talk to refugees in Farsi, a father with three children asked if they could be picked up for service on Sunday."
More than 530,000 new refugees have entered Europe so far this year. Hungary, Austria, Sweden, and Germany have received the greatest number of asylum applications in proportion to their own populations, with Hungary reporting 665 refugees per 100,000 citizens.
To help support AGWM and Convoy of Hope Europe's refugee initiative, visit giving.ag.org and click on the "Europe Refugee Crisis" button.