By Lienhard Roser, Heinrich Bolleter
We are remembering the Sunday morning worship, when Monika was presenting a Chinese asylum-seeker to the congregation. Together with her family, she had started to care for this young man and was giving a testimony about this new experience. She often shared about the progress in this accompaniment and the young man started to address the congregation with a few German words he had already learned. When the Swiss Authorities denied his request for asylum he had to leave the country as ordered. He disappeared and we lost contact with him.
This was about five years ago, five years since we opened the doors of the church for refugees and asylum-seekers. At the entrance we posted a placard: “Marhaba: Welcome to our coffee-shop.” Now, every Wednesday afternoon the welcome-coffee-shop is overcrowded. In the room next to the coffee shop, we teach classes in German language, in another room the small children of the refugee-families are playing with toys that they only were dreaming of before. In the youth room of the congregation, the young asylum-seekers are playing billiards and table tennis. It is amazing how they are communicating with each other in spite of the language barriers. It is a wonderful mix of different cultures: women, children, and young men, from Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Congo.
You see volunteers talking with the asylum-seekers and helping them to fill in the forms, which they have to present to the authorities. There is a woman talking with a migrant-woman from Tibet who had tears in her eyes because her visa had been denied. And for a while they are hugging each other silently. There are momentarily six or more volunteers serving on a Wednesday afternoon. Together with the alternates we are counting at this time 12 up to 15 helpers.
With the support from GCORR, the volunteers are encouraged and we are improving their skills to serve. After five years, our congregation is now recognized in the city of Aarau as a church open for the strangers. And we say “Marhaba. Welcome”.
Lienhard Roser, head of the Marhaba Program, wrote this piece together with Heinrich Bolleter, interpreter. The Marhaba Program in Aarau, Switzerland, is one of four Central Conference projects or programs awarded a CORR Action Fund Grant (funded by the Minority Group Self-Determination Fund) in October 2014.