Robert Strong slides his cellphone toward a young man who’s been on the run for seven years. The two men relax in a coffeehouse operating out of a storefront church in the Dutch city of Emmeloord. Images of actors playing a scene from the life of Jesus flicker over the phone’s screen. “Is this your language?” Strong asks, and the refugee from Eritrea nods, surprised to hear Tigrinya so far from home.
Strong’s phone is connected to a LightStream, a wireless content delivery system from the In Touch Messenger Lab. This LightStream is loaded with Scripture, lessons from Dr. Stanley, and clips from The Jesus Film, in languages spoken by refugees who live in a camp 10 kilometers away. They are men and women who’ve fled persecution and turmoil on the African continent.
Strong is a director with Operation Mobilization, and much of his work involves coordinating care and ministry to asylum seekers throughout Europe. However, he started the coffeehouse, not as a function of his job but from a sense of personal responsibility as a Christian.
He and his wife Ruth had noticed an influx of refugees visiting the Lidl grocery store just down the sidewalk from their church. Every Tuesday residents from the refugee center receive euros from the government to help pay utilities, rent, and food costs. After buying groceries, they would sit out front—often in the rain or cold—and wait for rides back to camp. So the Strongs wrote a proposal, suggesting their church be opened for coffee and tea.
“Our church has come alive,” says Strong. What was once an insular body of believers is now an outreach, united to serve their neighbors. They make refreshments, sit and listen to stories, and play table games. Now many of the coffeehouse visitors are coming to Sunday worship.
In the eastern world, the subject of faith doesn’t cause embarrassment, so Strong has found it easy to ask his new friends if he can pray for them. They talk about the cross on display in the church, and discover how to connect their phones to the biblical content on the LightStream.
The refugees are survivors, their journeys filled with pain and loss. Yet they keep moving, until they find home. And while they’re here, Strong and his church are just down the sidewalk, being neighbors to them—loving and serving just the way a family should.
Photography by Ian Currey