A gathering in Olso brought together 61 Christian leaders from a migrant background. “Many migrants are more bold with their faith and their testimonies. This is a great resource for the churches”.
Christian immigrants are putting into words what they have experienced in their encounters with Norwegian churches. The experiences are not all good.
While many say they were welcomed with open arms, others have been met with suspicion and lack of interest.
This was more evident when 61 Norwegian Christian leaders with a migrant background gathered at an invitation-only meeting in Oslo on 17 April. The meeting, organised by the Norwegian Council for Mission and Evangelism (NORME) and the Lausanne Movement, was defined as “historic”. According to NORME, nothing similar has ever been organised in Norway.
The aim was to create a safe space where migrant leaders could talk freely and share experiences.
“It was like balm for the soul”. This is how Norwegian School of Leadership and Theology researcher and former pastor Gabriel Stephen describes the migrant gathering. When Stephen, a Norwegian-Nigerian, heard the stories of other Christian migrants, it confirmed to him that he “had not made up” his experiences.
[photo_footer] Gabriel Stephen is a research fellow and lecturer at HLT and is also a consultant for migrants and integration in Skien. / Photo: Kari Fure.
As a migrant, he has often felt like not being someone who has nothing to give, only potential a recipient of help. “It’s like an entrance exam you can never pass”, he says.
Gabriel Stephen is married to a Norwegian and has lived in Norway for a long time.
Stephen encourages ethnic Norwegians to look inside, be vulnerable and dare to listen to the migrant experience. One of the challenging questions he asks is this: “Is it the case that missionaries accept people from other cultures as long as they are far away, but that it is more difficult to accept them when they come close and want to stand on their own feet?”
“We just want to be friends. Have a coffee and chat. We don’t need you to try to fix us”, says Usha Reifsnider, reflecting on what it is like to be a migrant in European churches. Reifsnider is British, has Indian parents and converted from Hinduism to Christianity. She is also an academic and one of the two Co-Regional Directors of Lausanne Europe. And she knows a lot about what it is like to face prejudice and racism, as she told Dagen in a previous interview.
Usha Reifsnider spoke about her own experiences. The next day, she shared her impressions from this meeting when NORME and Lausanne gathered 115 Norwegian Christian leaders for an on-invitation-only conference in Oslo.
“The migrant leaders testified to their sincere love for Norway. Many saw themselves as missionaries and want to do missions here”, she says.
“We migrants are not a problem. We are a gift from God”, Reifsnider emphasised, as she addressed the challenge directly to the Norwegian church leaders in the hall at Scandic Helsfyr. “Many say they dream of a multicultural church. Now we must stop dreaming. We must realise the dream, she said, painting a picture of heaven, where people of all tribes and tongues, of all peoples and nations will praise God”.
She continued: “Make an effort. You cannot expect the Church to become multicultural and multiethnic without taking the step as leaders. Will you take the challenge?”.
Paul Odeh is head of the International Christian Fellowship in Norwegian Lutheran Mission's South-West region and has long experience of working with migrants in several organisations.
[photo_footer] Paul Odeh is head of the International Christian Fellowship in NLM's South-West region. Photo: Kari Fure
He has noticed that immigrants are often asked to cook, wash dishes or host meetings, but are less often invited to speak.
Odeh believes that uncertainty among Norwegian church leaders may be part of the reason”. It is not necessarily ill will, but they may be unsure, for example, whether language and culture make it difficult for migrants to communicate with the congregation”.
He personally knows very resourceful migrants who are rarely asked to speak in Christian contexts. Odeh has also noticed that churches are quick to provide interpreters when inviting speakers from abroad, but do not do the same for migrants who are members of the congregation.
How does he think Norwegian church leaders react to the challenges from migrant leaders? “I hope they do not take it badly, but that it will be a wake-up call and that they will realise what a resource migrants are”, says Odeh, emphasising that he is optimistic.
“We need the voice of migrants. Many of them are more bolder with their faith and their testimonies than Norwegians. This is a great resource for the churches”, he concludes.
“Diversity makes us stronger”, says Paul Atina Omayio, originally from Kenya and pastor of Oslo International Family Church.
“People have different languages and cultural preferences. The fact that we are different is a strength when we share the gospel”, he said when he held a seminar on the topic together with Stian Sørlie Eriksen, professor at VID Specialised University.
[photo_footer] Stian Sørlie Eriksen and Paul Atina Omayio spoke about diversity and tensions during NORME and Lausanne's Leadership Day. Photo: Kari Fure.
Omayio also spoke honestly about how diversity can lead to tensions between the members of a church. “But tensions do not have to be negative. We do not like them, it is not pleasant, but it can be an opportunity to get to know ourselves and others better, when we are forced to talk together and listen to the views of others”.
The Lausanne Movement has recognised that better relations between the Global South and the Global North are essential to improve the quality of life in the world.
26 Christian leaders with a migrant background participated in the NORME and Lausanne training days. Thus, this gathering also made history. It was the first time so many migrants were such an integral part of a NORME conference.
[photo_footer]Shalome Croos Aasen is a board member of NORME. / Photo: Kari Fure.
“This has been a conscious effort. In recent years, migrants have been a topic of conversation, but it is only now that something concrete has come out of the conversations in the NORME context”, says Shalome Croos Aasen, a board member of NORME.
“If you don’t make a conscious effort to be inclusive, it is easy to fall back into old habits and invite those you already know. And representation is just as important on stage as in the auditorium, perhaps even more so”, she adds.
[title]What are NORME and the Lausanne Movement
NORME (Norwegian Council for Mission and Evangelism) is an umbrella organisation for 42 Norwegian mission organisations. It was founded in 2001 as an association of the Norwegian Missionary Council, the Evangelical Alliance in Norway and the Lausanne Movement Norway.
Lausanne is an international evangelical, ecumenical missionary movement founded in 1974 by evangelist Billy Graham.
Lausanne Europe is led by Co-Regional Directors Jim Memory and Usha Reifsnider.
This article first appeared in Dagen Norge and was translated into English with permission.