It’s been several years since I quit my job as director of Freiburg Seminary to live and work among the poor in Leipzig, Germany, along with three other members of the Little Brothers of Jesus, a religious order inspired by Charles de Foucauld. At an open house for our neighbors, many of them refugees from the Middle East, a thickset man of about forty comes up to me. Beside him is a boy with jet-black hair who looks about eleven. Yousif – as the broad-shouldered stranger turns out to be called – addresses me. I don’t understand him, but the boy already speaks excellent German and translates for him, “We are from Iraq, from Mosul. Please help us!”
The tasks awaiting me flash before my eyes: my duties in the parish and as a chaplain at a prison and a college. I feel like saying, “Sorry, I’d love to, but I haven’t got time.” But I can’t do it. The next day, I call to arrange a visit. My life hasn’t been the same since.
A few days later, I ring the doorbell of an eleven-story apartment block. Yousif lives on the third floor with his wife, Tara, and their two children, Amanuel and Shaba. They invite me into their living room. Yousif’s request for help, I learn, concerns his children. There are problems at school. Amanuel, a slightly built boy, confides to me that he is regularly bullied by his Muslim schoolmates because of the small cross he has always worn around his neck, even when things got dangerous for Christians in Mosul. Spotting it, an older Muslim boy had begun calling him names, then pretended to point a machine gun at him: “Ratatatata! Shoot the Christians!”
Christian refugees are suspected by both sides.Such tensions among refugees are not uncommon. The majority of the more than one million refugees who have entered Germany since 2015 are Muslims. Many of them have also been ideologically poisoned by decades of propaganda claiming that Christians are “impure,” that the West is morally corrupt, and that only Muslims can be citizens in the full sense of the word.
Christian refugees are suspected by both sides, as I learn after I arrange for Amanuel to transfer to a Christian school. Here things go better – until he feels suspected by his classmates of being a jihadist. After a terror attack in Paris, the children are afraid that radical Muslims might launch an attack in Germany too. One boy reads out a newspaper headline, “Jihadist Came to France as Refugee,” and some of them turn to look at Amanuel.