April 29, 2017

Where Christians, Muslims, and Atheists Meet

The shelter is not in the mountains and is not made of wood. On the contrary, it is a meeting point for people in need, and is located in Schwedt, a town with a population of 31,000 in the north-east of Brandenburg, close to the Polish border.

As in other cities of the former German Democratic Republic, local Adventist communities have looked after people with addictions for years. In the 70’s, a self-help group was launched in Schwedt. In 1995, Fritz Schuppan, with the assistance of the town officers and the sponsorship of the Adventist Church, opened “Schutzhütte Schwedt.”

Help for alcoholics increased, wrote current managing director Andreas Noack in the May issue of the German church magazine Adventisten heute. Now food for the needy no longer had to be collected privately. In addition to the assistance through the weekly meetings of the group, it was now also possible to help the needy providing them daily meals.

Currently, the center has around 50 “employees,” who are involved in the various relief offers. They are “employed” with a symbolic 1-euro pay, as federal volunteers, interns, or because they are sent to work at the center by a court order.

“They assist in the kitchen, the social café, with the sorting and distribution of food, or as drivers of our five vehicles,” said Noack. “They collect, store, sort and move around household goods and furniture.” Likewise, he clarified that volunteers offer personal assistance and advice to visitors and refugees. “They help them organize their leisure time and provide them support in the workplace,” Noack said.

Good Reputation, Great Support

Schutzhütte has a very good reputation in the city and beyond. Consequently, people are eager to support the center’s mission by donating clothes, food, and furniture. “We get so much that we can even take a small truck with donations to the Polish border every month,” said Noack. Overall, from 500 to 600 people are provided with food, household goods and furniture every week.

Noack said that the center also welcomes 20-30 German young people, 20-30 refugees, and about ten refugee children on a regular basis. There they can play, for instance, on the four kicker (foosball) tables, two table tennis tables, or two pool tables, as they spend time chatting and learning. In addition, refugees are taught the German language in small groups, and are provided information and assistance according to their needs.

“The center has always had a very joyful, open-minded atmosphere.”

Individual employees support and accompany refugee families and refugees at home, during visits to the authorities, visits to doctors, school and kindergartens. They also stand by them to help them search for an internship or training place, or at the time of job interviews. As more and more applications for asylum were rejected, Schutzhütte recently assisted refugees in their search for lawyers and to cover lawyer’s fees. “All refugees who have relocated to Schwedt have been helped at least once, but many have repeatedly used our support", wrote Noack.

Valuing Diversity

It could be a challenge to organize the center’s daily meeting and activities in a place where Russian, Polish, Arabic, Farsi, and German are spoken. At the same time, it is a rich experience getting to know the visitors’ different cultures and life stories. “The center has always had a very joyful, open-minded atmosphere,” said Noack, “as members feel free to talk about their Christian or Islamic values, or even about their lack of belief.”

The volunteer team is made up of Christians, Muslims, and converts to Christianity and they work together in peace. “We discuss the good and the bad features of our traditions,” said Noack. “We express freely what we think about Christianity, or about Islam and Muslims.” Noack also said that they discuss their prejudices, and try to find common ground. “And we know for a fact, that at least those of us who believe in either Jesus or Allah, are praying for each other,” he said.