International (TWR/MNN) — Depression and mental illness are now starting to be recognized by the United Nations and aid agencies as problems that many refugees face.
A number of studies have recently identified stress as an additional concern in refugees arriving both in Europe and the United States. These are people who have suffered from long-term profound stress: they’ve been in survival mode for a long time.
Even finding a reprieve in a camp doesn’t always provide relief. Aid agencies say violence within the refugee communities creates a downward spiral as many refugees battle to survive harsh conditions.
For these, the first order of business is securing the basics: a safe home, education, a job. Survival mode masks the need to treat the mental scars of war. Symptoms may not appear until months or years later, after initial resettlement support has ended.
Many agencies just don’t have enough Arabic speakers. The inability to communicate complicates finding a job, adjusting to a new culture, or dealing with life apart from family. Failure to address these stressors could lead some refugees to withdraw from society, increasing their vulnerability to extremist groups.
Dirk Mueller, International Director of Trans World Radio Europe, says, ”You probably can imagine how challenging it is to go through all the things they went through: different stages of trauma and the leaving of war-torn countries. They are on this trip where they don’t know if they’re going to survive.”
In that light, what could be more comforting for a refugee than hearing timely spiritual encouragement in his or her heart language? “There’s an app for that,” to use the catchphrase. Mueller says TWR asked themselves, “‘How can we reach out to them?’ We felt like radio is a good tool to use, for example, in the Middle East. We need the app to speak to the refugees that are coming to Europe.”
TWR decided to utilize a common tool that is never far from their target audience. “They use their smartphone to navigate through Europe. They also keep in touch with the news: which border is open, which one is closed. They try to stay in contact with other family members that are also on the move.”
Trans World Radio just launched an Android app called Refugee Bridge. It is designed to meet the emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs of displaced people by offering practical and biblical content in the Arabic language. Rest assured, Mueller says, they’re looking to eventually expand that footprint, given the scope of the crisis. “We are further developing more languages. We want to go into Farsi. We want to go into Dari, as well, to reach out to people from Afghanistan.”
All content is downloadable, making it easy for users to access programs on the go, even without Wi-Fi access. Mueller says they’re working quickly to reach refugees during the window of time in which they are most open to hearing the Gospel. ”When they arrive in Europe, it’s a different culture. There’s disillusionment and all of these things. We really try to put programs on this app that speak hope into their lives and really give them new hope which is based on Jesus Christ.”
TWR has been able to repurpose radio programs that were originally produced for refugees in Syria and Lebanon. The app contains Hope for Syria episodes and Women of Hope programs, all of which are especially relevant for Muslim refugees.
For Christian Arabic-speaking refugees, TWR also offers TWR360 and the TWR Arabic app. It is geared to reach those who come from oral cultures and/or those who wish to maintain discretion in their exploration of Christianity, as they could otherwise be harmed or ostracized if they were seen visibly reading a hard-cover Bible.
The goal is to create and upload fresh, tailor-made programs for incoming refugees to Europe in a variety of languages (next up, Farsi), and even add a collection of videos. They’ll provide biblical counsel on refugee-specific issues, such as displacement and loneliness. App advertisement, distribution, and follow-up are made possible by TWR national partners and the Christian refugee organizations interacting directly with refugees.
Ever-practical, Mueller explains one other arm of their response, in cooperation with other ministries working in the gateway to Europe. “We have a pilot project coming up in Greece where we’re going to distribute power banks to refugees. These power banks are important for the refugees that need to charge their phones.” There’s hope that this will eventually expand to ministries who are helping refugees resettle in North America. Click here for more info.
For over 50 years, TWR has been speaking hope in the heart languages of the 380 million people in the Middle East and North Africa. Would you pray for open doors with those on the move?