“When we returned to Finland after three years with Lifehope [OM’s ministry in Birmingham, UK], I wanted to repeat the experience of living in a neighborhood with a majority of immigrants,” said *Beth. “In the UK, we had learnt how to make friends with people of many nationalities, and while Finland has a much smaller number of immigrants, the issues are mostly the same.”
Beth and *Sandi, mothers in the OM Finland team, started inviting immigrant mothers to an international friendship group. Many responded, and soon group gatherings were underway.
The ladies in the group help one another with language skills, as well as explain social codes and norms of Finnish culture. For instance, how do you make a Finnish friend? How do you keep warm in the extremely cold winter? How do you cook Finnish food? How does the local library work?
While these practical skills are helpful, Beth and Sandi know it’s even more important to offer a listening ear. Each lady is given time share her life story, sometimes with the help of a translator. What was life like in her home country? What happened that eventually led her and her family to Finland? What are her struggles? What does she believe and why?
The women come from a range of different countries, such as India, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan and Israel. Many have experienced extreme situations before arriving in Finland. Beth and Sandi recognize that it helps the women process past traumatic events when they’re able to share with a listening audience and receive support from others who may have had similar experiences.
“The group has given me fellowship with other women, and we are learning from one another,” said *Katarina from South Sudan.
Katarina’s life includes two wars, abandonment, poverty, and the loss of her grandparents whom she grew up with. She eventually fled to Egypt with her young son. Her story is one of loss and sorrow, but also of hope and happiness.
Since moving to Finland 11 years ago, she realized that security and peace were not enough to make her happy. Though Katarina knew little about Jesus and the Bible, she had grown up in the Christian tradition.
“In Sudan,” she explained, “I worked for some years in Khartoum and tried to ask the Muslims there about their faith. They did not want to share information with me unless I first became a Muslim.”
In Finland, she attended Bible school after watching Christian television programs and realizing her need to learn more about her faith.
In the group, Beth and Sandi also share their personal stories, which provides them an opportunity to share about their faith and answer questions about Christianity.
“However, this is about friendship first,” emphasizes Beth. “The group knows we are Christians and from the church, but we meet on equal terms as women sharing with women.”
Finland is receiving an increasing amount of refugees. In addition to the expected numbers of those selected from refugee camps are those arriving directly to Finland, having made their own way north. With the Syrian crisis, the number of refugees could easily exceed the 15,000 refugees expected.
Sandi and Beth have started a 3-day training course for Finnish people about how to make friends with immigrants. They hope that the course will prove to be a useful tool for local churches to reach out to their new neighbors and become connected with the growing immigrant population. Through this, they hope to see refugees and other immigrants find open hearts, homes and churches in Finland.
Please pray that the women in the group find their comfort and belonging in Jesus Christ. Pray that the churches in Finland and other parts of Europe will open their homes to immigrants seeking friendship and love.
A developing OM project, called Safe Passage, focuses on meeting refugees at their initial entry points in Europe, providing information as well as water, food, and essentials. To give to OM’s relief efforts, or for more information about how to get involved, please contact your local OM office.
*Name changed for security