VERSE: Matthew 28:18-20
Middle East scholar Dr. Yvette Hovsepian Bearce will explain her 33-year journey as a former refugee, who sought future, hope and life in Germany, to finding a refugee ministry in Germany during the 2015 Syrian Refugee Crisis.
Thank you Pastor Kamruz Fartash and Elorzekirche for your invitation to speak to you this morning.
Greetings from Pastor Kurt Poland of the First German Church in Los Angeles and Fr. Vazken Movsesian of the Armenian Church where I serve. Many greetings from the heart of America to every German who is listening to this message.
During my last summer ministry in Germany, I was standing in the fellowship hall of an Iranian church I had attended in Stuttgart, and was speaking with one of the Persian female refugees. She was talking to me about her personal and spiritual life as a refugee. As I was listening to the stories of her life in Germany; the challenges she was faced with as a refugee, I gently turned my face, and for a moment I looked around the room where all these new believers; young and old, men and women refugees were standing and fellowshipping with one another. For a moment, my vision changed and I no longer saw them as people but as pearls. Different color pearls in different shapes, different lines, different blemishes, different shines and different beauties. Some looked like black pearls, others white pearls, and yet others pink pearls. Despite their shapes and colors, they all looked beautiful — as beautiful as a precious jewel. It was then that I felt that God spoke to my heart in a small still voice, this is your ministry — to discover these hidden pearls and to care for them.
Many years ago, my husband bought me a beautiful black pearl on our honeymoon in Tahiti. It was perhaps the most beautiful pearl I had ever seen. it had an amazing imperfect round shape with different shades of gray and green, and an imperfect line going through the heart of the circle. I loved this pearl so much! Well, first, because it was a gift from the man I loved so much and second it was simply a beautiful precious stone. So for the past two decades or so, I have adored this pearl and cared for it as if it is the only precious jewel on this earth. And I still love it just like the first day I laid my eyes on it.
In the parable of the pearl in Matthew 14:45-46, Jesus likens the Kingdom of heaven to a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, and in verse 46, he says, “And when he found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had and bought it!”
In Luke 15:4-7 Jesus challenges the Pharisees through the parable of the lost sheep. He questions them: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep. if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!”
So it is with this heart that Jesus calls us to ministry.
Matthew 28:18-20 outlines for us that in his final words to his disciples as he was ascending to heaven, Jesus commended them: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
In these final words Jesus establishes several things for His disciples which of course apply to us as believers.
In Verse 18, Jesus reminds His disciples to remember that heaven and earth remain to be his Kingdom, and that He leaves the responsibilities of attending to his Kingdom — both heaven and earth — that is the spiritual and the practical — to them. This is the same commission that God gave to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28. He told them: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the bird of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
One of the best and easiest ways to describe the word Kingdom is — a place and a source of influence. A place where one can influence and a place which establishes one’s authority. Just as God commissioned Adam and Eve to attend to his creation by exercising their God-given authority, so did Jesus with his disciples.
So, in verse 19, Jesus tells his disciples precisely what to do: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Th e verb “go” here is an interesting verb. It is so related to the story of the Creation. In so many ways one can define it as to move, to progress, to change and to create. When Jesus commands his followers to make disciples of all nations and baptize them, He’s also talking about introducing His life and ministry to others in ways that those who hear the message will become passionate about God, confess Christ as their savior, believe that Jesus died for their sins, fall in love with His laws, become enthusiastic about adhering to his commandments, and become His followers and devoted believers who will care for His ministry.
In verse 20, Jesus precisely tells us how to do this. And, it’s simple! Jesus says, “Teach them!” That’s it! Teach them! Teach them all the things that I have taught you and commanded you. Teach them. That is to advise them, to coach them, to mentor them, to explain to them, to instruct them, to demonstrate to them by example, to guide them and to prepare them. These are just a few examples of how we can teach “them.” It’s practical and tangible. It’s personal.
But the beauty of the Great Commission is that Christ doesn’t leave His disciples alone, without any guidance. He promised them that He would always be with them, even to the end of the age.
So we are reminded that this Great Commission is not just for a time or a season, but it is a long-term commitment and that the work continues until the day Jesus returns. As Paul reminds us in II Corinthians 5:20, Christ entrusted the responsibilities of His Kingdom, to His disciples and to us, making us his ambassadors and representatives here on earth.
So, how does this Great commission and calling as an Ambassador of Christ — that is to go in His authority, to make disciples, baptize them, teach them His commandments — find their place in my refugee work?
It was summer of 2015. I had finished my first book and was published. My mother who had long awaited to celebrate the publication of her daughter’s book had died 3 weeks before my book was released. At the same time, the news of human devastation of thousands of refugees crossing waters into Europe and Germany was only becoming worse each day. The death of my mother and the death of the 3-year-old Syrian boy Aylan by Turkish waters crushed my internal and external world. I knew that I could no longer sit and watch this human devastation. While I couldn’t do anything about the death of thousands of people escaping war, political unrest and hunger, I knew, at least, I could help those who found refuge in Europe. So I chose my place of ministry — Germany! I decided to help Germans who were now struggling to provide a sanctuary for 1000s of people entering their country each day. So on Monday, September 15, 2015, I picked up the phone, called United Airlines and purchased a ticket to Frankfurt. Then, I called my husband and told him that I was leaving for Germany in a week. Coming from a military, pastoral and German background, my husband was a bit shocked by my sudden plan to go overseas. While trying to keep himself calm, he said, “Oh, you’re going on a vacation to see your friends in Germany?!” I said, “No, I’m going to go help out with refugees!” With an anxious and puzzled tone he said, “Oh, you signed up with a humanitarian organization!” I responded, “NO!!! I’m just going on my own to help out Germans and refugees.” By now, I could hear fear and frustration in my husband’s voice while trying to keep himself real calm. With much hesitations he asked, “Where are you going to find these refugees?” Well, by now I was frustrated too and said, “Haven’t you been watching the news? They’re everywhere! … They’re in the train stations, on the streets, in camps … They’re all over Europe!” Knowing that there was no winning with me, my husband asked, “Is it safe?” In a frustrated tone I said, “Well, one thing I know for sure that I won’t drawn in rough Atlantic waters!!!!” Knowing that arguing with this crazy woman made no sense, my husband said, “Ok, at least please contact your German friends and tell them that you are coming and let them help you find a place for ministry.”
So this began my 2-year journey of helping Germans and refugees in the integration of refugees. I have served in camps, churches, classrooms, taught seminars on integration, supported pastors and organizations, and mentored refugees.
So, where do these German friends or I’d like to call them “my German family” come from?
It was August 4, 1984 when my family and I left Iran.
Six years prior to our departure, the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran had become victorious and an Islamic government had been established. The Shah of Iran had left the country on Jan 16, 1979 leaving the nation an orphan. A month later, the new Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini arrived Tehran. I had just turned 13. As the political unrest continued, which included the November 1979 U.S. embassy takeover and the September 1980 Iran-Iraq war, and the absolute Islamization of the country, my family decided to leave Iran for a better future.
I was 18 when we left Iran with my mother and two younger sisters. We left everything and everyone behind including our father and older sister who joined us months later. I left my cousins, grandparents (whom I loved and never saw again), aunts and uncles, best friends from high school and friends from youth group at church. I left my birth place not because I wanted to but because I had to. Before I knew I found myself in a refugee camp in Germany, first in Karsruhe and then in a small town called Horb, which is 60 kilometers south of Stuttgart.
The fear, hopelessness, depression, anxiety of leaving all that was familiar for an uncertain future in an unknown land was real and intense. Three things sustained me: 1) The love and support of my family, in particular my parents; 2) the generous and kind Germans who welcomed us into their country by giving us political protection and personal security, a place to live, food to eat, warm clothes to wear during cold winters, doctors to see when sick, and friendships that have now lasted 33 years. And finally, 3) faith and hope in Christ that all will be well.
In Jeremiah 29:11 God promises that He does not have thoughts of evil but of future hope and life for us. That my present circumstances did not determine my future. That despite my life in a refugee camp away from home, away from everything I knew and was familiar to me, God was still in control. For in Joel 2 He promises that He will redeem our lives. Verses 25-27 promise that, He will restore to us the years that the swarming locust has eaten… We shall eat plenty, praise His name, know that He’s Lord, and we will never be put to shame. I have found and witnessed this redemption in my life for the past thirty three years, and now through my refugee work, I am teaching other refugees how to obtain this redemption through faith in God and hard work.
My ministry is simple, It is about bringing the message of hope, future and life to Germans and refugees.
In my ministry, and my “Refugee Empowerment Program,” I teach refugees three major principles:
- VISION: As human beings we are all filled with gifts and talents that are unique to our personalities and visions that God has for our lives. For we see this promise in the story of the Creation when God is getting ready to create Adam. He says, “Let us make man in our Own image, according to Our likeness.” If indeed we are children of God and created in His “Own” image, then we are as creative as God, filled with gifts and talents, filled with visions for what can be in the future, even though we cannot see them yet. So I teach refugees to reach deep within themselves and pull out those talents, those gifts that God has given them, to put them into work, to build onto them, and to use them. I teach refugees how to find God’s vision for their lives. In Hosea 4:6 and Proverbs 29:18 God warns us that His people perish because of lack of vision. We need vision because vision gives us hope and direction for our lives.
- WORK & GRATITUDE: God has commissioned us to use our talents and subdue the earth, to fill the earth, and to bless the earth. So I teach refugees that we don’t keep our talents and abilities just for ourselves like the foolish servant in Matthew 25:25 who hid his one talent out of fear and selfishness. Instead, to invest their talents like the other two wise servants so that their talents are multiplied. That is to put our talents into practice. Hence, I teach refugees accountability: to be responsible for themselves, to help others, and to become part of their communities, whether it is the church or their local communities. And at the same time, I teach them the importance and the power of gratitude. To give thanks for what they have and have received and to give back unceasingly because that’s what Christ commissioned us do — to work until He returns, to give back without complaining and with joy. Not just ask, but give!
- TEACH AND MENTOR: Jesus told His disciples, go and teach them. We see this very principle in the life and ministry of Christ. He spent three long years with His disciples. His teaching and ministry was on a personal level. He talked to them, prayed with them, taught them, and showed them how to live a Christian life through His own example. So, in my ministry, I mentor refugees in every possible way I can, and teach them to do the same. As Christians while we are saved once, we are transformed everyday until Christ returns and surely we need others to carry us through this transformation and growing process.
So, the foundation of my “Refugee Empowerment Program” is based on Christ’s Great Commission to his disciples and the story of the Creation in Genesis 1. This has been the essence of my ministry in Germany for the past two years. Remembering each day Christ’s Golden Commandment in John 13:34-35, “Love one another as I have loved you…By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share this message with you and thank you for reaching out and helping others, even though you did not have to.