In the spring of 376 AD, thousands of hungry, weary Goths arrived on the northern bank of the Danube, in what is now Romania, and asked the Romans permission to cross the river into safety. Displaced by war and violence in their homelands further east, they had migrated to what they believed was safer territory behind the Roman frontier.
For Rome, it was a wonderful opportunity. Thousands of new citizens who could become workers, soldiers, farmers, taxpayers and consumers could breathe life into the old empire. But it was also a threat. Such a large influx could disrupt lifestyle, change culture, bring unhelpful new influences and potentially crime and violence.
The Romans prevaricated, and by not being decisive, lost the initiative. The Goths forced their way in but instead of being settled and absorbed, they remained a separate cultural (and military) identity within the empire. Within a few years war broke out, the Goths had inflicted on Rome its biggest defeat in centuries and killed an emperor. For decades they migrated around western Europe looking for a home, and became the first invaders to sack Rome in nearly a millennium. They destabilised the empire and contributed to the collapse of the western half of the empire.
1640 years later, is Europe now in the same position as the Romans were? Faced with a massive influx of people from different cultures, desperate for safety, jobs, a home, will we make them into friends or enemies? How are they going to influence Europe?
This is the background to next month’s EEMA conference on refugees. Refugees in Europe – a Fence or a Bridge? will consider what the church in Europe will be doing in the face of the current refugee crisis/opportunity. How do we show we care about refugees? What changes are going to be forced on the European church as a result of this? Is it legitimate to take this as an opportunity to evangelise displaced people, and if it is, how do we do it? What does this mean for mission from, to and in Europe?
For more information on this key conference, which will be held in Bucharest (in Romania, where the Goths arrived) from 21st-24th June, go to the EEMA website. We’re going – we hope to see you there!