Welcoming the stranger

A teacher who cares

Life for a foreigner in Italy is complicated. Not only is the bureaucracy tedious and the language a challenge, but there is also always the sense of being other, of not quite belonging.

We seek to extend a heartfelt welcome to the thousands of refugees who come through Rome. Every Thursday and Saturday afternoon Brian and Jenni Evans, along with other partners with the ministry, welcome between 20-60 Middle Eastern men at a refugee day center and an unstructured time of lessons, games and conversation. This time enables them to build relationships with men who, for unique reasons, have left their home countries and now find themselves trying to make a new life in Europe.

There is an added level of challenge for Jenni as a woman working with Muslim refugee men. The dynamics between women and men in Muslim cultures are notably different from those in Western society. Men typically have little interaction with women outside their families.

“What can my role be?” Jenni wondered when she began working at the center. “How can I enter into their lives in a meaningful way but also be respectful of their cultural background?”

At the same time, Jenni saw the need for these Muslim men to learn how to relate with women in a different manner so they can integrate more fully into Western society. Recently, the refugees themselves have defined her role: they call her “Teacher.”

One of the men who comes regularly explained one day to Jenni that in Muslim culture a teacher holds a place of respect and honor. A teacher should be like a mother, someone who instructs you and cares for you and wants good for you. He went on to describe that in his home country of Afghanistan many teachers were not kind to the students, and could be physically violent.

In spite of these bad experiences, he learned to respect his teachers. He told Jenni that he was glad to call her “Teacher.” When several of the other men also began to call Jenni “Teacher,” she saw how her interactions had created in them a deep respect and affection for her. And that they recognized that she cares for them.

Defining their roles as students and teacher eases the tension for these refugee men who are learning how to relate to a woman who is not in their family. It is one more way that Brian and Jenni Evans can serve them in the name of Jesus.

Jenni describes this journey of working with refugee men in Rome as a personally humbling process. She has seen many of her assumptions about men from Muslim cultures change. She has been challenged to see brokenness in her own heart as she seeks to engage these men in meaningful spiritual conversations.

As she continues to work with refugees in Rome, Jenni hopes to better understand where they are coming from socially and spiritually. Her desire is to see more women join her and volunteer as she believes that women have a valuable role to play in welcoming refugees.

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