Czech Church advocates for a society that is more open to refugees

Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren Moderator Rev. Joel Ruml. Photo: ECCB
Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren Moderator Rev. Joel Ruml. Photo: ECCB

Ruml Welcomes ‘First Step’ for Syrians, Expects More Intervention

(LWI) - A group of 70 Syrian refugees were granted asylum in the Czech Republic earlier this year following a public outcry over the government’s initial refusal on the basis that the sick children and their families posed a security risk. The protest included an open letter from the Synod of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren (ECCB), a member church of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF). In this interview, the ECCB Moderator Rev. Joel Ruml explains the church’s rationale for reaching out to migrants and refugees, and its advocacy for a society that is more open to people in need.

What prompted your church to write the open letter to the Czech Republic Prime Minister and the Minister of the Interior last December?

In our open letter to the government, the Synod Council of the ECCB was reacting to the situation in the Czech Republic at the time. The government of our country was very distant to the situation of people who were [are] suffering under a brutal regime. We were, and still are, of the opinion that our society had and still has to intensively help these people, because we had experienced a similar position. During the communist time, many countries (mostly from Western Europe) helped our citizens to leave the former Czechoslovakia, although they were not suffering like the people in the Near East now.

What was your reaction to the granting of asylum to the 70 Syrians; was this sufficient?

We said: well, finally! We think it was the first step and we are expecting other steps in continually finding ways to help more children and their families. Now the government has begun preparing a structure for such help. It is going slowly. Therefore we continue to keep an eye on this issue and where we can, we try to encourage people to get a new experience by meeting with people of different cultures and religions. This is needed, not only for migrants and refugees but for us as well.

Is the ECCB directly supporting migrants / refugees in its local diaconal work?

Compared to other European countries, the Czech Republic does not have a lot of migrants and refugees. But many of the migrants, who stayed here with a wish to become integrated in Czech society, were [or still are] supported by churches and their diaconal services. Local communities of ECCB are helping people who came from Belarus, Myanmar, Pakistan, Ukraine and other countries.

What is the ECCB’s rationale for reaching out to refugees/displaced people?

It is easy to answer: firstly, it is a command not only from Gospel, but from the Old Testament as well. Secondly, we have a historic experience; our citizens received help and more than half a million Czech people could be integrated in democratic countries around the world. We should now give back what we received. The people now are suffering more than the Czechs did 30 or so years ago. Thirdly, our society needs to become more open to people in need. That isn’t possible only theoretically. There are opportunities to be more open in practical experiences and in engaging at a personal level. Fourthly, we can learn from the many experiences and methods in other countries. Therefore, our help should be more effective now.

The ECCB Diaconia office has supported LWF’s humanitarian response for Syrian refugees in Jordan, with financial assistance from the Czech Foreign Ministry. In a 2013 letter acknowledging the church’s partnership, the LWF described this support as “a beautiful expression of the international solidarity that has characterized the work of LWF World Service since its very beginnings.”