Building Community with Refugees in Munich



Sem Dietterle and Evangelical Community Church know what it means to persevere. This congregation in the Bogenhausen borough of Munich, Germany, had been trying different ways to get involved with the city. Despite efforts working with schools and helping the poor, nothing seemed to really “fit”. Then in 2015, refugees began pouring in by the thousands…and their mission was born.

“At one point, we would get around 10,000 new refugees a day in Munich. There was a huge need for someone to take care of these people, and we were eagerly looking for ways to help the city, so we decided to start a refugee camp,” shared Dietterle, the church’s youth and worship pastor.

The congregation started out by meeting the refugees at the camps and then inviting them to the church to share meals, worship and build friendships. Over time, they built a refugee program where the children come to church to be kids and learn about Jesus. They visit refugee housing every week to check in with some of the residents and continue strengthening their ties with the refugee community.

The Mission of Bogenhausen

Dietterle describes the mission of his congregation in four parts:

First, they seek to engage in a God-centered community.

Second, they strive to grow in faith through daily life experiences. They want people to feel that they are living out their faith in every facet of their day.

Third, they challenge themselves to share Jesus throughout Munich. This comes through much relationship building in the community.

Finally, they practice servant leadership, with the refugee ministry being a primary way of serving. Their goal is to help refugees transition into German life. This includes learning the language, gaining employment, finding a place to live and connecting with other believers.

“One of our favorite parts of the ministry is sharing meals with the refugees. We have a really close relationship with the Afghan refugees and have dinners with them frequently. During these dinners we share each other’s language one-on-one, sing worship songs in both languages (German and Dari), and just spend time with each other,” explained Dietterle.

Dietterle’s connection with NCS Winston-Salem

It all started with an email.

The Evangelical Alliance (an alliance between the Evangelical churches in Munich) received an email from Jay Abernathy and Kalim Andraos asking for ways to help. When the message came in, the recipients were a bit skeptical. Abernathy and Andraos were complete strangers who had heard about the refugee camp and asked if they could come help.

“At first, we were a bit skeptical about them coming, but we prayed about it and invited them to visit. After they arrived, our unease was lifted and we had a great time getting to know them,” said Dietterle.

A friendship evolved – and the congregation continues to receive visits from NCS, with members coming to encourage Bogenhausen, work alongside Dietterle and others and pray for the church. It’s unique – Bogenhausen doesn’t have any other groups that do this. Dietterle continues to be amazed.

The future of Bogenhausen

Dietterle hopes for all who work with his church and the refugees to encounter Jesus in some way. Not all of the volunteers are believers. So he hopes they will eventually want to get involved with the church and grow in their personal relationship with God through service.

And where does he want to go with the refugee work?

“We would love to continue deepening our friendships with the refugees by gradually raising our involvement with them. One way we want to deepen our friendship with them is by starting small groups – more specifically starting a small group with the Afghan refugees,” shared Dietterle.

“They come from a very different culture and think of things completely different than I do. It is such a blessing to learn from them and to see how they are image bearers of the Most High.”

For now, he is content to have NCS members continue to visit and volunteer. Encourage. And keep Bogenhausen and its mission in their prayers.


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Image by chris ganser