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When the world knocked on our door

When the world knocked on our door

When the world knocked on our door

Refugees from around the world found a church, and a community, who cares about them at the Harstad Corps, in Norway's far north.

By Captain Marit Byre Myklebust

“The past year has been amazing. The world knocked on our door, we let them in, and our corps will never be the same again.”

My husband and I are the corps officers in Harstad, a city of 24,000 inhabitants, far north of Norway. We’ve been here since 2009. When we arrived, we missed being in touch with foreigners, but there was never a lack of things to do and people to minister to.

Five or six years ago, a Methodist preacher came to town. I do not remember his name or what he preached about, but he selected a different verse of Scripture for each church in the town. The message to our corps was “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32). This verse stuck with me.

Harstad is actually north of the Arctic Circle. Sometimes we forget how exotic our location is, and how lonely and daunting it can be to roam our cold and windy streets far away from where we grew up. Our corps is located in “holy street” and we are neighboured by many other churches, including the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church is quite marginalised in Norway, a minority church of minority people; migrant workers, immigrants and the odd intellectual. For years we said, “They’re our neighbours, let’s call on the priest and say ‘hi.’” In the autumn of 2015, my husband did. Four days later, their parish hall burnt to the ground. We knew what to do; we gave them a key to our hall.

At around the same time, thousands of people started crossing the border between Russia and Norway seeking asylum. The effects of this were soon felt in our community. There was a huge increase in people seeking help at our food bank. As the spring of 2016 progressed, we saw the numbers increasing by 10 to 20 people each week. And by April, there were 160 people lining up outside our moderately-sized hall to seek help. Without our new Catholic friends, helpers recruited among the refugees themselves, asylum camp workers and other people of good will, this program would have been impossible to run. My husband is a good organiser, and when things were threatening to get out of hand, he mobilised – not the whole world, but likely and unlikely helpers.  

How do we view the foreigners and other people who knock at our doors asking for help? Do we see them as a drain on our resources, or do they bring with them talents, experience and the willingness to do God’s work, even though they do not know him yet? We are Kingdom people. We seek to see things through the eyes of the King as we try to do the King’s work. People in asylum camps generally have very poor nutrition. I suspect this is because it is deemed important to “send a signal” to possible newcomers that they’re better off somewhere else. But surely we are called to feed those that are hungry? After all, we are part of the Church. Our actions to feed them become a prophetic voice, proclaiming the Kingdom of God where there will be justice for all.

We are still just a little flock in Harstad, but there are some newcomers among us. Most of the refugees have moved on, but thankfully they have moved on after meeting a church that cared for them. In May, we had a fundraising event for The Salvation Army’s response to refugees in Southern Europe. Three Syrians cooked for two days, and the event finished off with our CSM leading a new-style glory march made up of Syrian Muslims, Christians from many nations, a Roman Catholic priest, a Baptist minister, a communist and even our son who had been given the privilege of staying up late. Just occasionally when you open the doors of your hall, the world comes dancing in!

#NOR #Norway #WorldRefugeeDay #neighbours 

Captain Marit Byre Myklebust is the corps officer in Harstad, Norway, Iceland and the Faeroes Territory.

This story first appeared on!/blog/harstad


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