Refugees Get Free Ski Lessons
Swedish Adventists welcome 100 refugees with open arms.
By Göran Hansen
When members of the small Seventh-day Adventist church in Nyhyttan, Sweden, learned that a group of refugees would arrive in their town, they decided to welcome them with open arms—and free ski lessons.
Church members teamed up with other organizations in Nyhyttan, an isolated community located a three-hour drive west of Stockholm, to find ways to help their new neighbors adjust to life in Sweden.
They decided to offer Swedish-language lessons, classes in Swedish culture, walks in the forest, and free clothing from a shop that collected donations from the community. Their plans went into action this past September when about 100 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Eritrea moved into a government-operated refugee center, a former health center once owned by the Adventist Church.
But life in Sweden proved very different from the refugees’ homelands, especially with the onset of winter. Many refugees saw snow for the first time. So the community collected skis, boots, skates, and winter clothing to lend to the refugees for free lessons.
“It was a little scary and cold for them, but a lot of fun with the skis and skates,” said Lars Gille, a retired Adventist pastor and a community coordinator with the refugees. “This has become a very popular activity, especially when the sun shines, because it can be so very beautiful.”
After the snow melted, refugees swapped skis for bikes and soccer balls. Bicycles have been made available for free rental, and soccer has become a popular community sport. The Nyhyttan church’s Pathfinder Club, which offers crafts and honors, has swelled by 25 children, and the church has opened a preschool for younger children.
The church faced initial suspicion from refugees when it began hosting events on its premises. Some refugees refused to set foot in the building, but this has changed over time. About 40 refugees attended a Christmas concert in the church, and others visit a church-run café that provides a place to talk and mingle. Church members regularly invite refugees to their homes to experience Swedish life firsthand.
Some refugees have asked Gille what he does for a living. They express surprise when he replies that he is a pastor. But their surprise has also turned to respect.