A family of missionaries with Trevecca ties has been tasked by the Church of the Nazarene to take lead on how to deal with the refugee crisis in Europe.
After 23 years of doing missions work, Teanna Sunberg and husband Jay now serve as the Field Strategy Coordinator team for Central Europe for the Church of the Nazarene.
“I don’t know anyone who has had as strong of a presence in the refugee crisis like Teanna,” said Kathy Mowry, professor of intercultural studies and Christian education. “Teanna is the voice for the refugee crisis for the Church of the Nazarene.”
In 2015, hundreds of thousands of people from countries like Syria fled across the Mediterranean Sea to escape war and violence. This led to mass migration of refugees around the world causing millions of refugees to flee to countries across the European landscape.
With nowhere to go, refugees are being held in camps until the government tries to find a permanent solution.
For now, a wave of refugees coming from countries in the Middle East like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq are continually seeking sanctuary while living in make shift refugee camps and converted tent cities in sections across Europe in hopes for a better life. This mass migration has been the cause of many countries throughout Central Europe to close their borders to refugees, leaving thousands with nowhere to go.
Trevecca and the Sunberg family have been working together on an initiative to help in the refugee crisis through the Church of the Nazarene since 2008.
Jay and Teanna met Mowry and her husband Jon in the early nineties and developed a friendship while serving as missionaries in Russia.
That friendship would lead to the two partnering up to develop Trevecca’s intercultural studies and missions trip programs that has sent upwards of150 students into Central Europe to deal with this on-going crisis.
“Working with Teanna and Jay we have been able to send our students to work in refugee camps and be present in the ministry by listening to their stories and providing resources,” said James Casler, director for the J.V. Morsch Center for Social Justice.
Mowry was interested in developing formative mission experiences for students at Trevecca.
She turned to Jay and Teanna because of their more than 20-year friendship and knowledge of mission’s work in Central Europe.
Their partnership led to Trevecca’s mission study abroad classes, the summer Immerse program and Submerge program, which places recent graduates in Eastern Europe for one to two years.
The first summer that Mowry brought a team of students to Central Europe, Teanna and Mowry were on a bus traveling to Kosovo in the middle of the night discussing cross-cultural studies and what that would look like in the future for the church.
The two began discussing the possibility of students graduating from Trevecca having an intercultural major that was paired with something that gives them a skill to support themselves in the ministry outside of the U.S.
That conversation led to the development of Trevecca’s intercultural studies major.
“Instead of calling it missions we call it intercultural studies, because if students go to a country where missionaries aren’t welcome then that closes doors,” said Sunberg. “This allows them to become marketable and contribute to the fabric of the country.”
The long-term relationship between the Sungerg’s and Trevecca has allowed the university to send students on mission’s trips to Serbia, Northern Greece and Croatia.
Six graduates have moved to Central Europe. Two are living in Northern Greece, directing refugee relief and four are living in Serbia doing disaster relief and caring for the physical needs of refugees.
Sunberg’s daughter, Lexie Sunberg, a senior social justice major is no stranger to the refugee crisis.
Growing up throughout Central Europe, Lexie became very aware of poverty at an early age.
Living in countries like Bulgaria, Greece and Macedonia, she was introduced to the Romas, an oppressed minority and one of the largest ethnic groups without a country of their own.
Through her experiences, she saw the refugee crisis first-hand and began to see the need of compassionate missionaries.
Lexie began to follow a similar path of her mother.
She came to Trevecca in 2014 to study social justice and intercultural studies, participating in many of Trececca’s mission’s programs.
During the summer of 2016, Lexie and a group of Trevecca students traveled to a Idomeni, a refugee camp in Greece, where close to 15,000 refugees were living.
With little entertainment for the refugees, she and other students would spend time with people, hear their stories and build relationships.
“Just being there, dignifying their humanity and being the light of Christ in the light of darkness has value,” said Casler. “Through those simple practices our students are profoundly changed.”
Lexie plans on getting her master’s degree in social justice in the country of Jordan and like her mother, she is committed to helping those in need.