Thomas Michael Hieber is a German who has a passionate Father's heart for the South Asian people. After completing secondary education in Germany he got a degree in Business and worked for about 12 years in business and sales promotion at his uncle's company in Germany. During that time, he was involved in missions in our church, youth ministry and served as an elder in the same church. During a mission’s conference in Germany on the unreached peoples groups in the world, Thomas sensed God’s calling for fulltime ministry amongst the unreached. At the age of 31, Thomas and his family left Germany for further studies in the UK. A 5-month language course in English, followed by a 3-month short-term ministry trip to Zambia prepared him for his college entry. From 1993 -1995 he did a 2 year course at the All Nations Christian College (ANCC) in Heartfordshire UK, from where he graduated with a Diploma in Biblical and Cross Cultural Studies. A further Internship with a multi-cultural church in London as well as several courses with South Asian Concern (SAC) prepared him for his ministry in Kenya amongst the South Asia community. After joining Africa Inland Mission International (AIM) in 1996, Thomas and his family came to Nairobi in 1997 where he started a ministry together with another couple from AIM called ' South Asian Outreach'. His involvement in this ministry was mainly developing training material, prayer guides, research, as well as training of lay people, theological students and churches for Asians ministry. He was also involved in friendship evangelism with out Indian friends. Over the last 3 years, he was able to visit several African countries and do a survey on the South Asian communities. The aim was to get reports of possible opportunities to organizations that are concerned about the South Asian Diaspora. With information people can pray and prepare to go to Africa. Out of this research and other publications, a booklet developed called ‘ 30 days of Prayer Focus on Asians in Africa’ Another vision is to help facilitating networks with other like minded organizations and partners that want to reach out to the South Asian community in the Diaspora or to unreached people groups. Thomas would like to connect people and ministries together for the purpose of networking, sharing of ideas, resources as well as prayer. In 2006, Thomas and his family moved back to Germany for various family reasons. Since November 2006, they live in Berlin and work with INTERSERVE Europe. Like in Africa we want to research the German and European South Asian scene. It is Thomas Hieber's hope and prayer that, as more information is made available on the South Asian Diaspora on mainland Europe, people around the World will start praying and God will send workers to come to Europe to help. I also would like to give the churches in Germany a vision for their neighbors, who have come from many parts of the world including India. I want to be an advocate for the Unreached People Groups, especially from South Asia.View all articles by Thomas Hieber
South Asian communities are becoming more visible than ever in multicultural Europe.
"Vanakkam"- that’s how Arumugam Paskaran, the priest welcomes all visitors and the faithful to the Sri Kamadchi Ampal Temple in Hamm, Germany. In Tamil„Vanakkam“ means „greetings or greet one another“. The Sri Kamadchi Ampal Temple has been in Hamm since 1989. The first years the temple was situated in the west of the town, but in 1997 the Gods and the Temple moved to Hamm-Uentrop.
In July 2002 a big new Temple was opened and blessed, accompanied by special rituals. The Temple is set out strictly according to religious rules. The Goddess looks from the central shrine to the east, towards the rising sun. Every year in May/June around fifteen to twenty thousand visitors come to the annual public procession including worshippers from other parts of the continent. The statue of the Goddess, Sri Kamadchi, will circulate the Temple in the nearby streets on a special chariot. She cannot only be seen by many people, but also blesses the town and its citizens according to Hindu belief.
This is just one of several places in Germany and Europe where the South Asian culture and religion is displayed in public. Another one is the Tamil procession in Kevelaer, near the border of the Netherlands. The annual Tamil pilgrimage brings yearly 12-15 000 Catholic and Hindu believers to the ‘Gracechapel‘ in Kevelaer which is linked to the worship of Mary.
The Tamil pilgrimage in Kevelaer started in 1987 when 50 Tamils from the town of Essen in North Rheine Westphalia travelled for the first time there. Prayers that have been answered, peace of mind and our traditions are some of the reasons why so many Tamils meet there every year. In a short span of time it has become the largest gathering of Tamils outside of India and Sri Lanka. Nowadays busloads from London, Paris and Copenhagen as well as Holland and Belgium come to this annual event. For many of the Tamil refugees it has become the highlight every year as they meet friends from other parts of Europe and Germany.
Ask most Parisians about an area called “Little Bombay” and they will know that this is where large Indian communities live. They will tell you of women in colourful saris, sidewalks crowded with market stalls selling curries, exotic vegetables, silks, and the fragrance of spices in the air. Many people in Paris however fail to grasp the remarkable diversity of the Indian community in Paris. Among the some 46,000 immigrants originating from the Indian sub-continent and settled in the Parisian region, only a fraction is natives of India. Bengalis, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Punjabis, and Sri-Lankan Tamils form culturally and socially distinct groups are in Paris. Different languages and dialects are spoken. Differing customs are practised. Of these communities, the largest and most visible is the Tamil.
I could go on talking about Zurich, Vienna, Roma, Lisbon, Oslo, The Hague and other cities on the continent of Europe. One thing that all of these places have in common: South Asian communities that are largely unnoticed by churches and mission organizations. A group of people and practitioners, with an interest and focus on work with the South Asian Diaspora on the continent are keen to see that change. Through research, information, prayer and networking they want to see that these communities have a chance to see and experience the Gospel lived out in ways that are meaningful and relevant to the South Asian cultures.
So how many South Asians are in Europe? We are still in the process of gathering data but the numbers are steadily growing and so do the places where they move to. Cities like Warsaw, Prague and Budapest in Eastern Europe are the latest. Currently we are trying to connect with people working in cities like Copenhagen, Zurich, Roma or Bergamo. Somebody with his local church in North Eastern Italy facilitates outreach to the hundreds of Bangladeshis who work in the local ship yard of Monfalcone (province of Gorizia). Please pray for these individuals that God would strengthen them and connect them to the wider body of those concerned with the South Asians on the continent of Europe. Pray for more workers to come to Europe and that we would find connections to those already at work.