New opportunities to share Christ with refugees in Greece

Anne Marit Viljoen | Greece

With the help of a translator, OM Greece team member Ellen Cardenas (Philippines) teaches three Afghan groups, including five families, twice a week. The students are eager to listen, take notes and ask questions.

“If possible, they would love to meet every day!” smiles Ellen. “Expressions like I am nothing without Jesus’ from one of my students, is beautiful to hear. It motivates me to give my very best even if sometimes it can get tiring.”

It began with the KANO project (Greek for ‘to make’) providing knitting wool and fabrics for sewing. Afghan ladies were eager to make items for sale, which passed time and provided a small income. Relationships were formed, and opportunities to share Christ followed. Some ladies and teenagers invited Christ into their lives and wanted to learn more. They have become part of a local church and some are already baptised.

“And they are not silent in the camps where they live,” continues Ellen, “even if it leads to persecution from other refugees, they are eager to share Jesus, testifying to peace like never before.”

She is encouraged to see them now initiating prayer together in the groups, including for the needs of others, even their persecutors.

Long-term work

Short-term teams regularly visit three refugee camps in the wider Athens area, while the long-term team members follow up with Bible studies and specific relationships, as well as disciple new believers.

“The refugee work is now at a development phase rather than the critical first-arrival stage. As many of the refugees are settled for now in the camps, we find ourselves discriminating between meeting ‘real’ needs rather than ‘perceived’ needs,” explains Jill Lapping (Ireland), OM Greece refugee programme coordinator.

‘Real’ may include psychological and spiritual needs, rather than the first immediate desperation for food and clothing, says Jill. With increased stability, it is essential, she says, to ensure that the visiting teams are stable too—for instance, requiring short-term volunteers to stay at least one month rather than a week or two.

“Numbers are still high, but at this stage we are focusing on meeting the needs of individuals and families rather than the masses,” says Jill.

How do we enhance the life of those seeking refuge? What do they need to learn? How can we teach them a useful skill? What training will be helpful for them? These are questions the team grapples with. For instance, OM Greece would love to receive teachers of music and arts, as well as those who speak German, as many are hoping to go to Germany.

Another question the team asks themselves is: What can we learn? The work they do teaches the OM team, church members and one another. Many are cooks, as hospitality is a strong value in their culture. Team members know that ministry to a refugee family could become a lifelong ministry or friendship that meets emotional, psychological and spiritual needs.

Easter fun

Over Easter, several volunteers distributed painted eggs and Bibles, which led to many conversations about the Easter story and Christ’s resurrection. A young man from Syria gladly received a Bible, saying, “I’ve been looking for this book for weeks!”

A team of 10 from Finland organised a children’s event, with a bouncy castle, face painting, chalk art, bracelet-making crafts and games.

“Doing the children’s program in the refugee camp was a blast, and seeing the happiness in the kids’ faces was pure joy,” said team member Heidi Kukkamäki.

Another team hid cups of sweets in the forest and invited children on a treasure hunt. As they accompanied the children looking for sweets, they noticed how much the little ones had changed.

“It was incredible to see how their behaviour had improved dramatically over the past 10 days. The kids had started being far more kind and generous with each other,” shared a short-term team member. He explained that children have often encountered violence and trauma along the way, even in the camps, which reflected their treatment of one another.

“I was impressed with the children’s willingness to share their sweets and even help each other,” he wrote afterwards. “We hope that the team’s consistency and kindness over the last 10 days will have made a positive impact.”

Please pray that the seeds sown will grow into good fruit. Pray also for protection for the new believers, as well as wisdom and strength for the team members continuing to serve and disciple those in need.

Published: Thursday, 20 July 2017
Credit: Anne Marit Viljoen
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