News

Needs Grow in Greece as New Era Begins

May 11, 2017

Syrian refugee setting up a tent.
Refugees from the Middle East arriving in Greece continue to set up tents wherever they can.

When Mahmoud's dinghy full of Iraqi and other refugees sank and he was thrust into Aegean waves, he assumed the Greek coastal authorities coming to rescue him were Christians bent on killing him.

Growing up in Iraq, he had been told that Christians are sinners and liars, and that he should not trust them.

"I saw them coming, and I was in tears, trembling from my fear," he recently told the male director of a ministry led by a husband-and-wife team based in Greece. "I knew they would kill me because I am a Muslim, as this is what I had been told."

The coastal authorities pulled him from the water and gave him dry clothes and food.

"For 40 years my people have been lying to me," he told the director, hands on his head as tears came to his eyes. "Why? I grew up with lies. I need to know the truth. I need to know about Jesus."

The director, unidentified for security reasons, told him about Jesus, and Mahmoud asked if he could return in a few days for further explanations. After a lengthy discussion, he asked Mahmoud if he wanted to accept Christ as his Lord and Savior.

"After finishing praying with him, he kept still with his eyes closed," the director said. "We left him like this for a few minutes and asked if he was okay."

The refugee told team members, "I have never felt this peace in my life, I do not want to lose this feeling – this is why I do not move!"

Mahmoud, who fled Iraq after ISIS militants tortured him for refusing to support the terrorists' caliphate, has been transformed as he comes to the ministry each day to learn what he can about Jesus. The ministry in Greece, undisclosed for security reasons, has been serving Arabic-speaking refugees fleeing war in Syria and Iraq since the number of arrivals swelled when Islamic State (ISIS) militants took over large swathes of their territory.

The flow of refugees to Greece via Turkey has slowed to a trickle since Turkey reached an agreement with the European Union in March 2016, and those that do come are increasingly arriving by land, said the other ministry director, the wife in the marital team. But there has been a seasonal increase in immigrants as summer approaches, she said, and closed European borders have given the ministry the opportunity to continue working with previous arrivals.

"We are entering a phase in which refugees will stay more and more in Greece, which gives us the opportunity to minister for a longer period of time, disciple them and enjoy the fruit of their spiritual growth," she said. "Many times we have said that we are serving on spiritual and humanitarian levels, and none can exist without the other. Obviously though, as the people are staying, both needs are increasing drastically."

Turkey has threatened to renege on the EU deal due to EU withdrawal of some agreement benefits in response to the Turkish president's heavy-handed approaches to terrorism and an attempted coup. This would send hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding to Greece and the rest of Europe, and those still coming from Turkey report conditions in official camps there are awful, she said.

"One of them said, 'I was in the camp with 2,000 people, and they had two toilets," she said. "Another thing they say is that the Turks had no mercy at all: 'We were crossing the border and they were beating us on the head.' Another thing they say is that if a Syrian works in Turkey, he will receive maybe one-tenth the salary of a Turk."

The indigenous ministry in Greece, whose directors speak Arabic, takes a holistic approach that serves body, spirit and soul, she said. Team members provide food packages for refugees to cook themselves – Syrians in particular prefer to prepare their own meals – as well as blankets, sleeping bags, tents, diapers and hygiene items. Team members also provide legal information and help in making appointments with government agencies.

The ministry distributes at least 500 food packs a week, the director said.

"Every day it's an increasing number that we struggle to keep up with – double or triple that which could be distributed," she said.

A middle-aged father of five recently arrived at the ministry office and wearily told the directors that he lives in an abandoned house with 12 other families. He had obtained legal papers but could not find a way to make a living. As he talked about his family's lack of money, food and housing, his eyes filled with tears.

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Syrian and other refugees are open to the gospel, including a film on the life of Jesus.

"He stood up and walked up and down, hitting the wall with his fist," she said. "He said, 'The state doesn't help us, and we end up opening our hands to NGOs and churches. We are Muslims and you are Christians, but I want to thank you for your help. Dignity, we just want our dignity. I just want my kids to go to school and have a life, but how and where can I find a job?'"

People from the Middle East attach a stigma to psychological counseling, so team members spend time developing relationships and building trust before traumatized refugees will consent to go to a counseling session with a mental health professional, she said.

"Then on the spiritual level, we offer Bible studies, but we're doing this separately from the humanitarian work, because we don't want them to feel like we are proselytizing them or we are exchanging services for their faith," she said. "We offer Bible studies with an open door to anyone, but we never ask them if they're Christians or Muslims."

Refugees are very open to the message of Christ's salvation, she said.

"We have the ones that are literally fleeing from Islam and ISIS, and they say that if this is my religion, I don't want it anymore," she said. "Some others, when they come to Europe, to Greece, then they compare what they have believed with what they see, and they say, 'Christians now are the first ones to receive us and give us food and protection.' So we appreciate Christian Aid for enabling us to help them – you have been steady with us from our first steps. Thank you."

To help indigenous missionaries to meet needs, you may contribute online using the form below, or call (434) 977-5650. If you prefer to mail your gift, please mail to Christian Aid Mission, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please use Gift Code: 342BRD. Thank you!


SC: MIR