News

Need for Discipleship Grows for Refugees in Greece

November 30, 2017

Syrian refugees in Greece.
Syrian refugees listen to teaching at native ministry church in Athens, Greece.

You're a Christian ministry leader in Greece, and a refugee who says he came to Christ in his native Syria comes to you asking for help because he wants to keep his new Muslim bride and remarry his Muslim ex-wife. How do you speak the truth in love?

Ahmad hadn't planned to marry two women, and the chaotic life of a refugee was a factor in how he ended up wanting both. He had married the first one, young Aischa, in an area of Syria where Christian women – and discipleship for those new in the faith – were scarce.

He had first come to the indigenous ministry because he was devastated that Aischa, 24, had left him as soon as they arrived in Greece. Ahmad told the ministry leader (unnamed for security reasons) that he had become a Christian in Syria seven years before, had been baptized there, and had been sharing Christ with his wife in word and deed.

Syria's six years of civil war mirrored the in-fighting between Aischa's Muslim relatives and Ahmad, and the couple fled the bombings reducing cities to rubble and the family tensions tearing at their marriage.

Upon arrival to Greece, Aischa saw her opportunity to break away from the marriage that had severed ties with her family; she would start a new life. The ministry leader tried to console the grieving Ahmad and prayed for him. In the following weeks, the director heard nothing from the young man.

When he surfaced again, it was clear why he had disappeared. Ahmad had flung himself into a rebound-relationship with another Muslim woman, only to have his wife return unexpectedly. Out of spite he had then divorced Aischa – simply by saying "I divorce you" three times, in accordance with Islamic law – and married the second woman.

The problem, as Ahmad told it, was that he knew deep down that that he wanted to remain with Aischa, and she had told him she too wanted to restore their marriage. But he also did not feel it was right to discard the woman he had just married. The women were Muslims, he said, and Islam allowed up to four wives. Should he not keep both?

The director called in his own wife, co-leader alongside him in the ministry, and after clarifying what had happened exactly and who felt what about whom, they spoke biblical truth into the situation. They explained that Jesus and the book of Genesis define marriage as between one woman and one man, and they showed him the nature of the marriage relationship in the letter to the Ephesians.

"We explained from Ephesians about the relationship between husband and wife," the director said. "When we explained that in Europe it is not allowed to have two wives, his answer was, 'The women are Muslims, and in Islam four wives are allowed.'"

Again they patiently explained the biblical view of marriage, and he left with that and European law to ponder.

"A few days later he came back, declaring, 'Okay, I divorced the second one and I will keep the first,'" the director said. "This is only a small part of the story describing someone who is trying to combine Christianity with Islam and not living according to the teachings of Jesus."

The longer the indigenous, Arabic-speaking couple minister to Christians from a Muslim background, the more they realize the critical need for discipleship, he said.

Syrian refugee youth.
The needs of Syrian refugee families continue to grow.

"Their mindset says, 'Christians are the ones who believe in Jesus and get baptized in His name,' and they think that's the end goal," he said. "After they take these two steps, it takes lots of effort, encouragement and teaching for them to surrender themselves to Jesus and be transformed to His image. If not, they think that they have reached the goal. The call we have for teaching them is huge."

As more Muslim refugees put their faith in Christ and fewer are allowed to leave for other parts of Europe, the need for discipleship of former Muslims is growing steadily, his wife and co-director said.

"We have learned that we have to change our Westernized mindset in order to do this," she said. "We can take nothing for granted."

They have been training refugees who came to Christ in Greece, but who have been serving with them for a longer time, to help take on the responsibility of discipling others, she said.

Besides providing food, preaching the gospel, praying with people after worship and baptizing new believers, the directors steer refugees toward social services, counseling and English classes. Most refugees have no information on how to apply for asylum, and providing direction on the process also opens the door to pointing them toward eternal life in Christ.

Some of them travel for five or six hours to Athens just to make an appointment with the Asylum Office.

"They feel like their hopes and dreams are dissolving due to their inability to apply for asylum or to learn their rights. These people lose hope day by day. Lots of encouragement and motivation and inspiration are needed," she said. "Please know that every prayer, every dollar, all the food, blankets, and other supplies you have given, have had an effect on the lives of those helped."

To help native missionaries facing overwhelming needs as they minister to troubled souls and disciple new Christians, please consider a gift through Christian Aid Mission.


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