Aid, Consolation in Refugees’ Bleakest Moments
A Kurdish refugee had taken his suffering 7-year-old daughter to a hospital in Greece before showing up at a Christian ministry center saying he was afraid of being arrested because their entry papers were set to expire in three days.
As the sick girl, exhausted, put her hands to her eyes about to cry, Akam* told the ministry director that her mother and the rest of his family were back in Kurdistan, where thousands have been displaced as factions fight following the ouster of the Islamic State. He and his critically ill daughter had survived a trek through Turkey in search of medical care for her. They had made it to an Athens hotel but had no money left.
The husband-and-wife team that directs the indigenous ministry showed the little girl to the office sofa so she could lie down.
“The father said that they hadn’t applied for asylum yet, as they had been at the hospital,” said the female director, whose name is withheld for security reasons. “I was shocked when I saw the medical documents. I called the manager of the hospital, who told me, ‘Please tell the father that the cancer is all over the bones; the child is dying. We can do nothing except some chemo to relieve the pain. They lost time in Turkey. We can do nothing now.'”
Now the ministry directors had to do what only medical personnel normally do – deliver the worst news a parent can hear. Wizened ministers as tough as they are sensitive, the indigenous missionaries talked and prayed with Akam, and then they took practical action: in one day, the ministry team was able to register Akam at the asylum office, get insurance numbers issued and transfer the girl’s medical tests to the hospital.
The director said these steps usually take up to a month. They paid for them to return to the hotel.
“We asked if we could pray for the child before he left, and he said yes,” the ministry director said. “A group of us gathered around her to pray, and the father couldn’t stop crying.”
“The father at times was in total denial – one minute he was talking about transferring the child to Germany for treatment, and the next he was talking about how to transfer the dead body back to Kurdistan,” the director said. “The next day he came back and said, “I am going back to Kurdistan. I want my child to die with her mother and brother and sister nearby. My embassy issued everything for us.'”
“We asked if we could pray for the child before he left, and he said yes,” the director said. “A group of us gathered around her to pray, and the father couldn’t stop crying. Today they are back in Kurdistan, and they continue to call us to report their news. Please join us in praying for them.”
Akam’s plight is just one of many personal crises the ministry team is asked to address each month. The ministry directors said they are seeing huge numbers of Kurds arriving from Turkey, as well as an uptick in refugees again braving treacherous trips across the Aegean Sea.
“These are people who are screaming for help,” the director said. “The legal system and lack of coordination leave them without any accommodations, cash assistance, medical care and the like, for months and months. This leads to disappointment, stress and anger.”
As an indigenous ministry that has remained in place where others have waned, its reputation has grown among the Syrian, Iraqi and other predominantly Muslim people flooding Greece’s shores. Muslims find out from other Muslims that there is a Christian agency that will help them, she said. The directors are beginning to see more Muslims secretly asking about Jesus.
“So, in the midst of the hundreds that we daily serve with food, clothes, psychological support and the like,” she said, “we also have those who come and patiently wait for the others to leave so they can close the door behind them and say, ‘He wants to become a Christian. Can you help him?'”
Crafting a solid and firm Christian identity in people steeped in Islam takes a lot of time, due to their total lack of biblical knowledge and deeply ingrained fear, the director said.
“We are thankful to our Lord, as His Word is followed by signs and wonders,” she said. “There was a young lady whose brother was released from prison after we prayed for him. After this happened, she closely observed us and then, last month, she came back secretly. She did not even let her husband know. She said, ‘I want to know your God. I want to meet with your Jesus. I want to be a Christian!'”
She put her faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, and then she returned to the refugee camp where she was staying, four hours away. The ministry team continues to support her by phone.
Many Muslim refugees have come to faith in Christ through the ministry and spread the gospel as they’ve taken refuge in other countries, while those who have stayed form part of the ministry’s church in Athens.
In all cases, their journey began with the ministry obeying Christ’s command to care for the poor and the stranger. In a given month the ministry helps some 4,380 people with groceries, 2,200 with clothing and 500 with social/psychological support. More than 400 people might receive assistance in applying for asylum.
These amounts reflect only the surface needs. Workers distribute diapers, baby formula, blankets, sleeping bags and tents amid wrenching emotional and spiritual needs.
One day a Muslim told the directors he wanted to talk with them privately. He had been trying for weeks to obtain legal status, and without it he was unable to obtain work and support himself. He said he needed to leave the country but had no money.
“Are you Muslim?” the director asked him. “Do you mind if we pray for you?”
They prayed that he would receive clear guidance from the Lord about what to do.
“After we finished our prayers, he said, ‘I will give myself one more opportunity – next Monday,'” the director said. “On Monday, we set up a Skype call with the asylum office. As a result, he got his legal documents. His voice and hands started trembling. After all these weeks, God had answered his prayer.”
Joyful awe is just one response refugees show on their journey to Christ. “We are experiencing the blessing of seeing more and more Syrians, Iraqis and Kurds answering the call of God in their lives,” the director said. “Every day we are witnessing a new miracle.”
Please consider a gift to enable the ministry to serve and love the new neighbors arriving daily at their doorstep.
*Name changed for security reasons