When people think of Greece, they probably imagine the vibrant blue water of the Aegean, seaside homes, and pristine sandy beaches. But for millions of refugees traversing dark, cold waters in overcrowded rafts, that coast carries quite a different meaning. Smuggled through dangerous mountain passes and over treacherous seas leading them to Europe, millions of refugees are fleeing for their lives. A fortunate few make it, but many don’t.
Two thousand refugees arrive in Greece every day; Germany cares for 1 million refugees within its borders; thousands flee through Ukraine; and tens of thousands are stranded at closed European borders. That’s a lot of people on the move. So how is this affecting the mission of the Church? A pastor of a Greek partner church believes that mission begins when our hearts are aligned with God’s heart, a God who is a personal God and One who loves first names. Which means the Church should go where it’s uncomfortable—learning people’s names, listening to their stories, and telling them of a Savior who loves them.
Refugees are flooding from places normally unreached with the gospel. “Some are turning their backs on their religious upbringing when they experience the love of Christ through Christians at refugee camps,” said an MTW missionary serving in Germany. “Some are having illuminations of Jesus in their dreams and others are eager to study what the Bible has to say. We hear testimonies of people of Islamic background wanting to become followers of Jesus after only three meetings for Bible study, and reports of hundreds being baptized. God is doing an amazing work and MTW teams are eager to be a part of what God is doing.”
Greece: Just passing through
Our focus in Greece has been working alongside the local church with additional supportive energy from MTW’s Global Disaster Response and short-term teams. Most of the 800,000 refugees passing through are in transit to northern Europe with only the clothes on their backs and very few resources. The Greek church in runs a day center focusing on women and children, offering clean bathrooms, a playroom for children, and a place to come out of the elements. They distribute clothing and baby supplies and host day clinics with local dentists and doctors.
The church has recently modified their kitchen to provide hundreds of hot meals weekly. Many of these families have been touched by the love of Christ and Farsi translators have been able to share the gospel with many in dire straits. Recently the United Nations High Commission for Refugees identified the day center as a “Blue Dot” hub, designating it as a safe center for children and families on the move across Europe. The church is currently working to provide housing to desperate, vulnerable refugee families trapped in Greece.
Germany: Settling in
“German intercessors have been praying for years that God would allow Germany to bless the nations, for a chance to reverse the curse of their past,” said one MTW missionary/prayer warrior. And that’s exactly what is happening. A new refugee task force was created from within one of our partner churches to deal with the overwhelming need in Berlin. Over 500 new refugees are arriving daily there.
The Berlin church has taken in a Christian Syrian family, two Syrian men, and a single Pakistani young man who is being mentored by the pastor to be part of the ministry to his own people. Although the refugee ministry is in its nascent stages, a number of committed Germans and MTW missionaries offer a café for refugees, coordinate efforts in local refugee centers, volunteer at emergency housing, help with donations of clothing and school supplies, find doctors who are willing to treat the refugees, and work as liaisons between parents and the schools. Germans have found that refugees regularly talk about religion and not only accept conversations about God, but expect it. Praise God for such openness and please pray for conversations as relationships develop.
Ukraine: Coming together in crisis
The conflict in Eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea have forced hundreds of thousands to flee to escape fighting and danger, leaving many in new cities without jobs, savings, and in chaos. The church and MTW missionaries provide medicine, housing, food, job training, and love and care to the orphans, widows, and families, opening doors for conversations about the Lord as they stand with their countrymen in times of great uncertainty. Split by politics, language, and geography, many Ukrainians are now coming together in crisis as the body of Christ.
God is moving the nations—people from Iraq, from Iran, from Syria, places like Afghanistan—and also calling churches to minister to their own people in crisis. For one missionary there is no question that the Church must act. “Is it scary? Yes! Will it cost us? Yes! Do we feel like it is an impossible task? Yes! But remember that God often loves to move in impossible situations—He is the God of all impossibilities so that He might get all the glory.”
The refugee crisis is changing the face of the Middle East and Europe. It will also change the face of the Church. And it should change the face of missions. Why? Because these refugees from far and wide—from places where they’ve maybe never heard the name of Jesus—all have first names.
And God loves first names.
Thank you for your earnest prayers and generous gifts toward our efforts in the refugee crisis. God is using your support to change lives and introduce refugees to the transformative love of Christ. To make a contribution to this ministry visit mtw.org/refugees.
Kay Burklin serves as a refugee liaison with MTW.