Stories from Greece- Isaiah 19 Trip

Today began bright and early flight to Lesvos, a frequent destination for refugees trying to reach Greece, an island located near the Turkish mainland. The Greek government established Moria Camp to receive and care for 3,000 people. Today it serves 14,000 people with more arriving each day.

Seeing the camp and the conditions folks are living in was challenging and confusing. The camp has spilled over its original boundaries and is expanding more as more people arrive. There was trash everywhere, and the process to serve refugees is tested by the sheer volume of them, and there isn’t a better solution in sight. We saw families with young babies were only allotted one diaper a day. The average wait time of 2-3 years for people seeking asylum, processing about eight asylum requests a week.

The confusing part was that people were smiling. The camp was bustling but peaceful. When we asked people how they felt about their circumstances, they said the camp was better than the life they left. That sentiment tried my understanding. It forced me to realize that living in abject poverty without the assurance providing for your family was better than the lives they left in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and many other countries.

We met seven teenage boys in the camp without any family. They told us they left their homes in fear of being kidnapped by ISIS or the Taliban. Each boy came alone from various countries, walked across Turkey, paid around $1000 to take a boat to the island. They wished for school classes so they can work on their English and opportunities to play sports. What struck me was that some people might be fearful of one of these boys, seeing them as the terrorists they were escaping from.

The problems are complex, but the image of God is in every person we meet. And God calls us to serve the least of us without regard for who they are, where they come from, or what they have done. And that means these refugees too. My hopes and prayer are that God equips with more than we could ever ask or imagine as we take up to call to serve these people.

Most of our team went home after the debriefing on the final morning, while Rich and I stayed to attend a conference for refugees hosted by a BelPres ministries partner. We witnessed a couple of things that God was showing us in Greece.

First, that so many Muslim refugees are becoming Christians shows that this is a movement of God, not of human making. God is doing this, but we are being invited to participate in it.

Second, the ways that the refugee crisis also involves difficult political questions regarding immigration and culture. It obscures the human experiences of the refugees as well as the good news of what God is doing here. You won’t hear the stories we heard on the news in the US, but God is bringing hope and healing and maybe remaking the Middle East into a Christian region.

Third, we were clearly on God’s agenda, not ours. Starting with our original plan for Beirut, many of our plans fell through. Not having international driver’s licenses in Lesvos resulted in us getting a driver who paid very close attention to our conversations about Jesus. We didn’t know what we would be doing from one day to the next, but God arranged the schedule, and we are coming home with great stories of God on the move. The stories need to be told because they show that Jesus is alive and bringing revival to the Muslim world.

Kairos- God is Moving

23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing[a] on the earth. 25 The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”  Isaiah 19:23-25 (NIV)

We set out Friday morning for Beirut, but our missionaries warned us not to come because of public rioting. We flew over most of Europe with two connections as God didn’t just change our plans; He wrecked them. It’s a humbling lesson in who is in charge and whose mission this is anyway.We finally got off the plane in Athens 23 hours after our departure from Seattle.

The first stop was Areopagus, a smoothed rock formation in a grove of olive trees and at the base of the Acropolis. Paul addressed the crowds in Acts 17 here. What a blessing to worship at a nearby Afghan church, started by and ministering to refugees. After the service, we met privately with the local missionaries who shared how they are raising up Christian refugee leaders to lead the new believers. These people are on the front lines! Praying over them brought tears to many of us.
At an Iranian Evangelical Church, we met privately with an Iranian refugee in Greece illegally and homeless living outside an Orthodox church for nearly 20 years. An intelligent carpenter who speaks numerous languages, he described a dangerous life on the streets, with no help from the government. He is angry, hopeless, and not a believer, pushing back hard on the value of prayer to have any impact on his life. We left him with broken hearts, wondering what we could do to help him. We stopped on the sidewalk and prayed for him.

The evening found us in Victoria Square, a destination for many refugees when they first arrive. Previously, it was filled with refugees sleeping and living in the park. Now, police are present because human trafficking is happening, mostly of young boys. Refugees linger there, with nothing else to do but wait the three year period for their paperwork to go through.

The next day, we faced the reality that it is not safe for us to go to Beirut, so we asked God to show his plan for us here in Athens. He provided a “chance” meeting with a refugee from Iran who lost literally everything to follow Christ and an inspiring time with the leader of a flourishing nonprofit that serves thousands of refugees and sees God show up daily to perform amazing miracles. We left with the overwhelming and unmistakable feeling that we had been on holy ground.

At Good Samaritan the next day, we spent time with the children of mothers classes learning English and other skills. A welcoming place for women and children refugees (Iranians, Afghans, Syrians, and Africans) providing various services. Many of the children loved conversing in very good English and taking photos with us. We prayed for an Iranian employee who shared his heartbreaking and astonishing story. We laid hands on him for protection, safety, and his strength while he brings others to Christ. The prayers coming out of our team members were straight from God. He started to shake and dropped to his knees as the Holy Spirit filled this man up along with us and the room we were in.

The following day, we traveled about an hour outside of Athens to help our host lead the conference teaching the biblical view of marriage and parenting to mostly Iranian refugees, knowing that they have in many different cultural practices. In our free time, the men and women played a lively game of dodgeball. This was something that would never happen in Iran, our mission partner told us. Amazing things happen when the Holy Spirit is at work, and we respond to the guidance given.
The heartache from more stories of the pain of being a refugee separated from parents and other relatives and not having the dignity of caring for their families well themselves. Many are still separated from wives and children. Please pray for the Lord of us all to continue revealing himself to them in any way he pleases to do so.

God is on full display in Rwanda

It has been nearly a year and a half since my two-week stay in Rwanda. There’s no doubt it was transformative and life-changing. When time allows distance from an impactful experience, I can discern more keenly what God was doing with me and the lasting transformation He has brought into my life through that experience.

Reflecting on what it meant to join BelPres’ mission team to Rwanda, three primary emphases struck me. First, top of mind, are the people I developed friendships within Rwanda. As an example, Jado – our cook at the AEE guest house – caringly provided delicious food daily and authentically was interested and concerned for what we did and who we are.

Along with so many others, Jado embodies the second emphasis – the relentless commitment of hospitality displayed by our hosts. Sharing a meal in a community leader’s home, being welcomed into a traditional village celebration, we were always esteemed with respect and honor. At times, I was a bit uncomfortable, perhaps feeling not deserving. It reflected the open hearts of a people whose chief commitment is to love God and all neighbors.

My final reflection about my mission experience: God is on full display in Rwanda. Everywhere you turn, people demonstrate their obvious affection for Jesus. All ages dance in joy, sing with strength, and live their commitments to Christ publicly – a stark contrast to a passive reserve that shrouds our faith in America. Forever changed by Rwanda, I continuously pray that God will provide more: more sustainable support for the youth of Rwanda, more hospitality and expressiveness in my faith, and more opportunities for our community to travel to Rwanda to experience firsthand the love of God through the global mission.

Our Only Refuge is God

Breakfast was shared with a Kurdish believer. Kurdistan no longer a country but a region across significant areas of the Middle East since the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 and the British Mandate.

Since then, the Kurdish have fought their ruthless oppressors fearlessly, determined to gain their lost sovereignty once more. Thirty years ago, there was not one Christian among them, but recently, thousands have entered the Kingdom.

The brother at our table was a ‘Peshmerga.’ The Peshmerga are the military forces of the autonomous region of Kurdistan in Iraq, where Iraqi forces have no access. Many months he fought against ISIS in Kirkuk. He fleed for his life since he is at risk of being hunted down by the Islamic State of Iran for being communist.  

He arrived on a Greek island where ‘Peshmerga,’ atheist, communist, and the scars of torture on his body, help him attain asylum and a Greek passport. His need for food brought him to one of our centres, where he spent hours and much energy arguing the ‘Illusion of God’ with several dear brothers that befriended him. The discussions led nowhere.

Not long after, he was spotted by the Islamic Iranian intelligence and ended up stretched on a hospital bed, sunk in a coma that lasted several days. While in a coma, when the resistances of mind and heart are subdued, this fighter born seemingly with a Kalashnikov in his hand, met the Lord Himself! “Get up,” He said, “And forgive!”

So, he got up, he forgave and allowed the Lord to find Him.

“My mother to who lost me for seven years to warfare fighting against the ISIS was disturbed. She preferred a communist, atheist guerilla to a Christian son. Most of my friends wondered, why on earth would I want to become Christian when asylum and a Greek passport was already granted. But I SAW HIM! Now, I dream of the day that I can go back to Kurdistan and make known this God that is real, that has a mouth and speaks and has ear and hears, and has a Father’s heart”.

At present, this dear brother, sometimes homeless and other times with his belly empty, waits for the Lord to unfold why He brought him to the West and appeared to him. This is just the beginning of a divine destiny. Peshmerga means those who are able to stand before death and face death! Pray for this precious trophy, that he will become one of those that are able to stand in the same fearless way with the Warrior who has apprehended him.

In the last few months, the refugee situation here in Greece has entered a new season. In the past two years, the UNHCR paid for the rent and food supplies for refugees that came to Greece seeking asylum. They are withdrawing their financial support and provision claiming two reasons; their inability to sustain an ever-increasing number and that in retrospect, the program is not helping refugees integrate socially or get jobs and the local communities.

The program phase-out began in March, and rents and food cards ceased by the end of summer for those who entered the country in 2016. Thousands of people might be in the streets this winter, at point zero once again, without food and shelter. The estimated number of registered refugees currently is over 100 000, with a steady stream of 600 arrivals daily, not including those unregistered.

Panic was the first visitor that followed the UN announcement. What can we do? Then the next question surfaced-did God bring all those people in Europe depending on UN money?

And our attention was drawn to Matt. 14, Mark 6 Luke. 9 when,

…There were many people coming and going, and the disciples did not even have time to eat…

…and He saw a great multitude and had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd…

…and the day began to decline, and the twelve came and said to Him, 

‘Send them away, to the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodgings and something to eat, for here we are in a desolate place’.

…But Jesus said to them, ‘They do not need to go away; YOU give them something to eat’.

… ‘We have here only five loaves and two fish’. …

… ‘Bring them to Me’. …

And, ’Have them recline to eat in groups of about fifty each’.

And they did so and had them all recline. …

And He took the loaves and the fish and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the multitude…’  

God put the key to the situation in their hands! Provision was, as always is, only from Him, but the response of faith that appropriates the provision must always come from us. It takes faith to sit down, at the evening of an utterly exhausting day, in a ‘desolate’ place, 5000 hungry and tired men and as many women and children, in groups of fifty, when you know you have nothing to feed them with, obeying just the bidding of the Master and looking continually at His face! It took faith to start giving out the provision that came steadily from the Master’s hands, for He did not produce it all that food at once, in a big pile!

Faith is a stranger to common sense, and common sense is not faith. As the Lord is allowing the UN provision to be withdrawn, we believe that He has provision for this new situation that is developing, and He is calling us to enter it by faith.

Facing winter’s threat, we now find ourselves plunged into similarly impossible circumstances, bewildered as to how thousands can not only be fed but also housed; it is a ‘desolate’ situation, at the ‘end of a day’ that has been exhausting for them and us, but we feel that His bidding is, ‘Don’t be just resigned to do what you can; bring what you have to Me and do what you can but by faith, looking continually at My face, not measuring the circumstances.’

We might be on the threshold of a winter of great discontent, but we are convinced that we are also on the threshold of an exciting new season. Join us in prayer, that we will be those who can rise by faith to respond to Gods bidding, taking from His hands His continual provision, and never losing sight of His eyes.We are now in need of the faith that defies common sense and connects us with Him that does the impossible. May we all know the vast portions of His secret manna.