My First Encounter with Afghan Refugees

It was a Sunday morning and I was invited to speak at a gathering of Afghan refugees in Athens, Greece. As I entered the room on the third floor of a commercial building in Omonia Square, I was surprised to see over 100 Muslim refugees – standing room only – waiting to hear a message that would bring comfort and hope to their troubled hearts. Most of these strangers had risked their lives to navigate cold, volatile waters from Turkey to reach the Greek Island of Lesvos – the first port of entry into Europe. Now, safely in Athens, they were at the mercy of the Greek people, who are enduring hardship from their own financial crisis.

As I stepped to the front of the room, I was warmly greeted by Farshid, a new Afghan believer, who speaks excellent English and was ready to translate my message into the Dari language (official Persian language of Afghanistan). Looking at the sea of faces, l felt an overwhelming sense of God’s compassion for these strangers who were like sheep without a shepherd.  They were eagerly awaiting some good news from this woman from the U.S.  My first words were to reassure them that they are not forgotten and that the American people deeply care and are praying for the plight of all the refugees.

It was now story-telling time and time to say something of substance. From experience, I’ve learned that revenge is a strong cultural value of the Afghan people. My story began about an Afghan man named Masoud who accidentally stumbled onto a Christian Conference of Iranians in Turkey. Surprised by their warm reception, he quickly felt at home among these Iranians. As Masoud sat listening to their strange message, a deep peace comforted his troubled heart. During training, he learned about the power of forgiveness, and that before Jesus’ death, He cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing!” Deeply touched by Jesus’ life and sacrifice, Masoud surrendered his life to Jesus.

To my surprise, at this point in the story, the audience broke out into loud applause. Their eager faces spoke volumes. They too were open to know the reality of Jesus. It was all I could do to continue speaking.

The story had an interesting twist. Masoud entered into a dispute with another man that turned into a bitter feud. Taking pride in revenge, they vowed that one or both of them would die if they ever met again. Now it was time for Masoud to make peace with his enemy. When the doorbell rang, the enemy’s wife saw who was standing at the door.  She quickly notified her husband. Walking into their home, Masoud was confronted by his enemy who was armed with a knife ready to strike. Masoud gently approached him and said, “You have every reason to kill me but before you do I have something very important I need to tell you.”  In trembling speech, Masoud shared about Jesus and knelt asking for forgiveness. At that moment, God’s loving presence flooded the room and both men were reconciled.  Soon the man and his wife also became Jesus’ followers.

As my story came to an end, the applause grew louder and people began to stand.  God’s presence filled the room. Jesus was there to save and to heal and He did!  To Him, be all glory.