I am always being asked about the work we do with refugees at Omonia Church so I’ve listed the most common questions and answers below. I hope you find them informative!
Question: How did you become involved with the Refugee Relief Plan?
Answer: Greece is and has been for the last eight years in a very difficult position. The economic crisis as well as the ethical crisis have battered the Greek people on every aspect of their everyday life. As all this was not enough Greece and its people have been the first port of call of the displaced Syrian people, Afghani people and many other war and violence battered people.
We were very ignorant yet we prayed for God to bring us the wounded, the betrayed, the frightened, the displaced. We asked for God to make our hearts, our kitchen, the entire Omonia church building a refugee to receive these people.
The Omonia Church community was blessed by being in the right place and the right time present in this this critical time of displaced and chased away people. From the beginning of the refugee exodus and entry to the Greek islands and on to the mainland port of Piraeus and the city of Athens, the Omonia Christians have asked God to bring to us those who needed a helping hand, a kind word, a warm hug and above all God’s love.
Some of the first families we met were in the streets of Athens. Every family who came to us has proved that God was working, it was His doing!
As outlined in my previous blog, we were driving one day to one of the camps and a young man young man travelling with his family, came to the car window and asked if we knew were the metro stations was. When we asked why they were going he told us that they would not take him, his mother and two sisters because the camp was full. We ended up taking them to a hotel for a few nights and then one of the Church’s friends, Syrian but established in Athens for the last 12 years, has hosted this mother with her three children for over two months now. Besides a home and food the Omonia church has helped them with every need they have. Soon they will reunite with the father in Germany.
A few days later a Christian friend from the island of Mytilene, main island to receive the refugees as they make their crossing from Turkey to Greece, called us and told us that a family with one 9-year-old boy had arrived to Athens and asked us to visit them and see how we can help. It was not long until each family brought to us another family and continued to do so until our Church building was filled with the most loving, kind and peaceful people we have ever met. We had about 70 people come regularly to our Church activities over recent months. Now one by one they are getting asylum in different Western and Northern European countries like Portugal, Spain, Germany as well as Estonia, but God continues to bring us new people.
Question: Do any of the refugees attend the Omonia church? If so, tell us about them.
Answer: We now have 25 to 30 people attending Sunday worship. They are very open to the story of Jesus and understand the impact Jesus can have on their lives. They love to hear about the living hope, the comfort, the joy and the peace Jesus has for everyone who comes to Him. They love to hear that God lives in our heart once we accept Him and not far away in Heaven. They love to hear the prodigal son story and ask if it is a real story. We respond yes it is a true story, your story and my story. They ask about eternity, about the trinity. We now have Arabic language Bibles that Servant Group international based in Nashville has provided. We also have available other Christian Arabic language material to share with our friends. We do not choose to call them refugees very often as they are much more than that and their present status does not describe who they really are. They are more than refugees. They are people who God loves, He wants all of us to tell them about it.
We often remind them that we are not trying to buy their faith with food or clothes. We are only trying to touch them with Jesus’s love and hope and help them heal from the wounds which have been created by war or this confused and horrible world. We are not in the position of changing anyone – God is! But we are here to administer the love of God as His people. He is the one who provides change.
Question: How do you make contact with the refugees?
Answer: Here’s one example: One Tuesday (when we hold our dinners, English classes etc) we opened the Church doors and there was a group of Afghani mothers with 16 children standing asking to come in. When they were asked “how did you find out about this Church and its work” they said…“oh someone told us on the bus.” We do not advertise in any way… but God does introduce us to those who are in need of a helping hand, hug and a smile. We have fallen in love with these families. The children are so polite and well brought up with manners which would put to shame Western teenagers.
One family brings the next one and as some of them depart for the new host country God brings new ones. We receive messages and calls from all of them as they move to their new host country. One of the messages we received…. “We are in the Netherlands we say hi to you and your Church…Thank God…Thank Greece…we spent the best happiest time with the Omonia Church…We miss you come and visit us soon. We love you with the love of God”.
Someone said…oh they are so good to you Eleni because they need you…well they do not need us anymore but they still call and message daily!!
Question: What kind of things do you do for the refugees?
Answer: We have daily activities. Our little Church building turns into a community haven during the week. We gather early in the day we buy groceries from the nearby central market of Athens. Then we all come together and start cooking. Most of our Syrian ladies now have taken over the Omonia church kitchen. They are the bosses and know every little detail of how to manage the kitchen. Not easy for me to give up of being the “kitchen boss” but to watch them enjoy having control over what they and their families eat is a huge joy. They love it and I do as well.
Later following lunch, we have available English conversational language classes. Young volunteers spend time with creative play with the children, and there is a lot of them.
Parallel to the above we make time for personal counseling and discussion.
When our Syrian friends come into the Omonia church building they feel at home. The women are in the kitchen cooking, talking, laughing like nothing is wrong in this upside down world. We close the kitchen door for them to remove their scarfs so we can see their beautiful hair. They are safe and trust us. The children are all over the building feeling safe and happy, the men are quietly taking orders from the women setting up the dining area, running out to get last minute things and all in all God must smile at this picture when he looks down. Nobody is afraid, nobody feels unwanted, nobody feels threatened or angry. These feeling are replaced by God’s grace with love, compassion, mercy, grace, joy, laughter and hope.
At the end of the day we leave with wings of hope and joy in our back. They all leave with a sense of dignity and worth which is not the norm in a camp or in a shelter. If we can only help them find their worth which they lost somewhere on the way out of Syria, on the boats, on their long walking journey, we will be successful to explain how much God loves them and how precious they are to Him.
What we emphasize over and over is that we are primarily concerned about their emotional healing and we are interested in touching them with God’s love and allow Him to work in their hearts, in their lives.
They are principal families with wonderful children and a good relationship within the couples. The West would be embarrassed to put next to each other their teenagers with those Syrian and Afghani teenagers. Good kids who protect their mothers and little siblings like eagles. They have taught us so much and we are forever grateful to the Lord for the gift of these people in our lives.
We are taking them to the hospitals whether for medical problems or with specific exams so to convenience their journey to West or North Europe. Just this last week a young Syrian woman miscarried their first baby. We stayed with her and her sweet husband, prayed for them. We shared that babies do not get lost, they have a name and they are in Heaven one day to be reunited with their parents. They were very comforted.
Question: How do the refugees react to you?
Answer: The respond with gratitude, love and kindness. They say that when they come in to the Church building they are coming home to Syria. The biggest complement to our limited efforts. To be “home” for someone. Following our daily activities, we stay late and all of us clean the building and prepare for our next time together. Leaving the building they leave with a renewed hope, a sense of safety, a sense of confidence in God’s sovereignty which concerns their future and if I could lift their shirts I would see small wings grown in their back!! They say even if they spoke perfect English it would not be possible to express their gratitude and feelings because no language can say how happy and grateful they are.
We are in love with them beyond any words can describe and we are totally convinced that God will continue to shelter them and bring them to the next step of knowing him. One of their statements has been…we were taught that God lives in Heaven but you have showed us that God lives in our heart and that has changed everything. Really words are useless and so is photography to try to describe the work of God among our Syrian and Afghani friends.
Many of them have said “we do believe Jesus Christ is the son God and He was resurrected and Is now in Heaven”.
We always remind them that our purpose is not to change them. We are not in the business of changing anyone because we cannot. It is our God who will renew their lives. Our purpose and mission is teaching them the entire truth allowing God’s truth to enter their life and make them a brand new person, born again. They smile big and kiss us like we have never been kissed before
Question: How can people help?
Answer: We first need to build awareness of the fact that God is calling us into a new way of spreading His love. To share that the gospel is for all…regardless. To cast out fear by perfect love. We will regret years later that we did not extend a helping hand in a time of need…a very serious need.
We need short and long term teams. Who knows since so many of the refugees will get asylum to leave in Greece we might just have a new opportunity to start an assembly with them.
Stay in touch, pray for them and us, come and see us. Money is not the primary need for sure. It is you and you and you who will put their life on pause for a month, or a year or two and come extend your hand to those who are so desperately seeking to be loved and cherished. Like God loved and cherished us. Jesus put His life with the Father on pause to come to earth and be with us.
We need help. We need people to come help us preferably long term, one to two years’ commitments as well as short term but not less than a month. We need people who will come because God will lead them to touch these people with His love and compassion. We never know if someone will see Heaven one day because we took the “risk” of reaching out forgetting the prejudice which have been so carefully filtered through media and other sources to poison us against good and kind people regardless of their religion or country they were born in. We need people to help us when we take them to the doctors and hospitals.
We are handling their hearts very gently. They have been wounded, betrayed and abused by this horrible war. They need to be handled with care and only with God’s love and mercy. They need to be handled like precious crystal because this is simply how God sees them. He tasted death for them and nobody can debate His work on the cross for our Syrian and other displace people.
Question: What touches you most about this situation?
Answer: The way they are open to this new reality of their lives among the Christians at Omonia. We did not know these people three four months ago. We were somewhat afraid and ignorant as to how to approach them. It did not take but moments to find out that the only key to handle their wounded and fragile hearts was His love. God has bonded us with an amazing love and warmth that cannot be described. They are open to the love story of Jesus. His amazing work on the cross to take away sin forever. The possibility of Heaven in eternity and Heaven on Earth among His people.
Yesterday at Omonia we had a celebration. It looked more like a wedding without having spent two years to prepare it or a ton of money! It was a wedding the one wedding which is perfect and lasts forever between His people, Syrians, Afghanis, Nigerians, Americans, Filipinos, Egyptians, Ukrainians, Russians, Bulgarians and Greeks.
What touches the most is their open hearts ready to receive God’s love like never before, their willingness to listen to the word of God. I have never been happier administering His grace and mercy.
Slowly they are getting their asylum applications approved and they are moving to the country the United Nations place them. It is pure joy to see how excited they are with the prospect of a new life but again they are lots of tears as they kiss us good bye. Yesterday a family with four children said good bye as they are leaving Tuesday, tomorrow, for Portugal. There was not just tears but sobbing, they would not let our hands ago and their little wonderful children could not kiss us enough. Their senior son about 5 years old reached and kissed my hand like the Middle Eastern children do to adults by first kissing your hand and placing your hand to to their forehead. They giving you respect by kissing you and they receive your blessing on their forehead. Words are useless and so is photography to describe these moments.
Question: Describe the ethnic make-up of the Omonia church.
Answer: The Omonia congregation is made up of many ethnic backgrounds. Nigerians, Americans, Filipinos , Egyptians, Ukrainians, Russians, Bulgarians and Greeks. We have a rich history of victories in Christ but of very difficult challenges as well. The last division which took place four years ago, left us in a very difficult situation, disabling the leadership and makeup of the congregation but with God’s help and the guidance of His Spirit and we have recovered and God is using this little group of people for great and Heavenly things.
Question: How many Greek churches are involved in this work?
Answer: We have invited other Athens congregations to partner but for now we have not received responses. There are some congregations and Christian relief organizations who have come to partner with and help us with all the activities of the dinners, the classes as well as reaching out by visiting camps to extend and invite more families to our church community. Healing hands international has sent us funds in the last three months.
We feel honored and high privileged by the Lord to have been given this opportunity. The opportunity to be His feet, His hands and His heart as He brings us His people to us.
All in all, we can only see what is happening among us here in Greece and elsewhere as a unique and historical opportunity. God is making us a favor to bring all these people to our door steps. They are not a threat, they are wonderful, kind people who need our help. If this is not the time to practice the “Good Samaritan” mission, when will it be again? We will regret it if we do not move away from misconceptions and biased propaganda and do not reach out to touch these people with God’s love. Above all we will answer to God. What did we do with our resources, what did we do with his forgiveness, what did we do with His sacrificial love and mercy? Are we keeping all the above well secured in our church buildings? if so we might need to reconsider and to rethink our mission as Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ.