HOW DO YOU BEGIN TO MEND THE LIVES of those who have suffered the triple trauma of leaving one’s home, dangerous travel, and hostile rejection in their hoped-for country of refuge?
Athens, for example, is the ‘off-ramp’ for many travelling the ‘Refugee Highway’ from the Middle East and Africa. Yet having left hopeless situations, and sometimes paying ruthless traffickers exorbitant fees for transport in abysmal conditions, desperate refugees arrive in Athens or other European cities – only to encounter loneliness, deprivation and bitter disappointment. Most of the refugees in Athens are forced to live in appalling, dangerous and unsanitary conditions on the streets, in parks and abandoned buildings. Some find temporary shelter in overcrowded rooms, without electricity, heating or running water.
For thousands of such refugees, the Athens Refugee Centre (ARC) in the heart of downtown Athens has become a haven of hope and help, a place of healing. Last year, some 100,000 refugees came through the doors of the ARC. Any given week could see up to 3000 refugees from Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Russia visit the ARC. Most of them hear the gospel there for the first time in their lives.
A multi-cultural team of workers from Iran, the Philippines, Albania, USA, Canada, England and Greece engage in a variety of ministries, including:
· clothing distribution
· English and Greek classes for refugees
· an Iranian Fellowship meeting on Sundays for dinner, prayer, worship, Bible reading and teaching
· a Russian Language Bible study and dinner, every Saturday evening
· a Tea House ministry providing 500-800 refugees with a place to get a free meal, drink tea, play games, build friendships and hear the gospel
· a shower ministry for homeless refugee men
· a library, video presentations, kids’ clubs, and women’s ministry
· apartment ‘nests’ which provide shelter to refugees and a discipleship-orientated environment
· medical care.
Local churches and visiting teams have partnered with the ARC for over ten years in this holistic ministry, run by International Teams and the Greek-based organisation Helping Hands.
Last week in Greece, we presented a HOPE AWARD to the ARC, represented by Scott McCracken, Themis Sirinides and Nikos Stefanidis, on behalf of the Hope for Europe Round Table. The occasion was the annual joint gathering of the Round Table with the European Evangelical Alliance (EEA) and the European Evangelical Missionary Alliance (EEMA), this year in Eretria north of Athens. Leaders from over forty European nations were present for the four day conference, and the presentation.
Each year at the Round Table, the gathered convenors of the Hope for Europe networks choose the recipients of the award, persons and/or projects bringing hope and promoting partnership towards transformation in European society through Christian witness and action.
The award itself is a ceramic trophy with a bronzed sheen, with three heads emerging from one tapered form, depicting unity in diversity.
But, there was a slight problem. Despite careful packaging, one of the heads was knocked off as the award was being transported to Greece. How could we present a broken award?! Then Romkje, my wife, observed that even this broken head represented the ministry of the ARC – the mending of broken lives! Instead of being a blemish on this award, there was extra special meaning presented by the hair line faintly visible after the head had been glued back on.
And so the mended HOPE Award reflected the many refugees who have found healing and wholeness through the ARC, and who are themselves now being sent out as missionaries to proclaim hope on the Refugee Highway.
Till next week,