TIMOTHY COCKES | DECEMBER 16, 2016
Editor’s note: Names of refugees have been changed to protect identities
Zehrung was overjoyed when he received a phone call that he thought he might never receive.
Logan Zehrung, the logistic coordinator for Virginia Global Response for the summer of 2016, had been building a relationship with Aabid, a refuge from Iraq, in hopes that he would one day convert from Islam to Christianity.
“I got a phone call saying that Aabid had accepted Jesus and I was overjoyed,” Zehrung said.
Aabid is merely one of thousands of refugees currently in Greece as a result of political unrest or violence.
Jack Noble, director of Virginia Global Response, says that a refugee is anyone whose homeland or country is unstable for some reason and they cannot stay at their home.
According to Noble, Greece is a country on the verge of bankruptcy and would be one place that shouldn’t be taking in any refugees. Yet, Greece is taking in refugees by the thousands every day due to its location in between countries that refugees are fleeing from and stable European countries that refugees want to get to.
“Greece is the great entry point for refugees,” Noble said.
Refugees from countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq want to travel through Greece to get to stable countries like Germany, Sweden, France or Belgium. Noble says that as of last summer there were over 50,000 refugees in Greece spread across 30 refugee camps.
Noble says that the journey these refugees take through these countries in hopes of a return to their home is called the Refugee Road or the Refugee Highway.
According to Noble, many refugees keep their house keys with them in hopes that they will someday return home.
“It’s a physical symbol of their hope of returning home,” Noble said.
Noble says that although the term refugee refers to any person who is forced out of their home or country, these particular refugees often are fleeing from violence and or political unrest.
Zehrung says that Aabid fled from his home to avoid joining the forces of Isis. According to Zehrung, Isis takes over territories and gives the residents three options, stay in your land and pay a heavy tax for the rest of your life, take a Quran and convert to Islam or be killed.
Aabid fled his native land of Iraq and went on a journey which led him to end up in Greece.
The journey that refugees take is extremely dangerous and many don’t make it. According to Zehrung, the journey involves a treacherous ride across the Aegean Sea. Zehrung says that many are stopped before they even make it to the sea because they cannot afford the lifejackets required to gain entrance on a small boat. Zehrung says refugees are packed in extremely tightly in the boats before making the dangerous journey across the water.
Zehrung says that if refugees do make it on to a boat, they soon found out that the lifejackets are made of cardboard and will disintegrate immediately upon entering the water.
Zehrung says that even if refugee families make it across the sea safely, all of their possessions are most likely lost in the sea.
Once they reach Greece, they travel to camps near the border between Greece and Germany where they wait for approval from the United Nations to move on to other European countries.
Director of Virginia Global Response Jack Noble says the process of approval from the U.N. can be difficult for many refugees.
“Refugees often have to leave their country with no form of identification and sometimes without any type of warning,” Noble said. “The process for approval from the U.N. can take months.”
Noble describes the refugee camps as primitive living.
“They receive two meals a day consisting of bread and sometimes cheese,” Noble said. “They will occasionally get some fruits or vegetables, but it’s inconsistent.”
Noble says that the refugees have specific needs including safety, warmth, dignity and food.
As the director of VGR, Noble’s job is recognizing crisis situations around the globe and mobilizing relief efforts for churches and ministry organizations in Virginia.
Noble says that churches around Virginia recognized the need in Greece and had a desire to go, they just didn’t have a plan of action.
Noble is responsible for educating and training churches and ministries to effectively address the needs of refugees with the ultimate hope of sharing the gospel of Jesus with them.
Noble says that VGR has facilitated trips involved with ministry and distribution of needs in Greece since October of 2015 including a group from Liberty University in February 2016. Noble says that VGR has sent 120 people to Greece so far.
Among those sent is current sophomore at Liberty University Logan Zehrung. Zehrung served as the logistics coordinator for VGR last summer.
Zehrung worked with three different churches from Virginia by arranging the distribution and ministry opportunities that the churches would have.
The churches that Zehrung worked with were Forest Baptist Church, First Baptist Alexandria and First Baptist Roanoke. Logan worked with organizing their relief efforts in three different locations in Greece.
The first location was a refugee camp in Giannitsa where the churches participated in clothing distribution and games with children.
The second location was a refugee camp near the border of Macedonia where the churches had little restriction from the supervisors of the camp about what they could talk about. Therefore, churches had the opportunity to have many spiritual conversations with refugees.
The final location was the connection that facilitated the other ministry locations. Zehrung says that a connection with a non-profit organization is required to distribute aid to refugees and VGR was able to get that done through the local evangelical church in Mylotopos.
The church in Mylotopos was where Logan meet Aabid, a refugee from Iraq.
“I had a connection with him,” Zehrung said. “We grew in our relationship. He helped with translation and food distribution.”
Zehrung had been having spiritual conversations with Aabid, a Sunni Muslim, for some time at the church in Mylotopos.
Zehrung said that Aabid was very open to hearing about Christianity, but at this point was not ready to say he believed.
Zehrung was encouraged by Aabid’s openness.
“The fact that he would even consider Christianity was extremely encouraging to me,” Zehrung said.
Zehrung says that Aabid asked for an Arabic Bible so that he could read the scriptures.
“He was so joyous to receive a Bible,” Zehrung said.
Zehrung said that one day Aabid was talking to him when he said something that gave him hope of his conversion.
“Aabid said to me, “Logan, I love your Jesus, I love the peace of your Jesus,” Zehrung said.
A short time later, Zehrung received that joyous phone call that Aabid had trusted in Jesus and that his wife would now consider converting because of her husband.
Aabid was baptized a few weeks later and is now ministering to other refugees himself.
According to Noble, stories like Aabid’s illustrate the fact that God is working in the lives of Muslims like never before.
“They are looking for hope,” Noble said. “What they knew failed them. Islam failed them.”
Zehrung says that he has learned of the will of God for Muslims through the refugee crisis. He still offers them hope and redemption.
“I am wholeheartedly convinced that the best thing to happen to the Muslim culture in a spiritual sense is the refugee crisis,” Zehrung said.
When asked what he has learned through his summer of working with refugees, Zehrung spoke of the faithfulness of God and his plan.
“I’m in awe of the provision of the Lord,” Zehrung said.
Zehrung said the main takeaway for him was the need to always be ready and willing to be used by God.
“The most important thing is being attentive to the Spirit, there are always opportunities to share the gospel,” Zehrung said.
What Global Terrorism Means for the Sending Church
ZACH BRADLEY | AUGUST 29 2016
In this repost from The Upstream Collective, Zach Bradley, the international missions pastor at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, discusses what it means for churches to respond to global terrorism as they send people to the nations in obedience to the Great Commission. This article is used with permission.
Local Churches Must Talk About Global Terrorism
Not every sermon has to be like John Piper’s “Doing Mission When Dying is Gain” or David Platt’s “Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death-Defying Missions,” but some of these horrific events should be intentionally acknowledged. Songs and prayers that lament the brokenness of our world instruct the body of Christ, give it ways to express grief and longing, and allow it to join God as he uses even tragedy for his glory.
Though global missions has never been a safe venture, those who pay attention to current trends understand that indeed no place is beyond the reach of danger.
Mission leaders don’t have to hesitate to connect the dots for their people: going is “not all romance and radical adventure” (Burns). Leaning hard into Jesus’s teaching that people will kill you thinking they are giving service to God (John 16:2) is not only relevant, it’s compelling. That is, it compels people who, according 2 Corinthians 5:11–15, are so captured by the love of Christ that they want to persuade others.
How is it that the church is actually emboldened in the face of threat? A shaken church in Acts 4:23–31 seems to show us how it’s supposed to be. Sweep it under the rug and people will hide there. Talk about it openly and see people strangely eager to go, like Ronnie Smith, whose “confidence grew that Christ was worth every risk he would face,” even as his awareness grew of Libya’s dangers. A war draws warriors. And we are at war for the souls of men.
Local Churches Must Lead Their People to Count the Cost
Though global mission has never been a safe venture, those who pay attention to current trends understand that indeed no place is beyond the reach of danger.
The attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi especially awakened me to this reality because it’s one of the places I frequented on vacation while working in east Africa. One image that continues to haunt me is a blood-splattered cafe where I used to relax with a big bowl of ice cream and not a care in the world.
People need to wrestle with the reality that they may be caught in the cross-fire—not even because of their witness. but simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Ultimately, it’s more likely that their hearts and minds will be guarded by Christ with peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7) if they’ve considered the risk rather than ignored it. And this is only possible if church leaders themselves have felt the weight of sending their little flock out among wolves (Luke 10:3).
Local Churches Must Partner with Like-Minded Missions Agencies
Most of those who work for or with missions agencies get this stuff. That’s because they’ve been around long enough to see some caskets come home. And that’s why they often provide training for how to respond in hostile situations.
But more than training, many of them have a network on the field and plans for evacuation, emergency medical care, hostage calls or any other number of things you don’t want to be fully responsible for when you get a frantic international phone call at 2 a.m.
Realizing and acknowledging the nature of sending—the kind that the Bible describes—will lead churches to prepare for the best and the worst.
Partnering with a missions agency does not exempt the sending church from being actively involved and even owning major parts of emergency situations. It merely empowers them to care more holistically for their people through the expertise of agencies.
Local Churches Must Care for Those They’ve Sent
The realities and possibilities of global terrorism are all the more reason for churches to remain deeply connected to their sent ones. Is it likely that one of your sent ones will be killed by terrorists? No. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t be crushed (Romans 8:36).
As we speak there are missionaries in Europe who are reeling from last week’s attack in Paris and seriously considering coming home—or at least quieting their gospel witness. Churches need to draw near, ask good questions, help them process, and encourage their resolve to trust and obey Jesus. Give them outlets for sharing how the situation is affecting people so the church can pray with insight.
Remember that in today’s world your sent ones may feel a constant low-grade threat, even when they’re on vacation. That’s heavy. They need you.
Local Churches Must Have a Plan for How to Respond to Tragedy
If something does happen, what would you do?
I know, it’s a question none of us want to think about. But it was one that The Austin Stone was forced to deal with when their own Ronnie Smith was killed. And there’s much we could learn from their example, including the way his wife Anita responded and how the church addressed it.
Perhaps considering this question is part of the church’s task of counting the cost. Realizing and acknowledging the nature of sending—the kind that the Bible describes—will lead churches to prepare for the best and the worst. Though for them, and only them, do they do so with joy inexpressible and full of glory because death—and even the threat thereof—does not have the final word.
An Infographic Overview of the Syrian Refugee Crisis
Syrian children born after 2011 have known nothing of their home country but war. Their families have been scattered into various refugee camps around the world. Humanitarian needs continue to rise, and children fall further and further behind in their education. The plight of refugees has been called one of the largest humanitarian crises since World War II. This is a time for the church to act.
We can and should work to meet the enormous physical needs and engage the unprecedented openness to the gospel among refugees.
‘These crossings are nothing but fatal’: The tale of one rescuer and one desperate day at sea
By Moni Basu, CNN • Video by Joe Sheffer, CNN
To view photos from CNN and Europe’s Migration Crisis, CLICK HERE.
Greece / Macedonia Border
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Photos of Refugees
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Reasons Refugees are on the Run
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