by Brandon Pickett, SBC of Virginia Associate Executive Director
Today, refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are once again crossing the border between Greece and Macedonia. But for a while last week, the border was once again closed to all refugees. Just about every refugee trying to enter Europe is being funneled through the one border crossing near the town of Idomeni, Greece. Many of these people, mostly from the Middle East, are leaving family, homes, and occupations to search for a life without war, turmoil, and the threat of death.
Hadi is one of these refugees from Afghanistan—he graduated from college, then saw nine of his friends killed by the Taliban. “I think for about 13 years was war in Afghanistan—about 13 years. Now I am 25 years old. I haven’t yet seen peace. What is peace?”
The SBC of Virginia has had missionary personnel serving in the refugee camp every month since October 2015.
“Over the past four months, we’ve had over a ¼ million people pass through this one checkpoint,” said Jack Noble, SBC of Virginia Disaster Relief director. “Basically every refugee heading north—whether they are going to Sweden or Germany—comes through this one checkpoint. In the month of December when I was here, there were over 2,000 people who were camping here because they had been rejected at the border for not being Syrian, Afghani, or Iraqi.”
As of this story, only persons from Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan are being allowed to cross the border to look for a new life in Europe. But the journey just getting to that border crossing is treacherous. By the time they get to the refugee camp, many are willing to talk openly about their search for a new life and their hope for safety and security. That’s why the opportunities for ministry are so great at this border camp.
One refugee who just arrived in Greece after a dangerous boat ride across the Aegean Sea told us about his trip. “In Turkey, there are a lot of traffickers like mafia,” he said. “They take your money and then send you on a boat. Help the people. The people are dying. People have no money. They have nothing. So, help the people.”
“When you’re here in person, seeing the very real humanitarian need, it is an opportunity for us to certainly share the love of Christ and to share the proverbial cold cup of water in obedience to the Lord Jesus,” said Brian Autry, SBC of Virginia’s executive director. “One of the most important things we can do is pray for these people, but the most immediate needs are financial resources that we can put in the hands of missionaries and volunteers on the scene.”
The SBC of Virginia plans to continue to send mission teams and resources to the border camp for the foreseeable future. It is also working with Liberty University and its newly created LU Send NOW to help facilitate student volunteers who will serve on the front lines as soon as February.
“I have been following the refugee crisis for some time,” said Vince Valeriano, LU Send NOW coordinator, who accompanied the SBCV on its latest trip to serve refugees in Greece. “I felt very strongly that the church needed to take action to help these people who are just like you and me and have been forced to leave everything because of violent oppressors.”
“It is one thing to hear about it on the news,” said Valeriano, “but completely another being there in person with the refugees hearing their stories and seeing their plight firsthand. The refugees are begging for our help.”
“The ministry opportunity is great,” said Noble. “Volunteers are needed here on the Greece and Macedonia border. This is a 24-hour-a-day operation. Right here, you can do a 30-second touch, and if there is more time, you can make a lifetime touch by staying with them as they go through the refugee road.”
Valeriano strongly feels that this is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. “I firmly believe this is one of the best opportunities the Church has seen to reach the Muslim world. What’s happening is unprecedented. Now, over a million people who were once extremely difficult and dangerous to reach with the Gospel are coming to open-access countries. We need to seize this golden opportunity to bring the love and Gospel of Jesus Christ to these people who have had little to no access to it.”