Greece (CAM) — Local missionaries based in Greece were used to seeing refugees mainly from Syria, Iraq, and Iran, so they were surprised when two Turkish men showed up at their offices.
The men had fled economic and security hardships in the Kurdish areas of southeastern Turkey. After helping them with their needs for food and legal orientation, the workers were even more surprised when the Kurdish Turks eyed the Bibles on the shelves and asked, “What are these?”
When workers answered that they were Bibles, one of the men asked if there were any copies in Turkish.
“We smiled, as just a few days before, Turkish Bibles were donated to us after much research we had done to learn how to obtain them,” the ministry co-director said. “We gave him a Bible, and he said, ‘I am interested to know more about God. Can you teach me?’”
As the co-director knew some Kurmanji, the dialect of Kurdish people in southeastern Turkey, they had a brief Bible study, and she promised to find a Turkish interpreter for future sessions.
The future turned out to be a few minutes later, as the Kurds returned with a Turkish friend who also couldn’t wait to learn about God. Turkey is 99 percent Muslim, as Islam is central to Turkish nationalism, but in this corner of the world they were free to explore. The co-director asked them how they had found out about the ministry, and one replied that he had learned of it from a Greek Orthodox priest.
“I went twice to this Orthodox church and asked about Christianity, but the priest told me to come to you,” he told her.
The co-director could think of only one person who could act as a Turkish interpreter for a Bible study: another refugee who knew various languages but was not a Christian. He had often received help from workers and had attended the ministry’s church services before coronavirus lockdowns. He was eager to help.
“To our first Bible study in the Turkish language, we had the three men attend,” the co-director said. “At the next one, a young man joined them, and before they left, one of them asked, ‘Can I bring my wife next time?’
“I really love to be surprised by God,” she added. “At the end of the second Bible study, the Turkish translator looked at us and said, ‘It is such a good opportunity for me. I have been struggling to read and understand the Bible, but now I can do it with you!’”
Such divine encounters are a regular part of a ministry that sees a constant stream of people in seasons of transition.
Whatever their needs for food, baby diapers, or housing, refugees come with spiritual hunger at a time when they are free of the societal pressures against Christianity in their home countries – ministry team leaders receive daily texts and phone calls from people who want to hear God’s Word, the co-director said.
“We believe discipleship stems from the relationships,” she said. “Just as our family and friends are involved in our day-to-day life, so are the people that we disciple. Just as someone becomes interested in learning about Christ, we intentionally form a relationship with them and continue to teach, pray, and walk through God’s Word.”
Workers follow up with new Christians in weekly Bible studies, women’s meetings, home visits, phone calls and text messages, she said. Pandemic restrictions on the size of gatherings remain in effect, so the women’s group has broken into smaller units. Refugees don’t generally have the technology to benefit from Zoom church services, so the ministry leaders record 10-minute services and send them as WhatsApp text messages in Arabic, Farsi and Sorani, she said.
The messages are sent to church members, refugees, and the hundreds of people who have passed through the ministry and on to other parts of Europe, she said.
“It is a way to encourage the whole network of people connected to our ministry and really see our vision of outreach throughout Europe come to life,” the director said.
At the same time, team leaders are creating small discipleship groups in Greece to strengthen the local Body of Christ, she said.
“Our vision is to train disciples, and we don’t want to give it up,” she said. “Despite the pandemic, we have seen a rising interest in the people to know more about God; in December, we had a new believer nearly every second day.”
The ministry’s church thus has continued to grow in spite of restrictions on gatherings and the transitory nature of the refugees they are serving, she said. Workers travel from house to house in order to pray for refugees, encourage them, study the Bible and train them.
“We have baptized people and have more waiting to be baptized,” she said.
Power of the Word
Her husband, who co-directs the ministry, began receiving calls from a Syrian refugee held in a detention center last year.
A convert to Christianity, the refugee requested encouragement and prayer. He met another Syrian in the detention center who was interested in learning about God, so both of them began calling the male co-director, asking for prayer and Bibles.
He visited them, gave them Bibles and continued following up with them.
“And then one day,” his co-director wife said, “the refugee called him back and said, ‘We have some men from Pakistan and Bangladesh. They are complaining, saying, why do we have Bibles only in Arabic?’ Of course, communication in their language is not easy for us, as we don’t have interpreters in their languages. But we are working on following up with getting the Bibles for them.”
Ministry workers meeting physical needs come across such spiritual hunger every day in Greece and other parts of Europe. Consider giving through Christian Aid Mission to equip believers to meet such needs with the love of Christ.
Header and story images courtesy of Christian Aid Mission.