Greece (MNN) — A record winter in Greece didn’t help the already deplorable conditions in refugee camps where around 60,000 are stranded. Tasos Ioannidis of AMG International says things are only slightly better than when the refugee influx into Greece began three years ago.
“You will not find the refugees in the mud these days, but you will find them in camps where the conditions are really not good,” he says.
An article published by Slate describes the situation in the camps, saying about 40 percent of the refugees are children. The risk of human trafficking is high. There has been slow progress to improve the situation. Ioannidis says while some families have been able to move into more permanent housing, most people are still living in tents and other temporary shelters.
Sugar and Tea: the gift of hospitality
From the beginning of the crisis, AMG International has been there to offer food and shelter. Until last year, their time with each refugee was brief. That’s because most of them were only passing through Greece to get to Western Europe.
AMG did what it could to make each person feel welcome while they were there. When you’re in a strange place among a strange people, the gift of something familiar is a powerful one.
“Part of our efforts were to provide basic material for them. And, of course, if you’re coming from places like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, tea and sugar are very important. It is a part of the basic essentials they use, it is essential for hospitality,” Ioannidis explains.
A shift in ministry
But then, the northern border was closed down, stranding tens of thousands in Greece with the only option to enroll in the slow asylum approval process. Ioannidis says more refugees are coming into the country, but at a slower rate than before.
With the movement of refugees out of Greece slowed down, AMG International saw opportunity not only to be hospitable, but to build relationships.
“It has gone way beyond basic essentials like tea and sugar and just spending a little bit of time with them [and] engaging with them on a more long-term basis. And this has opened some amazing doors to show God’s love, to share God’s love, and we are seeing a lot of fruit in a lot of ways.”
AMG is running a day center that provides a variety of services. Here, refugees can do laundry, shower, get counseling, as well as get assistance for paperwork and language and job training. Additionally, they can get medical care here. They are about to open two more of these hotspots.
It is in an environment of hospitality that people begin to ask about Jesus.
“As we are able to show God’s love, and these individuals see we genuinely care and love them as creatures made in the image of God, they naturally ask the question, why are we doing this? And this opens the way to explain to them why we are there, why we are doing what we’re doing, that God’s love compels us to do things like that.”
Ioannidis says many people have been receptive. They’ve come from environments that have been destroyed by violence that began with Islam. They are looking for hope.
Some who have become Christians have even joined the ministry, working as translators for Arabic and Farsi speakers.
Additionally, the Church has been growing among the refugee and immigrant populations in Greece. “One report says there are 90 churches that have been started in the last 10 years…which shows how God is moving among these people He’s bringing to Greece.”
The refugee conversation
This story is part of a global conversation on the risks of letting refugee populations into other countries. Especially in the West, there is a growing sense of fear and mistrust when it comes to refugees.
Despite this, Ioannidis says the Church continues to support their outreach in Greece. He says the truth is, most of the fears aren’t based on facts.
“Of course, we have to be cautious, we have to be prudent. But at the same time, there is no doubt, again, from the perspective of the Body of Christ, that the Lord is bringing the nations to us. These are people who are fleeing violence themselves, and whom we otherwise would not be reaching.”
So how can you help?
One way to help is to keep learning. Do research and learn about the people behind the numbers. Keep learning about refugees,
You can also find opportunities to serve with AMG here.
And finally, Ioannidis says, pray “that God would continue to work in the hearts of refugees and that the Lord will also use His people to provide for the resources needed.”