Greece (MNN/OM) — When asked about the priorities and principles guiding Operation Mobilization (OM) Greece’s refugee relief efforts, OM country leader Gabby Markus had one answer: “to esteem and empower the church to fulfill the mission that God has called the church to do.”
“OM is an instrument in uniting the churches, not only physically but with aim, with goal, with purpose,” explained Edwin Cardenas, pastor of Word International Ministries church in Athens.
That aim, according to Gabby, is developing a sustainable Christian community in Greece–before, during, and beyond the refugee crisis.
“OM’s role in the body of Christ here in the refugee crisis is that we hope we can be the glue. When I say glue, I mean that I don’t want OM to be seen or known except that we will work with and through the churches for a sustainable Christian community here in Greece,” he said. “It’s not that it’s something that we just started doing during the refugee crisis, it’s something that OM has intentionally [done] already in the past, which fits in perfectly to one of our core values: esteeming the church.”
Therefore, OM’s response to the refugee crisis couples with that of its partners across Greece–with local churches and city officials in Athens and with EuroRelief and other aid organisations on the island of Lesbos.
OM is helping churches to prepare and distribute food to refugees, recruiting volunteers to run one of three children’s programmes at Galatsi refugee camp in Athens, and sending staff to help receive and aid the refugees arriving on Lesbos. In the office, OM staff and volunteers are working behind the scenes, preparing 4,500 hygiene packs to distribute through the churches to refugees on the streets and in transit camps.
Despite Gabby’s desire to remain invisible, others have noticed OM’s work. Fotis Romeos, general secretary of the Greek Evangelical Alliance, said, “OM has played a very vital role because it has a group of people here. There were staff members from the very first days [who] helped us tremendously as a church because all the people we have are volunteers. It’s a tremendous, tremendous help to have some Christian workers who are ready to go to the islands, to be ready to be on the front lines, to be ready to coordinate a lot of the areas.”
Even though OM has been present in the hot spots of the crisis–in Greece and further along the refugees’ journeys in the Balkans, *Robert Strong, coordinating the relief efforts of OM Europe, cautioned, “I think people need to really realise we are not a relief organisation. We are here to work with and alongside and to empower the local church. People need to understand that when they look at OM and what we can do…whatever we can do, we will do it hand-in-hand to see [the church] strengthened, to see them empowered to reach out to their countrymen and to those passing through their borders.”
On Lesbos, in particular, Robert said some organisations tend to focus on the beaches, where media crews continue to spotlight the horrible drama unfolding. OM, too, has received refugees at the water’s edge, but long-term volunteers, as well as island locals, have also seen OM working offshore: cleaning up campsites lacking proper sanitation and refuse disposal.
“These people are making a huge impact in the local community, and that’s what the people here locally really see,” he said. “There is nobody there with a camera, there is nobody there…taking pictures of that…. This is where a lot of the OM-ers and EuroRelief-ers have been working and cleaning it up, every day again and again, and not to be on the forefront. These are the kind of people we need.”
Calling for an international response
Echoing OM’s tagline, “Pray, Give, Go,” Fotis also listed three ways people can get involved.
1) Pray. “You can be praying, no matter where you are,” he encouraged.
2) Come. “You can find inexpensive flights to come here to Greece and help us in the front line, either in the islands or in the Athens area…. We need people, and we need them yesterday.”
3) Give. “Along with your prayers and your presence here, you can contribute… .This is something that will advance the Kingdom of God here as we see the whole church come together to serve the needy people.”
More volunteers are needed on the ground in Greece; however, the refugees’ journey does not end in Athens. They are “in the search for a safe haven, a place where they can be free,” Robert stated. “We call upon the church of Europe and beyond Europe to join hands and to really look after these people as they enter Europe in despair after lots of trauma. We pray that these people, in their search for freedom, will find Jesus because we believe that’s the only answer.
“We’ve seen here that the church in Greece is stepping up, not just one but a whole blend of churches. And we’re honoured as OM to serve those churches,” he continued. “Now you can do the same in your country. They will end up as your neighbour. Our call to the church in Europe is to welcome each and every refugee with open arms…welcome in the name of Jesus.”
An OM project called Safe Passage focuses on meeting refugees at their initial entry points, providing information as well as water, food and essentials. To give to OM’s relief efforts, or for more information about how to get involved, please contact your local OM office.
* Name changed for security