On a chilly January evening, an exhausted, but enthusiastic team of four landed in Athens, Greece. The following day we convened with more than 300 individuals who had been called to physically and spiritually serve the people caught in one of the biggest refugee crises the world has ever seen. The 300-member congregation was composed of an ethnically and linguistically diverse group of people from all over the world who were called by the Lord to serve refugees and to contribute their own melodies to the symphony of human experience and love. This was the genesis of YWAM United’s refugee outreach in Athens, Greece.
As many of you know, the number of globally displaced people is at an all-time high. One in every 122 human beings on Earth is either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. Half of those refugees are children. Refugee agencies estimate that 33,972 people a day are forced to flee their homes due to conflict and persecution. More than half of all refugees worldwide come from Somalia, Afghanistan, and Syria and seek refuge in neighboring Middle Eastern countries like Lebanon and Turkey and also in Western countries. Indeed, increasing numbers of refugees are taking their chances aboard unseaworthy boats in a precarious bid to reach Europe. The refugees attempting this dangerous passage are seeking international protection from war, violence, and persecution. Those who survive the treacherous voyage land in Greece. There are currently over 50,000 refugees in Greece and nearly 10,000 in Attica, the region where Athens is located.
In response to these numbers, YWAM bases worldwide have mobilized to bring the love of Jesus to the people behind the statistics. YWAM United is a collective initiative between multiple YWAM bases to make Jesus known together by unifying the body of Christ. The outreach in Athens, Greece, was the first outreach born out of this united and compassionate spirit. Multiple teams from YWAM LA were a part of the YWAM United refugee outreach. YWAM LA’s Justice DTS, Transformation DTS, School of Ministry Development, and the staff body had teams represented in Athens. We worked alongside other YWAM teams from across the United States, combining our skills, passions, and talents to bring the love and light of Jesus Christ to the refugees and to the city of Athens.
Every single day looked different during the three weeks we were altogether in Athens. Each day there were teams engaging in intercession and prayer, evangelizing, and doing ministry with refugees alongside our local partners. YWAM LA’s teams worked in medical clinics, schools, warehouses, refugee camps, and churches. YWAM United held a house of prayer every day that interceded on behalf of the refugees, the city of Athens, and the YWAM teams. Our ministry opportunities often included assisting the existing ministries that are serving refugees in Athens long-term. Our teams built gardens, mended leaking rooftops, taught English, played with children, sorted and distributed donations, painted in refugee camps, met medical needs, and taught classes in basic healthcare and nutrition. In addition, our intercession teams prayed, worshipped, and received prophetic words. YWAM teams witnessed dozens of healings and salvations. In all, it was a true blessing to serve the physical and spiritual needs of the refugees in Athens alongside so many devoted and inspiring followers of Christ.
One of the highlights of the trip for me was teaching English at a local church. Ever since I was in elementary school I have been passionate about education, especially for young girls who often do not have the same access to education that I was lucky enough to have. During these English lessons, we got to sit next to Iranian refugees and help them practice grammatical concepts. An important aspect of these lessons was simply having conversations in English to improve comprehension and skill. This meant that we got to engage in dialogue with the students and hear their stories. One of the students that I spent a lot of time with was a 13-year old girl from Iran. I will call her Grace. She loves to draw, play music, bake, and braid hair. She is absolutely brilliant and has an amazing level of proficiency in English. She has a bright, infectiously cheerful spirit that exudes joy. Towards the end of one of our English lessons, the teacher gave us space to talk about our faith. She asked us to share our favorite Bible verses with one another. Grace told me that her favorite Bible verse was Matthew 14:13-21, or the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. I looked up the chapter and Grace asked if she could read it to me. She ended up reading all of Matthew 14 out loud and in English. She didn’t understand everything she was reading, but she read with so much conviction and authority. Hearing her passionately speak of the miracles of Jesus was absolutely breathtaking. I left so inspired by her faith in Jesus and by her joyful attitude in the midst of tragically difficult circumstances.
That is one example in a sea of them of the remarkable and brave people we all got to meet on this trip. Through our relationships with people, the Lord really challenged me to confront my own preconceptions about refugees – about what I had assumed they think, feel, or believe. It is easy, and even natural, to group these enormous numbers of people into very limiting categories like the poor, refugees, or orphans. It is understandable why we do this, but I believe that every now and then we should remember that behind the statistics and the news headlines are people who are mothers, fathers, children, grandparents, husbands, wives, friends, engineers, artists, and a million more characteristics that make us living, breathing human beings formed by God.