|Posted by gramma on April 8, 2018 at 1:55 AM|
Wow, three weeks went very fast, but it has been a blessing in many ways. It has been humbling to see how much is done for so many as this church, and the many people who volunteer, seek to be followers of Christ. Eleni told us the other day that someone had estimated that in the last two and a half years over 1000 refugees had been touched by the ministry and around 600 volunteers from all over the world have given of their time to this work. Every Tuesday and Thursday, when lunch is served, it is rather hectic and opportunity for disaster is always there but volunteers and refugees alike step in when there is a need. Everyone looks after the myriad of kids that are everywhere, keeping them safe and in check.
To give you a taste of what some of these refugees have to go through, here is more of 'Mohammad's story. When he and his wife and son came to Greece 5 months ago, they walked from Iraq, all the way. This is his second attempt at asylum in Europe. In 2008, when he was still single, he left Iraq for Europe the first time. He flew from Iraq to Turkey to Jordan to Dubai to Tunisia to Libya to the Seychelles (Islands in the Mediterranean) to Dubai to South Africa to France. This all took 3 months. He stayed for a while in France but from there he travelled through northern Europe and ended up in Sweden. He sought asylum in Sweden for four years then they denied him and deported him back to Iraq! Back to square one.
On Thursday he shared that he is running out of patience. That's easy to understand. He and Steve prayed together that God would work in their lives and that he and his family be given patience to wait for God's timing. Keep them in your prayers.
'Mohammad' and his family live in what is called a 'squat'. Yes, it means what is sounds like. They live in one of several buildings that has been abandoned. They are squatting. Apparently it is more civilized than you might imagine. These buildings have been taken over by what Eleni described as 'anarchist' groups that are serving refugees outside government channels. 'Mohammad' showed me pictures and they looked clean and well-maintained. There were bulletin boards with neatly posted announcements, etc. Steve didn't get to visit a squat but last week he and a number of volunteers were able to visit briefly at a camp with 800 refugees about an hour and a half north of Athens. We were not aloud to take pictures except at the entrance, so a couple are included in the photo gallery. All in all it was not too bad, much of the camp was brand new, still a lot of people in a very small place and far from any town.
One theme that is emphasized over and over at Omonia is that 'We are a family; we are all on the same journey, Muslim and Christian.' Consequently everyone there, refugee and volunteers alike, has a sense of ownership in the ministry. As an example, a couple of young refugees were delighted to take some flowers that Eleni brought and create 'the Omonia garden' on the patio. And speaking of family, at least 3 of the refugee families have little daughters named Eleni and 3 more have little sons named Alex.
The progress of the students in Steve's class has been varied. Some have made great progress. Some are able to say a number of sentences about themselves with ease and answer questions about themselves. For others progress has been more difficult. At a gathering of refugees before worship last Sunday one of Steve's students shared(through an interpreter) that she does not read or write in ANY language. She may not be the only one in class either. Virtually all materials produced for teaching English as a second language are based on being able to read English. Consequently, Steve spent the last week of classes spending time teaching how to sound out words. Our classroom was often too small for the number of people who came(smaller kids and younger brothers were commonly there), it was usually hot even with paper blocking the sun somewhat, but everyone seemed to learn and enjoy the experience.
We are looking forward to returning to Athens in September to work in this remarkable ministry that only functions by the grace of God.