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Posts Tagged ‘refugees’

rain in athensIt was raining hard this morning when we woke up in Athens.  Our apartment for this LST project is near the center of the city, so we are surrounded by tall buildings which block the sun a bit.  All this to say, that it was really a dark, rainy morning.

Sherrylee and I take Uber to the church building every day, so upon arriving, we went up to the third floor where Sherry’s classroom is. The church has only had access to the third floor for about five months, so, of course, there is no electricity yet. To explain the delay would take the whole page, so let’s just say it is always moderately dark on an average sunny day, and on a dark, rainy day, Sherry wondered how her students would be able to do their work—and there were no ready answers.

At the morning huddle, we were warned not to go near the government offices downtown because anarchists have gathered from all over Europe to demonstrate for . . . . no, against governments, I think. Eleni also said that probably only ten people would come today because people from super dry climates don’t like to get out in the rain, especially with their children, so our clothing distribution this afternoon was postponed and our common meal scaled down.

All in all, it promised to be a rather dark, dreary day.

At the end of our English classes for the day, we have a 30-minute devotional with all the participants, where we talk about God in four different languages.  Everything is translated, so one minute of a message takes four minutes to deliver to all the participants.

About one minute before we started, I was asked to present the message at the devotional.  Maybe because we had all been dealing with the weather all day, I thought to myself, Jesus said many things about rain, so let’s talk about rain.  I did a quick search and actually chose a passage from Acts 14, where Paul and Barnabas talk about rain to the people of Lystra

We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

We had expected 10, but we had about 50 Syrians, Iranians, Iraqis, Kurds, and others who gathered to hear the word of God that said the rain is God showing kindness on them, showing Himself to them, so they can find Him. And God not only gives you rain and crops that become the food that fills your stomachs, He also wants to feed you spiritually so that your hearts will be full of joy!  I concluded by saying,

So when you go out in the rain today, don’t let it depress you or make you afraid. Remember that this rain is an act of kindness to you from the Living God who loves you. Let that give you joy and make you want to know and trust this Living God.

The message to the people of Lystra was still powerful and alive for the people of Athens two thousand years later.  It wasn’t a dark day after all!

 

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refugees welcomeI visited with a Christian man from Albania today who moved to Greece seven years ago because he felt called to plant a church among the million Albanians who had fled to Greece in the 80s and 90s.  The Soviet Union was quite successful in purging all of its satellites—but especially Albania–of Christianity, so the million Albanians then in Greece seemed like a ripe mission field.  He and his family moved to Greece and began a church which then multiplied into other Albanian churches throughout Greece.

When the refugees started pouring into Athens, these Albanian Christians felt like they had to do something in spite of the fact that many of them had been refugees themselves. Every evening, they now go out on the streets of Athens looking for homeless, hungry, and otherwise needy refugees. On the spot, they give them sandwiches and clothes and try to give them information to help them find long-term solutions.

While I was visiting with my new Albanian friend, Sherrylee was visiting with a Brit who is in Athens running an organization that helps Muslim refugees who become Christians find housing. Most of these new Christians are refugees who have nothing anyway, but when they become Christians, they often are expelled from their family, harassed by their community, and sometimes physically attacked by their former Muslim friends.  These people literally leave everything and everyone they know in order to follow Jesus.

About the time we were finishing these conversations, an American attorney from Colorado walked up and put the keys to the upstairs in my pocket to return for him.  He and another attorney are in Athens for two weeks to give free legal counsel to refugees.  The Omonia church is providing them meeting space so that they can help the refugees coming to the church for help.

Jesus in Egypt

This is not a Christmas picture. This family is seeking refuge in Egypt!

While Elena (one of the missionaries at the Omonia church in Athens) was telling the group about the attorneys who would be here for two weeks, a refugee spoke up and asked if any doctors were coming. She said, “Not yet, but we hope some will come later!” 

Then she told the 70-80 people in the room not to be afraid because God loved them and that He is near. He is not far away, and if anyone tells them differently, then they were not telling the truth. (I love her boldness!)  She then asked everyone to stand for the time of prayer: I prayed in English, one brother prayed in Arabic, and another in Farsi. After the prayer, the church fed all us.

Here we were . . . in a room full of Muslims . . . praying to Our Father, who is an Unknown God to many of them . . . in languages that most often curse Christians . . . with Christian workers from countries that American Christians usually consider mission fields . . . . breaking bread.

I pray that you can imagine yourself in this room too—because God is here!

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“We used to pray for God to open the doors to the Middle East,” the tired missionary said today after supper, “but when he did we were naked—totally unprepared!”  I was reminded of those days not so long ago when all the talk at every missions conference was about the 10-40 window, that band around the earth between 10  and 40 degrees north of the equator.  We were always reminded that two-thirds of the world’s population lived in that band and that the countries in that belt included the least Christian and least accessible countries to Christian missionaries.

40_Window_world_map

               My second thought was less noble, i.e., that we had truly prayed for open doors, but we wanted those doors to be open over there, so that we could send the Gospel to them. We did not really want the doors to open the other direction and have all of those people in our neighborhood.

               But God’s ways are not our ways!  Today, here in Athens, I sat at the table with two young men born in Syria, and we read the story of Jesus. A tall, blonde 18-year-old sat down to join us. He is an American citizen, born in Pakistan and raised in Afghanistan.  I had hoped that the Iraqi Kurd would join us, but he was too busy registering new people for English classes as they walked in the door.  He did, however, have time to introduce me to two Iranians, whom we invited to join us tomorrow.

               So if we finally do recognize that God has moved millions of Muslim people out of their countries—at least temporarily—and moved them mostly to Greece and Italy and Germany, are we western Christians indeed unprepared—naked??

               The first step in preparing is to open our hearts to those God is bringing to us! God so loved the world . . . so His children will love the world as well.  And we will know who our neighbor is. As Jesus preached it, the neighbor was the Samaritan, the foreigner. Not the fear of terrorism, not the fear of lost jobs, not the fear of social impact, there is no justification for ignoring the homeless, penniless refugees who have fled religious or political persecution and who have knocked on our door asking for help.

That is why this church of Christ in Athens has opened its doors to any needy person who walks in the door. Their work is horribly underfunded and understaffed and amazingly under-organized, BUT God has provided them with the ability to do more than they could have ever imagined—just as He has promised to do for all of his obedient children.  At least hundreds and probably thousands of refugees have come through their doors. They have been noticed, fed, clothed, served, and taught about Jesus—unashamedly!

We who lead churches in America need to check our hearts to see if they are open or shut to all people who God brings into our neighborhood.  Our missionary (btw, a woman) told us about a church in Norway that had refused to let a woman in a hijab (head covering) enter their building to join their assembly. I wonder how our American churches would respond to the same situation?

Don’t pray for doors to open unless you are ready for your own front door to open!

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Glasco ChristianOne week ago we were worshipping with a little Christian church in Glasco, Kansas, of which in 1870, my great-great grandfather Mahlon Woodward and his wife Mary Ann were founding members.  After lunch at church with people who knew my grandparents and my dad, we accidentally went to a poetry reading that had been advertised as a Smithsonian program on Kansas waterways! I suppose towns of 500 can’t be picky!

Today, one week later, Sherrylee and I worshipped with the Omonia Church of Christ in Athens, Greece! Ten days or so ago, the missionaries in Athens put out a call for immediate help with their English program for refugees. Some very generous donors called us and said that they would sponsor us, if we were able to go, so here we are, getting ready to start tomorrow helping people mostly from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Kurdistan, and Afghanistan improve their English and become better acquainted with Jesus. 

MunichOur international flight was via Munich, a new airport, but the same city where in 1971 two pretty clueless young newly-weds landed and began their mission journey together.  We are slower than we were then, but wiser, I hope—certainly more experienced.  While we have definitely changed, the world has changed also. When we left for Munich in 1971, Christians faced Iron Curtains and Cold Wars and Walls. We could just barely drive to Berlin back then, much less the Arab world. Now Christians can go to a small church building in Athens and work in the Middle East. Look around your neighborhood and tell me the world has not changed and that the nations are not coming!

So we may need to work differently than we did forty-six years ago, but people are still riding around in their chariots and saying, who will help me understand what I’m reading here about Jesus.  And God still uses those he has used before–regardless of their job status or age–to serve and teach Searchers.

Sherrylee and I will be in Athens for three weeks, and I hope to post regularly.  Pray for us—for health and strength and courage and boldness.

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