We have all been deeply moved by the recent images of refugees pouring into Europe from the Arab world. The magnitude of human suffering in the Middle East, now spilling over into Europe, is beyond comprehension.
Thousands of people are stranded in Greece, living in refugee camps. First hand reports tell us there are as many as 14 families living in one tent and people are waiting over an hour to use a limited number of portable toilets. There are countless unattended minors who are lost and unsure what to do; mothers who are traveling alone with multiple children; and evil people who are taking advantage of the vulnerable by leading into them into a dark world of smuggling and slave trade. As Christians, we cannot idly stand by and ignore this suffering.
Two immediate ways we can respond include prayer and financial giving. Cedar Springs offers a designated Europe Refugee Crisis Fund.
Despite the despair, there is a positive dimension to the refugee tragedy. In the 14 centuries of Islam, it's fair to say we haven't seen an openness to the gospel like we're seeing today.The citizens of Arab and Persian nations are beginning to question the Islamic worldview, and even reject it. Add to this the diaspora that's taking place in Europe, and people are beginning to have an openness to a way that's never been presented to them.
There is an urgency for Christians to respond not just by meeting the refugees' physical needs, but also their spiritual cries. In Luke 9:3, Jesus says to his disciples, "Take nothing for your journey...," and in Luke 10:2 he says, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." In an agrarian society, everyone pitched in at harvest time because there was a limited timeframe to gather the crops. Ultimately, Jesus was teaching us that where there is an openness to the gospel, we should act quickly.
We recognize there are medium and long-term needs that are typically not met by government and aid organizations. While people reside in temporary housing and wait for red-taped processing, there are spiritual needs that can be met through loving, serving, and sharing the gospel.
As a church, Cedar Springs has already financially responded to the crisis in these locations: Athens, Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Helsinki, Lebanon, and Stuttgart. We're also formulating a more holistic approach to support the local churches in Europe. We're mobilizing churches, plus assisting and equipping them to be able to respond practically and evangelistically. Thus, we're in the process of connecting the American churches with European churches and ministries so they can share resources and inspire others to respond.
One exciting example of a partnership between the European and American church is the Houses of Hope project. We're seeking individuals and families who want to come alongside First Presbyterian Church-Athens in an effort to provide housing and build relationships with refugees who have the most serious needs, like pregnant women or young mothers with school-age children. If you'd like more specific information about the Houses of Hope initiative, which is open to individuals and/or Sunday School classes & small groups, please email us!
To better understand what life really looks like right now for a refugee in Europe, check out other compelling, refugee-related posts at reclamationstories.org. If you'd like to learn more about the refugee ministry in Knoxville, go here.