As the apostle Paul wraps up one of his finest specimens of oratory which comprises the first eleven chapters of his letters to the church in Rome, he offers a few words of practical wisdom for everyday life (with God). Life hacks, if you will. “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Rom 12:9b), “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rom 12:12), and also: “Practice hospitality” (Rom 12:13b).
Now, if you look up that one word in Greek, “hospitality” (philoxenia), it simply means “love of strangers.” Love of those outside our familiar circles. Love of “the other.”
The 80+ participants who recently attended the Refugee Ministry Workshop in Athens, Greece, all understood that. For the most part, they had come from congregations which had no running refugee ministry. But they had considered the refugee situation prayerfully and understood God is sending us to the displaced the same way he had sent Paul to the Gentiles. Against cultural norms? Perhaps. But in line with the saving message of His love.
According to a recent UNHCR report, some 170,000 individuals have arrived on sea since the beginning of this year. Additionally, close to 165,000 persons have made it to the Italian shore during the same period of time. Other pockets exist elsewhere, on the EU border, including an estimated 6,400 refugees and migrants remaining temporarily in Serbia.
In the upcoming years, many of these individuals will move on to countries where they will require further assistance and—hospitality.
Niko Stefanides of Helping Hands drove this point home for the entire audience. Once, as he was ministering to the refugees, he was approached by an Afghani woman. “Who can help me? I want to become a Christian,” she said. When a volunteer sat down with the woman to discuss what she knew about Jesus and Christianity, she replied:
“I know nothing. Only the video, the Jesus film, and I’ve seen you—the way you are serving us, the way you are loving us, the way you are talking to one another. And I said [to myself], ‘If Jesus changed them, I want Him.’”
Matt Gulley, a Harding graduate working with Hellenic Ministries, addressed the other side of the coin: “There’s been a lot of fear, but there’s no place for fear in our lives and our ministry. (…) We need to confess it, repent of it, rebuke it, and get it out of our lives.”
Love, not fear. After all, perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). Or, going back to the words of the apostle Paul, “Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Rom 13:10).
The members of European churches who attended the Refugee Ministry Workshop are mindful of this. They see work with refugees and migrants as a great opportunity in European missions. As many of them said during the informal round of introductions, “We don’t have any refugee ministry—yet.” There is much hope in that last word.
We are grateful to the Glyfada Church of Christ for organizing the Refugee Ministry Workshop and to Partners in Progress who sponsored the event. We remain in prayers for all those who attended—from Albania, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Croatia, Slovakia, Germany, Austria, Switzerland (and more). May God make them a light to the nations—and may our ministry continue to be useful to them in bringing God’s Word to all who seek Him.
Refugee Christians singing a song in Farsi