IDOMENI, Greece (BP) — A border crossing between Greece and Macedonia has presented what some Southern Baptists in Virginia believe is among the best opportunities in years to reach Muslims with the Gospel.
In the past four months, more than a quarter million people, most of them Muslim, have passed north into Macedonia through a border crossing at the Greek village of Idomeni. Many are refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan leaving family, homes and occupations to search for a life without war, turmoil and the threat of death. At a local refugee camp, Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia volunteer teams have sought to administer a humanitarian touch and find ways to share the saving message of Jesus.
“When you’re here in person, seeing the very real humanitarian need,” said SBCV executive director Brian Autry, “it is an opportunity for us to certainly share the love of Christ and to share the proverbial cold cup of water in obedience to the Lord Jesus.
“One of the most important things we can do is pray for these people,” Autry noted, “but the most immediate need is financial resources that we can put in the hands of missionaries and volunteers on the scene.”
Hadi is a refugee from Afghanistan who graduated from college and then saw nine of his friends killed by the Taliban. “I think for about 13 years was war in Afghanistan — about 13 years,” he said. “Now, I am 25 years old. I haven’t seen yet peace. What is peace?”
SBCV disaster relief director Jack Noble said Idomeni is a strategic site for ministry because of its status as a hub for refugees who end up scattered across Europe.
“Basically every refugee heading north, whether they are going to Sweden or Germany, comes through this one checkpoint,” Noble said. “Then the month of December when I was here, there were over 2,000 people that were camping here because they had been rejected at the border because they were not Syrian, Afghani or Iraqi.”
As of Jan. 25, only persons from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan were reportedly being allowed to cross the border to look for a new life in Europe.
The journey getting to the border crossing is treacherous. By the time migrants get to the refugee camp at Idomeni, many are willing to talk openly about their search for a new life and their hope for safety and security. That’s why opportunities for ministry abound.
One refugee who recently arrived in Greece after a dangerous boat ride across the Aegean Sea said of his trip, “In Turkey, there are a lot of traffickers, like mafia. They take your money and then send you on a boat.
“Help the people,” he pleaded. “The people are dying. People have no money. They have nothing. So, help the people.”
The SBCV plans to continue sending mission teams and resources to the border camp for the foreseeable future. It is also partnering with Liberty University and its newly created LU Send Now initiative, which sends quick-response teams across the world for urgent disaster relief and humanitarian work. Student volunteers are expected to arrive in Idomeni as soon as February.
“I have been following the refugee crisis for some time,” said LU Send Now coordinator Vince Valeriano, who accompanied an SBCV team on its latest trip. “I felt very strongly that the church needed to take action to help these people who are just like you and me that have been forced to leave everything because of violent oppressors.
“It is one thing to hear about it on the news,” said Valeriano, “but completely another being there in person with the refugees, hearing their stories and seeing their plight first hand. The refugees are begging for our help.”
Noble, of SBCV disaster relief, added, “The ministry opportunity is great. Volunteers are needed here on the Greece and Macedonia border. This is a 24-hour-a-day operation. Right here, you can do a 30-second touch, and if there is more time, you can make a lifetime touch by staying with them as they go through the refugee road.”
Valeriano believes this is a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
“I firmly believe this is one of the best opportunities the church has seen to reach the Muslim world,” he said. “What’s happening is unprecedented. Now, over a million people who were once extremely difficult and dangerous to reach with the Gospel are coming to open-access countries. We need to seize this golden opportunity to bring the love and Gospel of Jesus Christ to these people who have had little to no access to it.”