Greece: Breaking fast with Muslim refugees

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As the days have passed at the refugee camp, there have been families I’ve come to know and love, children who I could see playing on my street back in Plano, or younger adults who would fit in perfectly at my university. How bittersweet is it that I get to put names and faces to the people I’ve only ever heard about on the news?

Recently, our team visited the camp once more for a 4 p.m.-10 p.m. shift. It’s been a few days into Ramadan. As we entered the camp, my teammate Madalyn and I saw two ladies from an Afghan family who had invited us into their tent earlier that week. We thought we were going to hang out for a little while, but we walked into their unit and saw they had an entire dinner laid out on the carpet.

I was shocked. Here I stood, a girl who has a home to go back to and who expected to “serve” these refugees who did not have a home to return to. There they stood, offering whatever little they had to share with my teammate and me. My first instinct was prideful. I thought: “Oh, no! I came here to bless them. I’m supposed to be feeding them—not the other way around.”

That is when the Holy Spirit convicted me. Why should I be so prideful and not accept the blessings of others? So, I sat down with them to break fast.

We watched them pray to Allah. As we ate, we got to know them more, and they explained they loved Ramadan. They are so dedicated to their religion, despite the suffering they have been through. Their boat had capsized on their journey from Turkey to Greece, and at one point, all of their children were under water. They barely escaped with their lives, and yet they found ways to honor their beliefs.

They’ve been detained in the refugee camp about four months and have no idea when they can move on. They spent the night praying, eating, singing and dancing with us. We found out later, if Muslims invite you to break fast with them, it is a big deal. Even the family members, the aunts and children who didn’t practice Ramadan, weren’t allowed eat with them, but they invited us—a couple of Christians—to dine in their household. It was such an honor and an experience I never will forget. But at the same time, it broke my heart. As they sat and prayed facing Mecca, Madalyn and I prayed as well. They were loving us, just as Jesus called us to love others, but they didn’t even know it. They fasted so that they could seek Allah. Madalyn and I prayed that they would find Jesus. 

The following day, our team of 11 split up and four of us volunteered to do a 24-hour shift at Skala, which is a Stage 2 refugee camp. Typically, no one willingly volunteers to be at Skala, since there haven’t been many refugees since the EU-Turkey Accord in March. However, Eurorelief requires a team to be there, just in case a few boats happen to get past the Turkish Navy.

I really didn’t want to go, but when my leader asked for volunteers, I felt the Lord nudging me to go. After a few moments of awkward silence, I listened to the Holy Spirit and volunteered. Honestly, I was quite bitter about it for a while. I felt that I needed to be at the other camp, since I’ve been forming so many relationships there. At the moment, I didn’t quite understand what the Lord was doing.

Nevertheless, I woke up bright and early for my shift, got to camp, ate breakfast, took a nap and headed into the village to buy groceries for our dinner with my other teammate, Regina. I forgot to buy a few items. So, she went ahead to pick up our lunch in the cafe next door while I stayed behind. As I was leaving the store, I heard someone call out, “Where are you from?” I responded, “America!” The questioner was an elderly man sitting outside the grocery store, and he gave me a look as if to say, “No, where are you really from?” So, I sighed and answered, “The Philippines.” He seemed satisfied with that answer and introduced himself.

We then talked more, and he said his daughter owned the grocery store I just left, and she also happened to be the clerk who checked out my purchase. He told me his story—about how he was born and raised in Columbia, lived in Corpus Christi and then moved to Greece. He’s been here 32 years and has seen the devastation of the refugee crisis.

His daughter came out to talk to us and introduced herself. At this point, my teammate had joined us. She told her story of how she grew up in Athens and came to be here. Somewhere in the conversation, things turned spiritual. They shared their beliefs about how corrupt religion is. The father grew up Catholic. He hated it, and so did the daughter. They grew into their own beliefs and came to the conclusion God is inside all of us and inside everything. They don’t believe in Jesus as Lord, but they both believe he was a great teacher.

As we spoke, I prayed God would open their hearts to whatever I was going to say. I got a chance to tell them I also dislike religion. I told them Jesus came so we could have union with God through him and not through a priest or through rules. Before we said goodbye I asked if I could pray for them. I said, “I pray they realize your love for them and that you loved them so much you sent Jesus to die on the cross for them.” At that point, I felt the daughter reach out and grab my arm. I looked up and saw that the daughter’s eyes were filled with tears. She, too, had a bad experience with Christians, and I’m sure this was different for her.

She and her father gave me the longest hug and made me promise I would come back again. At that moment, I realized this was why God wanted me at Skala. I may not have been with the people I’ve been building relationships with at the other camp, but that day, God wanted me to care for another two souls. I am in awe of God’s power and am thankful I chose to step out and follow the Holy Spirit. Otherwise,  I never would have met them. Obedience first. Understanding later. 

God has done mighty things in Greece, working in the lives of those who claim it as home and in the lives of those who do not. By faith, I know God will continue this work in all of their lives, long after I say goodbye.

Ginnie Yu, a senior at the University of Texas at Dallas, is serving with Go Now Missions in Lesvos, Greece.

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