My Displacement in Athens

After engaging in intensive and intentional ministry to the Syrian refugees in Jordan, I knew my opportunities to serve in Athens would look different.

I arrived with some baseline expectations, though. I would work with Helping Hands, a 20+ year old refugee ministry, my first day, and an American church, serving all summer throughout Greece, the next three days. Leading up to this leg of my trip, I had been emailing back and forth with the latter contact. But, as soon as I settled into the Carolina Hotel in the heart of Athens, my contacts went dark. I had no information about where to go, who to meet, and at what time to be there for three full days of service. I reached out to the American church 2 or 3 times, but heard nothing. Four full days of service in Athens, and three of those days had been wiped off the calendar. On top of that, they offered me housing for those three days, and since things went silent, I was homeless for more than half the trip.

I was displaced on my pilgrimage.

I told Helping Hands of my situation when I served with them. Immediately, they offered me a guest apartment to stay in rent free and called two local ministries to see if I could serve with them. They also invited me to attend church with them this morning. Within a span of 24 hours, I went for jobless and homeless, to fully provided for.

Over the past two days, I have been able to talk to a few refugees who stories differ a bit from the ones I heard in Jordan. In Jordan, the families I spoke to had all come from Syria and the nuclear family unit was generally intact. Cousins, siblings, and older parents may be dispersed throughout the Middle East, Europe, or North America; but parents with kids were mostly together. While some were tired of life in Jordan, having been stranded there for 2 or 3 years, they were at least together.

Those I have met here, though, have been stuck in Athens for many years – many of them alone.

  • I met a Sudanese man who has been in Athens for 13 years and still hasn’t received an EU passport. He pleads with the Greek government every few months, and they keep telling him to wait and be patient – it will come. Jobless and homeless, his patience is wearing thin.
  • I played ping pong with an Iranian man who fled to Athens 5 years ago. He has been bound to a wheel chair for 10 years because of a car accident he had. Feeling has returned, ever so slightly, to his legs, so he believes he could walk again! But the surgery he needs on his back can’t be done in Athens. He went to Germany for a consultation, but, for reasons that were unclear to me, he was sent back. He approached the U.S. embassy for a visa to go to America, but they said he needs a sponsor. 10 years in a wheel chair, money to spend to fix his back and through proper PT, be able to walk again, but he is stuck.
  • I talked with a man, in between getting beat in ping pong by the man in a wheelchair, with an Afghan man who has been stuck in Athens for 9 years. He is the only one from his family here. The only joy he gets is playing ping pong and conversing with the others at Helping Hands. 37 years of age, single, and alone; displaced and stranded.
  • I met another Persian man – older, but built like an ox – who played ping pong with us. He played with both his right and left hand, and afterwards, he carried the man in the wheel chair down the stairs by himself. An impressive individual. His wife and 7 year old son have settled in Hamburg, Germany, but he hasn’t been allowed to leave Greece. He longs to be with his family, and hopes to rejoin them in a few months, but his hopeful responses were masked in a veil of hesitance.

While I am incredibly thankful my displacement, amongst a sea of strangers in a foreign land, lasted a mere 24 hours, our brothers and sisters are not as fortunate. The churches in Greece – evangelical, orthodox, liturgical – are providing many services, in the name of Jesus, so the refugees can experience the peace of being rooted in a particular place, but they are overwhelmed. May our prayers and finances help promote permanent placement for refugees of all races and creeds in desirable, safe countries, and may we help support those individuals and ministries, locally and abroad, in their goal of accomplishing these things.

Justin

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