The ongoing European refugee crisis is no longer front-page news, but South Carolina Baptists have not forgotten about those who continue to live in heartbreaking circumstances as they are made to flee their homelands. In late May, twenty volunteers on two different South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC) teams returned from trips serving refugees living in Greece. The relief missions are another way for South Carolina Baptists to give all people groups, around the world, the opportunity to hear the hope of the gospel.
“The Bible speaks directly to the refugee issue. From Genesis to Revelation, we see that God’s people are a people on the move. The children of Israel were refugees, Abraham was a refugee, Paul calls us ‘wanderers and sojourners,’ because our citizenship is in heaven. There is an unrealized solidarity with the refugee crisis that Christians can tap into, just by reading scripture,” says Robbie McAlister, pastor of Riverbend Community Church in Lexington and coordinator for the trip.
Since 2015, it’s estimated that close to three million people have entered Europe as refugees, primarily from countries in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. On this, their fourth such trip, the SCBC teams served in a refugee camp designed for 2,000 people, but routinely houses more than 6,000. Due to the nature of the work, and because of partnerships with various worldwide organizations, volunteers are not allowed to openly share the gospel in the camps. However, if individuals inquire about why volunteers are helping, they are free to share.
“One goal of these trips is to alert and expose people to the refugee crisis. We also look for opportunities to share our faith, and we have been able to encourage those who are already believers,” McAlister says.
Adony Seizeme, pastor of the First Haitian Church in Anderson, used his native language to reach refugees living in another part of the country during the trip and preached in a Congolese church plant there. The International Mission Board has requested help from volunteers, like Seizeme, who can communicate with refugees living in the country who speak other languages.
“I am glad Adony was able to go share with refugees in Greece. He knows what it’s like to leave your home and live in another country. That cross-cultural experience prepared him for this opportunity. Hearing the gospel shared in the refugee’s heart language makes a tremendous difference. We would love to send others who are willing to go,” says Tim R., who leads the SCBC Missions Mobilization Team.
For his part, Seizeme says the opportunity to serve refugees internationally was meaningful. “I had the chance to meet different kinds of people and serve the sick and homeless on the streets. I visited with different families who were open to meeting with me and prayed with and counseled different people and families who were in familial conflicts,” he says.
“God is alive in the Muslim world right now, and we saw that multiple times on this trip. He prepared hearts before folks arrived at the camp. We just have to discover where God is at work, and join in,” McAlister says.
The Janie Chapman State Missions Offering provided resources and training for this team.