Working with refugees

LU Send Now students go to Greece and Macedonia on first international trip

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are currently 59.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world. As a response, LU Send Now sent its first international team to the border of Greece and Macedonia to serve at a refugee camp near the Idomeni village in Greece. For the past five years, the refugee crisis has plagued the Middle East, causing refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and migrants from other countries to evacuate their homes and countries in search of safety in a new land.

“There is all this war taking place right in people’s homes, which is causing the largest refugee crisis since World War II,” Vince Valeriano, LU Send Now coordinator and a team leader on the trip, said. “So with something that is so historically significant, we need to step up and respond to this.”


The trip took place Feb. 13-20, and in that time, the team of six students and three leaders sorted clothing items by gender, style and size, organized containers, passed out bags to help refugees carry their belongings, and spent time listening to their stories. According to Moriah Thompson, a student on the trip, the first few days the team was at the camp were slow and quiet, which offered the opportunity to sit and talk with refugees in the camp waiting for permission from the police to cross the border.

“The purpose of it was to go and help out with the refugees in any way that we could,” Thompson said. “Basically it was just to go and show them love, and while we were there, (we looked for opportunities) to be able to witness to them and share the gospel.”

According to Valeriano, one of the non-governmental organization workers in Greece described the team as the most gospel-sharing group he ever had come help. On Tuesday evening, Feb. 16, an Iranian woman proclaimed faith in Jesus Christ after Nastinka Morgan, a team leader on the trip, shared her story and answered questions the woman had in her native language, Farsi.

“She was a beautiful example of how God uses the entire body together to work and how many people had planted seeds in her life,” Morgan said.

According to Morgan, the Iranian woman’s husband had already been a believer for two years and was constantly praying for his wife. He spent that night back in Athens, about 340 miles south of the Idomeni camp, waiting to rejoin his family the next day.

“I was there at the right time and the right place,” Morgan said. “She was anxious, extremely fearful, brokenhearted, and … desperate for help, and I just told her that Jesus was that help.”

The next day her husband arrived at the camp, and he was reunited with his wife and two children. Later that day they crossed the border into Macedonia and were on their way to Germany.

“Seeing them reunite the next day was probably the most beautiful thing I have ever witnessed,” Courtney Seiler, a student on the trip, said.

After returning to campus, many of the students expressed how heartbroken they were for the people they encountered and talked with while overseas. All of them expressed the burden they felt to share their experience with people and the need to make people aware of what was going on across the world.

SERVE — Liberty students dropped everything and traveled overseas Feb. 13-20 to work at  a refugee camp in Greece. Photo credit: Matt Pierce

SERVE — Liberty students dropped everything and traveled overseas Feb. 13-20 to work at a refugee camp in Greece. Photo credit: Matt Pierce

Spencer Gravely, a senior global studies student said she began praying a few months ago for God to strike revival in refugee camps. When Valeriano asked her if she wanted to go on the trip, she immediately said yes.

“I wanted to see firsthand the crisis and the deep, dark, raw reality of the crisis in order to tell the stories, to be an advocate and a catalyst to people here,” Gravely said.

On the final day in the camp, the team was split into two locations, at the camp near the border and about 15 miles away at a gas station, where buses full of refugees and migrants would wait until the police allowed more buses to arrive at the camp. Gravely was at the camp where she connected with a family of five. As she approached them, she noticed the 18-year-old boy was playing with his scar that ran all the way up his arm.

After spending some time with the family, Gravely asked how the boy received that scar. He responded by telling her that it was because of ISIS and that he had also seen his father beheaded by ISIS.

“He physically carries that heart wound on his arm,” Gravely said.

Gravely, whose passion is visual storytelling, desires to use her gifts and abilities in photography to tell the stories of the people she came into contact with so others can know and advocate on their behalf.

“For me and the people that went on this trip, we have tasted and seen in a very physical, tangible way, and now we are responsible,” Gravely said. “But there’s not a single person at this university, or even in this nation, who is not counted as responsible because they have seen and they have heard, and the reality is they are even if they haven’t physically touched the reality.”

Since the arrival of the team back in the U.S., the situation has heightened in Greece, including the introduction of a new refugee camp in Thessaloniki, about 53 miles from the camp where the team served in Idomeni. Although Syrian, Iraqi and Afghani people were once allowed to cross the border into Macedonia, officials have ceased letting Afghani people cross the border, and there are now thousands of people staying at the camp for extended periods of time.

According to Valeriano, the non-governmental organization Liberty worked with said there is still a huge need for volunteers to work with refugees.

Pierce is a news reporter.

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