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Stories from the Field: Lesvos, Greece

At first, when we got the assignment for Greece, we were a little bummed. Our initial thoughts were “Oh great, a trip to Europe. I thought missions was supposed to be hard?” The ego of a 20-something is a beautiful thing, is it not? But when we were told that we’d be working in a refugee camp on the island of Lesvos, it felt like we would be doing real missions. We were educated on the refugee crisis as much as possible by the partnering missionaries there and told to be flexible, seeing as how we had little to no expectations of what we would experience on arrival.

We partnered with Greater European Mission, which operates under the umbrella of Euro Relief, to serve in the camp. Euro Relief is one of the only Christian organizations left working in the overpopulated prison-turned-refugee-camp that has not lost funding. To understand the overall climate inside, imagine a place surrounded by tall fences with barbed wire, guarded gates, exhausted living space, limited funds, volunteer laborers, and desperate people. And amidst this difficult environment exist people who represent every race/ethnicity, political belief, status of wealth, and religion all squeezed onto an island recovering from economic collapse and slow asylum processes. Regardless, this is where Christ had called us to go as his hands and feet.                                                                                                          

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’” “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” Matthew25: 35-36& 40

Our days were broken up into 8-hour shifts where we would pass out basic needs like food, clothing, and means of shelter. Much of our time was also spent monitoring the different section gates to make sure the right people got to the right places, but the language barriers made it difficult to communicate, so we did our best to learn what we could of Arabic, Farsi, French, and Kurdish. Seeing the desperation in a mother’s eyes in need of formula for her child, families sleeping on top of each other in a tent, a man in need of a blanket on a chilly night, or the clever bartering of children to get more food didn’t require a common language to be understood. But even with all of this, it was there at the gates that we built relationships and had spiritual/gospel conversations.

Carefully we began talking about Christ and the message of reconciliation in this majority-Muslim, male population. There could be no record of our conversations or the Greek military could remove Euro Relief from serving the people, which would leave the people without any long-term missions organizations. In two conversations with two different men, we could see the work God was doing in Lesvos. One man who had landed on the conclusion that his labor for Allah would be enough to guarantee his paradise still conversed with us for an hour over the holes in his eternal hopes. The other man openly prayed in the wee hours of the morning with one of the City Project interns asking to learn more about Jesus. Praise God! Lastly, on our second Sunday, we prayed for God to move in Greece and got the chance to worship among the people in an off-site church. We sang in French and Arabic, which was such a taste of heaven.

These explicit glimpses of how God is in control of the refugee crisis sustained us in moments where it felt hopeless. On a day when we were not in the camp, we visited what is known as the “life jacket graveyard” in the neighboring town of Molyvos. In this landfill lay thousands of life jackets, boats, rubber boats, and tires refugees had used to make the dangerous cross by night from Turkey. Suddenly we could see a visual representation of all the heartbrokenness and depravity that had come from this war; how the side effects of sin had brought so much pain; and how our own sin was no better than the sin that had led to this crisis. Looking at those piles of rubble was like staring in our own hearts. In that moment I was grateful for a Savior who has the power to save those who had caused a lifejacket graveyard to exist in the same way that He can save me.

“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” Hebrews 11:16

Psalm 46 was the scripture we held onto in the many moments of grief. Through ethnic riots, evacuations, fires, ambulance rides, and other difficult moments, we were reminded that our God is sovereign and we were encouraged to see Euro Relief so strategically placed, acting as the hands and feet of Jesus.

Was it safe? No! But it is where we were called to go and I hope we will continue to go to hard places so that Christ may be glorified.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress (10-11).”

3 Reasons to Do Something Big on Serve Saturday

Do you want to be a part of something big? That question naturally peaks our interest, and we lean in. On July 29th, we have the opportunity as a church to join together to serve local organizations and schools, in love, as a response to the love that the Lord shows us. Serve Saturday is an annual event in which we hope to see hundreds of people from Mercy Hill mobilized to make tangible impressions of the gospel in our community. If that isn’t enough to get you moving, below are three reasons why you should clear the calendar and join Serve Saturday.

  1. Supplying the Front Lines

We hear the statistics often of the impact that poverty, unplanned pregnancy, and addiction are having on people in the Triad, and as Christians our hearts should break as we mourn the pain and struggle that accompany those in these situations. Ultimately, we recognize that there is hope, and we have the joy of seeing lives being changed through the work of organizations that we get to champion. Serve Saturday gives us the opportunity to “supply” four specific organizations that are on the front lines. It is our prayer that the projects that we will complete bolster their efforts, strengthen their staff and volunteers, and equip them for the tasks in front of them. While painting, cleaning, and landscaping projects may seem simple, they aid our front line friends in bigger ways than we know.

  1. Building Bridges

When your doorbell rings and you are not expecting a visitor, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? If you are like me, you will probably peak out the window, trying not to be noticed to see who is on the porch. From that vantage point, a decision is made as to what will happen next. Numerous responses ranging from turning off the lights and pretending not to be home (I’ve never done that and I’m sure you haven’t either) to opening the door and greeting friends with a hug. So, what causes the different reactions? The answer: Trust.

With the four organizations we get to serve on July 29th, we are essentially standing on the front porch and ringing the doorbell. They have chosen to open the door, and we are being given an awesome opportunity to love them well. They have shared some needs, and it is our goal to meet those needs to the best of our ability. We want to be a blessing and not a burden on them. Ultimately, our involvement in one day will help to continue building a bridge of trust between our church and them. Your participation can make a huge impact.

  1. Serve Saturday Is for Everyone

Since all other community ministry events throughout the year are done within Community Groups, Serve Saturday offers a unique opportunity for anyone and everyone to get involved. We have specifically tried to think of ways for kids, teens, college students, and adults of all ages to get involved at each location. Parents, we want you to bring your kids; we want to have situations where older adults are working alongside young adults; we want new relationships to be formed as you serve together. There is no prior experience required to get involved. To see the four serve locations, read a brief description of their ministry, and sign up to serve, please visit www.mercyhillgso.com/servesaturday

– Jonathan Spangler (Community Groups Coordinator)

Your Summer Game-plan

In case you haven’t noticed, which I’m sure you have, summer is finally upon us!

And I know each of us are looking forward to spending some much needed time in the sun (with the added bonus of that NC 100% humidity, of course). We do this because we all understand, at least at some level, that there should be seasons of hard work and seasons of rest. Both are important and both are God-given directives to be embraced.

We must however keep the two in balance. If we were to rest all of the time, then we would fall under the category of what the Bible calls “slothful.” The other extreme is to work hard incessantly. Neither is healthy if they are not kept in balance. We even embrace this balance in our Community Groups at Mercy Hill. We intentionally take the month of July off to rest!

Now, I know that many of you who are reading this are running on empty. You’ve had a thousand different things going on. You feel you can’t possibly juggle all of your responsibilities and commitments for a moment longer—whether it’s work, family, deadlines, or even Community Group. It could also be a plethora of other things. All you know is that you’ve been waiting for summer to come so you can slow this freight train down.

What I’d like to do with the rest (pun intended) of this post is to give you some tips on how to strike that balance; how to truly rest this summer while growing closer to those whom God has placed you in community with. My hope is that you will use these tips to formulate your summer “game-plan.”

  1. Use the Summer to Celebrate

Here’s something I can say with absolute confidence. God is at work, and he is still changing hearts and lives! Here’s something I can also say with equal confidence that often we are so focused on conquering the next hill that we forget the victories God has already won. I don’t know what you’ve been through this year, but I do know that God is good. With the times of relaxation that you find this summer, take time to reflect upon God’s grace. Celebrate all that he has done in your own life or in the lives of those you are close to.

  1. Use This Summer to Serve

Serve Saturday is coming up at the end of July. Serve Saturday is a great opportunity to meet real needs in our community in Jesus’ name. It’s also a great opportunity to deepen existing relationships and form new ones. On top of all of that, it’s a lot of fun and many of the serve opportunities are family friendly! We will announce all of the details about Serve Saturday in the coming weeks. For now, go ahead and block out July 29th on your calendar.

  1. Use This Summer to Sharpen

We have another round of Equip Seminars beginning July 10th. Equip Seminars are a great way to sharpen your intellect and to gain a deeper understanding of some really important topics including: Marriage and Family, Financial Peace, The Will of God, Defending the Faith in College, and How We Got the New Testament. Maybe you’ve wanted to do an Equip Seminar before but haven’t had the bandwidth. Use this summer to take advantage of this opportunity to grow in knowledge and understanding!

I hope this is helpful and that you all have a life-giving summer!

-Randy Titus (Community Groups Director)