By Heather Bellamy
The questions are endless.
“I’ve had my money stolen on the metro. Can you help me? I haven’t eaten for three days. Do you guys have any food? Do you have Wi-Fi here? Are there bathrooms here? Can we sleep here for night? We heard the border is going to open soon. Is that true?”
They come from the Afghan, Syrian, and Iranian refugees stuck indefinitely in Athens, Greece, and are asked of us as they walk through the doors of “The Meeting Place.”
Opened in March 2016, by Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian disaster aid and relief organization, it welcomes more than 1,500 men, women and children a week into its space.
This former internet café has turned into a refuge for transit camp-weary families, and lost young men wandering the streets of Athens, where they can find the encouragement of a free hot drink and cookies, Wi-Fi, a place to stretch out on familiar floor cushions around traditional eastern gelim carpets and best of all, friendly welcomes in their own language, smiles and a listening ear.
Some 50,000 of these refugees have been trapped for over a month between the Aegean Sea, where they made dangerous crossings from the coast of Turkey, and the northern Macedonian border, now closed to all.
Their meagre savings have run out or been stolen and the daily grind of sleeping in tents, in the cold, often rainy nights, has worn down their hopes of reaching a European country of safe haven.
Abid was one of the many that came through the doors this past week.
Shy and gentle, he didn’t laugh and clamour around me like many do when they hear me asking them if they want black or green tea or coffee, in the Afghan Dari language.
When the line-up had been served, he quietly came back and asked if I could help him.
His friend had loaned him a simple cell phone but he had no money to top up the time on it.
He politely didn’t ask for money, and instead told me his story.
“It’s been two months since I left my village home in Afghanistan. When the German ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) military was in my area, I worked for them as a carpenter doing repairs on their buildings.
“Just a few months ago, the Taliban in my neighbourhood got wind of this ’collusion’ as they saw it, and began to threaten me.
“I didn’t think I would live! Unbelievably I wasn’t hit and ran until my legs couldn’t carry me further.
“The smugglers at the shores of Turkey took the last of my money, but then shoved me onto a boat meant for 35, with another 69 people!
“Shivering and cold from the waves that threatened to sink us, again I couldn’t believe I was still alive and standing in this new country.
“Now here I am stuck with no hope of moving forward. It‘s impossible to return to my country.
“It’s been two months now and I haven’t been able to speak with my family to tell them where I am. They don’t know if I am alive or dead.”
I was almost speechless with the weight of this young man’s sad story.
I couldn’t “make it all better” but I promised to help him make the connection with his family early the next day when the center wouldn’t be so crowded.
His strained face relaxed a little.
I was reminded that a little kindness becomes much when a person is wounded, or hurting and stressed.
It’s easy to be run off our feet at The Meeting Place and not really see the person we are serving.
But in our heart we pray that each person that enters this place will find hope in these hopeless days and learn to know the God who loves them as insignificant as they might feel, with His extravagant love.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit (broken, humbled, desperate, hopeless, powerless,) for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:3
Born and raised in Terrace, B.C., Heather Bellamy has spent years working on aid missions overseas. Her time overseas included seven years in Afghanistan where, through the Canadian arm of Samaritan’s Purse, she helped develop a five-acre parcel into a park-like setting for women and children.