William Cumbia, EBF Commission on Migration / Baptist General Association of Virginia Field Coordinator
It is dizzying and exhausting to try and comprehend all of the suffering that we are experiencing at this time. As 2020 comes to a close we continue to live through the realities of the pandemic as well as mitigate all of the compounding issues the pandemic has brought.
Earlier in the year, EBF partners came together in conjunction with the Baptist Forum for Aid and Development (BFAD) to support COVID-19 relief efforts for the most vulnerable across the EBF region, specifically in Lebanon, Greece, and Turkey. Since then, each of these three contexts have experienced additional tragedy on top of the pandemic. In economically devastated Lebanon, the August explosion at the Beirut Port rocked the nation to its core and shattered what little hope many Lebanese had left. In Greece, the September fires in the Moria refugee camp sent thousands of refugees into an even more precarious situation. And in Turkey, recent earthquakes left over 60 people dead, buildings in ruin, and many in fear of returning to their homes.
It is easy to get lost in the deafening roar of anguish, mourning, and tragedy that rings out across the world. A roar that seems to block out any voice of God.
Yet somehow God’s Spirit still continues to whisper onward. God’s Spirit that has whispered in the hearts of faithful Baptists who by God’s grace find the strength and the endurance to continue onwards. To keep fighting for hope. To shine brightly in the darkness around us.
Transforming society in Lebanon
COVID-19 arrived in an already troubled Lebanon. The virus only exacerbated the issues of an ongoing economic crisis, widespread unemployment, and political unrest. Thankfully, the Lebanese Baptists are seasoned professionals in offering hope in times of hopelessness. Baptist churches in Lebanon have been on a journey of transformation over the last decades as they have engaged with their communities to make a holistic impact on the local society. Their history of building authentic relationships and serving the physical needs of the most vulnerable meant they were already equipped to react quickly to the pandemic.
EBF and BFAD funds supported projects of Middle East Revive and Thrive (MERATH), the relief and development branch of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development. The support helped fund thousands of hygiene kits that were distributed through local churches to refugees and vulnerable Lebanese across the country. Additionally, MERATH was able to increase their food voucher programs so that families impacted by the economic crisis were able to buy food.
Utilizing refugees’ gifts to serve in Greece
All4Aid is a nonprofit organisation that was founded by Rev Rodrigo Assis da Silva and is sustained by members of the International Baptist Church in Frankfurt, Germany, and other churches and partners throughout the world. For All4Aid, it’s an important distinction that they work WITH displaced people and not FOR them. Their work has focused on working with displaced women and children in Lesbos, Greece through shower and washing facilities and children’s programs in their Community Centre outside the former Moria camp.
As COVID-19 arrived on the island and within the former Moria refugee camp, masks became a vital commodity for the thousands of displaced peoples living on Lesbos. In August it was even mandated that refugees wear a mask in order to receive food. Because of their excellent rapport with international aid organizations, All4Aid, with financial support from EBF and BFAD, was able to work in conjunction with other organizations to respond to the need.
To implement this project, All4Aid utilized the talents of eight volunteer seamstresses who themselves were residents of the Moria camp. Together in their small assembly line, they were able to produce roughly 1.300 reusable masks, many of which were sent to the camp’s medical clinic for minors. Others were distributed to women who came to the Centre for showers. All4Aid then worked with staff from Doctors Without Borders and the Starfish Foundation to collect dirty masks from within the camp and clean them at the laundry facilities in the All4Aid Community Centre. In August they washed roughly 1.700 masks.
As the situation has changed dramatically on Lesbos after the September fire, All4Aid continues to think creatively, collaboratively, and strategically to best respond to the needs of those displaced on Lesbos. Due to the current lockdown restrictions across Greece, All4Aid staff and volunteers are taking a much needed rest.
Loving neighbors in Turkey
“Would you go back to a land that is totally destroyed and start from zero? The U.S. and Europe do not accept us, but Turkey helps us. Even though it’s difficult, we continue our lives.” These are the words of Meryem, a Syrain mother of four children in Adana, Turkey and one of the many recipients of an emergency food parcel from the Turkish Baptists.
After fleeing the violence of their homeland, refugees struggle to survive in Turkey. Even before COVID-19, access to reliable food, water, housing, and healthcare were scarce. Now, the pandemic has decimated the daily-wage job market that provided the only source of income for many refugees. For years, Turkish Baptists have faithfully and lovingly reached out to their most vulnerable neighbours by acquiring and distributing emergency food parcels. Leveraging their strong community connections, Baptists are able to not only feed those in need, many of whom are widows and orphans, but also pray with those who receive a package. This summer, they continued their powerful witness through the help of EBF and BFAD grants.
“If you had not brought this food package, I really had no milk left, and no money to buy milk. We live outside the city in tents and cannot go to the market, but you prepare the packages and bring them to us. You are “mubarek” (blessed) people.... thank you that you Christians are helping even though we are Muslims.“ Turkish Baptists continue to bless others like Meryem and shine light into the darkest and most desperate places.
__ The EBF Commission on Migration thanks all individuals, churches, and unions that supported these COVID-19 relief projects. We are so incredibly thankful for the tireless work and outstanding witness of our Baptist siblings. Please continue to pray as the needs are ongoing in each context. Reach out to Helle Liht if you are interested in supporting the good work of our partners.
Lebanon: A family with hygiene items distributed through the Lebanese Baptists.
Greece 1: All4Aid masks being given to the minors’ clinic in former Moria camp.
Greece 2: Hand sanitizer and masks being given to women upon entry to the All4Women Community Centre.
Turkey: A family receiving food aid from the Pastor Sukru on behalf of the Turkish Baptists.