One of the families Eric works with in Athens ended up in one of these camps after arriving in Greece. One day, the wife was home listening to Christian worship music when someone pounded on her door. A mob of 40 people was standing outside, threatening to light a can of petrol on fire and burn down the building she and her husband lived in.
She pleaded for them not to burn their home down, and while this was happening, her husband had a heart attack. She called an ambulance for him, but it was delayed because of the mob. When the ambulance finally got through an hour later, the couple fled the camp. They eventually got connected with the International Christian Consulate, which is how they met Eric.
Encouraging the Downcast
In Athens, Eric works with a lot of new believers, teaching them English and the Bible, and helping them with practical tasks, like applications for school and finding jobs. He says a lot of what he does involves just being there for people, praying for them, and encouraging them: “I do a lot of listening.”
Once, he introduced himself to a man sitting on a bark bench who was clearly discouraged. Eric discovered the man was from Afghanistan and was separated from his wife and children, who were in another country. “I just heard his story, and I asked him if I could pray for him,” says Eric. At first the man said no, but then he changed his mind, “And I just prayed hope for him, and I just told him I believed that God wanted to reunite him with his family.” After he prayed, says Eric, the man looked up and his countenance had totally changed. He told Eric, “Before I was mad, but now I’m happy. I have hope now.”
What’s the Application for Those of Us in the States?
Eric wants to encourage Christians in the U.S. not to forget about what Iranian believers and other refugees are suffering. “A lot of people around the world have compassion fatigue,” he says. “Most people know what’s going on, it seems like, but it is tough because you think, what can I do?” But there is a lot we can do. Supporting overseas missionaries through prayer and financial giving are always practical, of course, but we can also pray that God would send more workers—and we can consider going ourselves.
Church leaders specifically can help by reminding their congregations of the missionaries they support, the refugee crisis, and other global needs. And we can all ask what needs we are meeting where we are right now. Eric says that sometimes when people hear about the work he is doing, they respond by expressing how thankful they are for their own situations. It is good, he says, to be thankful for what you have, but what are you doing with what you have? Put another way, “What good is your faith doing anyone else?”
And we shouldn’t feel overwhelmed or paralyzed by the extent of the suffering in the world. None of us will be able to eliminate a global problem, like homelessness or sex trafficking. But we will make a difference to the particular people we do help. “I don’t help refugees,” says Eric. “I help people named Bijan and Arya and and Soroush.” And it’s easier than we think to help, especially when we consider the fact that Jesus calls us the light of the world. A light, he says, “doesn’t need to think about what to do. It doesn’t need a program, per say. It just shines.”
Meeting such needs and encouraging people that God is enough, no matter what their circumstances, certainly has its challenges. But it is also incredibly rewarding. “I can think of nothing better than to be used by God to see someone come to Christ, to be encouraged, to have a practical need met,” Eric says. “It is amazing how much you get changed in the process. You go over there to help and the Lord changes you.”