Many Afghan families, desperate for a better life, pay fortunes to a highly developed network of smugglers who help them escape difficult situations. Often they send their children alone to freedom before the rest of the family can follow.
A quick scan of a refugee center in southern Europe tells the story. The ratio of children to adults is about 11-to-1. A toddler wrestles with his mom, hoping to win the pencil she is using to take notes during a language class.
A teenage boy, hair falling over his eyes, stands in the back of the room. He’s come for the food, but he stays for the company. Unable to attend school and afraid of being caught without a passport, he finds the refugee center a safe place to find companionship.
The center, manned by Southern Baptist workers, offers practical help to families. The youngest children play with plastic farm animals while older siblings color pictures of superheroes and butterflies. Their parents are freed up for a few minutes to participate in English classes. After a meal, they are invited to stay for Bible study; at least half do so.
A woman from Afghanistan talks with workers in a European city about her day.
One Hazara family from Afghanistan is eager to stay. They have been the recipients of two life-changing gifts during their migration. The first, a Bible, was given to the young father in a seemingly unlikely place: Iran. The second gift came from Christian workers in Europe who realized the man’s son needed glasses.
Through the kindness of strangers, the family was drawn to the refugee center where the gospel is preached daily.
Now this family chooses to worship with the Persian church in town. Though they are in limbo — immigrants who have yet to find a home — they are settled and free in a way they have never been before.
Most Afghan and Iranian refugees are not on the move by choice. Threats and persecution drive them to seek a better life, a safer home, particularly for their children.
Dina is a mother who fled Iran after her husband was arrested for crimes against the state. She would have been arrested as well had she stayed, and there would have been no one to care for her 2-year-old daughter. In six months she has heard nothing of the fate of her husband, and she may never know whether he was imprisoned or killed.
Dina was able to escape with her child, but other parents have no choice but to send their older children to Europe alone with the aid of smugglers. Workers at the refugee center tell about a 14-year-old boy who came through on his way from Afghanistan to France. He had an uncle there with whom he hoped to connect, but he was traveling without parents or siblings. His story is typical.
Almost every family has a traumatic story. One Afghan family of six fled Iran because of discrimination and limitations on their children’s schooling. They could not receive an education beyond grade 5.
After nearly two years in Turkey, they were smuggled by boat to Greece. The large family was separated in the course of the journey, and two of the children went missing.
“The mother has cried so many tears that she cannot cry anymore,” explains a Southern Baptist worker. “She has no idea where her 12- and 14-year-old children are. She was told — I guess by the smuggler — maybe they are in France.”
Another mother of a 6-year-old boy tells of her journey: “It was very bad; our suffering was so great. We went across the mountains and now my son is afraid of the mountains; he is afraid of the police. He does not want to go outside. He can no longer control himself.”
The trauma has left the boy incontinent. “We, the pastor and a Persian worker laid hands on the little boy and prayed for his healing. Please pray with us,” the worker says.
She adds: “Only God can give these people life and hope. I am thankful to hear their stories. How else can I begin to have a heart with the compassion needed to minister to them?”
Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program help Southern Baptist workers around the world share the gospel. Give to the offering through your local Southern Baptist church or online at imb.org/offering, where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at imb.org/entirechurchvideo.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Beth Alexander is an IMB writer living in Central Asia.)
Refugee center in Europe lacks funds but not opportunity