Aysha* was in trouble, but trouble was nothing new. In fact, for ten years her situation had been a precarious one.
For Aysha, an Armenian refugee and mother of two, there seemed no way out of the ever-deepening hole she had dug. Like so many refugees living illegally in major European gateway cities, Aysha had few options for finding income, housing, or sending her children to school. Without legal standing, she and her “husband” couldn’t even marry.
But one day, the walls of Aysha’s already fragile world came tumbling down. It was the day her husband abandoned the family without warning, leaving Aysha in a foreign city with nowhere to turn. Despair began to sink in as debts accumulated, eviction loomed, and her children faced a stateless future.
The sad reality is that Aysha’s situation is a familiar one for hundreds of thousands of refugees living in Eastern Europe. From across the Middle East, Africa, and central Asia, they come both legally and illegally, filling pockets of major cities, most dreaming of a better life in the West. But a daunting, lengthy, and unpredictable legal process leaves many like Aysha outside of the law and paralyzed by powerlessness.
“Poverty is more than the lack of things,” says John** the leader of International Teams’ refugee ministry in one of Europe’s largest gateway cities***. “Being poor is also bound up in despair, powerlessness, and the inability to change one’s circumstances.”
That understanding of poverty, along with Aysha’s growing desperation, eventually brought her and John to the same table one day in the summer of 2011.
“I sat down with her,” John remembers, “and I told her, ‘I’m not going to give you any physical help today. But if you want to get to a place where you can stand on your own two feet, provide for your own family, I will walk with you and we will do it together.’” John smiles as he remembers the impact those words had on Aysha. “That conversation transformed her attitude,” he says. “She went from despairing and despondent to hopeful, proactive, problem solving. It took months to find a possible path forward, and it was a hard path, but ultimately we did find a path.”
That commitment to walking alongside people in need is what defines International Teams’ work with refugees in this Eastern European city. Through a variety of ministry platforms and partnerships, the team seeks to build relationships as the basis for helping to empower individuals and communities across the city. In its simplest form, that means walking alongside refugee families by visiting with and encouraging them weekly. The team also hosts two weekly lunch programs for Farsi and Arabic speaking mothers and their children in order to give them a safe and supportive place to connect with other women. In addition to these avenues of outreach, the team seeks to train, equip, and disciple refugees through Bible studies, English classes, and one-on-one life coaching to help refugees like Aysha stand on their own two feet.
“There is astounding opportunity [in refugee ministry],” says John. “Both for evangelism and for the training of leaders who can reach back into closed communities where Westerners never could. As we care for the alien, orphan, and widow, we see them raised up to minister to those most in need of the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
In the near future, the team is excited to open a new ministry center in the heart of the city from which they can more effectively walk alongside individuals like Aysha. “Refugees are forgotten people,” John says. “[But] in their moment of greatest vulnerability and openness, they often find their first, best, or only opportunity to hear of Christ.”
Today, Aysha is standing on her own two feet by the grace of God. With legal standing, she now holds a good job, a stable living situation, and her children are able to attend school. “I can’t tell you how thankful I am,” she told John last year. “This is the first time in ten years that I haven’t been looking over my shoulder in fear. I feel like my children and I can have a future now.”
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Please pray for ITeams workers serving refugees in this European gateway city. Pray that the Lord would give them an abundance of compassion, wisdom, and grace in their day-to-day work and that they would be beacons of Christ’s love to those who desperately need it. Also pray especially for the necessary pieces to fall into place for the opening of the new ministry center. And pray for Aysha, her family, and so many other refugees like her, that they would know true fullness of being, both spiritually and physically, in the midst of their struggle.
*This name has been changed for the sake of the individual’s security
**A pseudonym has been used for the team leader to protect the ministry
**This location has intentionally been left obscure to protect the team, their work, and those they serve.