Today begins our week of 4 Christmas parties—gifts, dinner, a family photo shoot by a Christmas tree, music, and a program, all for 450 invited guests. The Christmas parties were my first ministry experience almost 5 years ago when I arrived in Athens and have a special place in my heart. Recently a refugee friend unexpectedly reminded me again about the importance of these parties. Let me tell you a little about her story.
“Mina” is a strong, independent, fiercely loyal Afghan woman. Somehow she always manages to survive, although not much has been easy in her life. She was married off at age 12, after finishing the 5th grade. Her first husband beat her, and her second husband had three wives at one point. When the second marriage eventually ended, Mina was faced with the difficult reality custody of the children is always given to the man in her country. Mina, who loves her three boys very much, made the difficult decision to “steal” her boys and begin the refugee journey to Europe.
They left Afghanistan 7 years ago, when her youngest son was an infant. Traveling through Pakistan, Iran and then Turkey, with one time being deported back to Afghanistan and beginning the journey again, 4 years ago they made it to Greece. Two years later, Mina sent her oldest son (~16 years old) alone to find his way to another European country more hospitable to refugees. He eventually made it to Austria where he applied for asylum. Last month Mina and her other children received approval for reunification with her son in Austria.
The journey of 7 years was coming to a close. Before Mina left Athens, I asked her what her best and worst days in Greece were. Her worst: the first month in Greece when they didn’t have any money and were living in the park. Her best days in Greece, answered with absolutely no hesitation: the Christmas party at our refugee center last year.
The importance that she attached to that one evening blew me away. I love the Christmas parties, but for it to be the highlight of a woman’s entire 4 years in Greece was a surprise to me. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised though. Typically a refugee’s life consists of a struggle to survive each day with little comfort, beauty or laughter around them. Her comment reminded me again just how important special events are to refugees. They are life-giving and dignity-affirming. They leave an imprint in hearts long after the party is over.
Please pray for us this week as we have our parties. Pray for our team and volunteers to love others as Christ loved us. Pray for the program to run smoothly. Pray that this Christmas many refugees will understand the gift of Jesus, Immanuel, God with us.