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Jan30ThuHow a mission trip to Greece reminded me that God provides. January 30, 2020 by Major Cheryl Atkinson
(Above) The mission team with local Salvationists at the Salvation Army corps in Athens, Greece. Front, from left, Ruska, Debbie Clarke, Mjr Cheryl Atkinson, Trish Patey, Jenny Hale, Mjr Kristiana MacKenzie and Mjr Brenda Critch. Back, from left, Donna Lee Samson; Tim Prathipati; Cpts Anastasia and Neofytos Arpatzi-Totsios, COs; Dianna Bussey; Paula Marshall; and Justin Russell
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In October, a group of 11 Salvationists and officers, representing the Prairie Division, travelled to Greece to support The Salvation Army’s ministry there. Welcomed by Canadian officers Majors Jean-Curtis Plante and Ray Lamont, who served in Athens from June 2016 to November 2019, the team spent a week serving refugees, teaching classes, engaging in street outreach and more. Major Cheryl Atkinson, who attends Regina Haven of Hope, reflects on her experiences.
This was my first short-term mission trip, but I’ve always had a heart for the underprivileged after serving three years with The Salvation Army in Zambia.
Going into this trip, the biggest question on my mind was: What can we accomplish in such a short amount of time? But as we interacted with the Salvation Army staff and volunteers, I realized how much our presence was a morale booster for them. They’ve been swamped with the refugee crisis for years—hundreds of thousands have flowed through Greece since the crisis began in 2015, with more people arriving every day.
It’s overwhelming. The size of the task far exceeds the resources at hand. I found myself asking, how do they do this? We were only there for a week, while they are doing this day after day, week after week, month after month. Whatever we could do to help them, we wanted it to make a significant difference.
Our ministry was based primarily at the Community Services—(Refugee) Day Center. The centre offers a range of programs, including case working, the distribution of non-food items (for example, hygiene products and diapers) and classes covering subjects such as budgeting, sewing and first aid. We also participated in the local corps’ Sunday meeting and street outreach, as well as the Green Light Project, which helps women from the red light district get off the streets.
After a day for orientation and ministry-related workshops, our first day at the centre began at the crack of dawn when a shipment of 30,000 diapers arrived at 6 a.m. The pallets of diapers had to be carried up two flights of stairs to the storage room, so we formed a human escalator and after a couple hours, this part of the task was complete. The diapers then had to be packaged into bundles of 10, which took a few more days.
On Monday and Wednesday, I taught sewing classes, one in English and one in Farsi (with help from a translator). I was particularly excited to have the opportunity to teach the women who participated in learning a new skill because I saw the difference it made for the women I encountered while serving in Africa. Many women don’t have the opportunity to get an education—typically, families will put their sons through school first, so a lot of girls miss out on educational opportunities. Learning a skill such as sewing can help women get a job and earn an income for themselves and their families.
On Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights, we went over to the corps building and met Jacob (not his real name), a volunteer who delivers sandwiches and tea to people who are living on the streets. After helping with the food preparations, we hit the streets with him. Jacob knows where everybody stays, so if they weren’t at their spot, we left their tea and sandwiches for them—a simple but moving sign of his care for those he serves.
Throughout the week, the most meaningful experiences for me were the opportunities we had to help the staff and volunteers. Simple things like unpacking the diapers meant they were freed up to do their regular ministry because that task was over and above what they already had to do that day. On Tuesday, I helped prepare a meal for the Green Light Project so that the woman who normally did the cooking could take a safe food handling class. We only worked with the staff for a week, but saying goodbye was difficult—everyone was tearing up because we had connected so well with them.
Loaves and Fishes
For me, this mission trip was a powerful reminder of how fortunate we are in Canada, compared to other parts of the world. The refugees we encountered came from places such as Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia and Myanmar, where conditions are so awful that they were willing to take the risk of getting on a boat to Greece, not knowing if they would make it alive. Meanwhile, I can come back to Canada and live in safety. We have so much to be grateful for in this country.
From an outsider’s perspective, Greece may not seem like a “have-not” country. But when you see the number of people that The Salvation Army is helping, you realize that the need is, in fact, great and Salvationists all around the world need to do their part. Initiatives such as Partners in Mission make it possible for the Army to keep going in these countries—without our support, The Salvation Army would close down.
Throughout the trip, I was amazed at how God was able to take the small things and make them sufficient—the little that we have to offer, our loaves and fishes. In Greece, as in other countries, it’s an overwhelming task; if you looked at the situation from a human perspective, you’d want to pack up and go home. But the staff there keep on keeping on. That’s a God thing. He continues to provide.
Major Kristiana MacKenzie, corps officer, Living Hope Community Church, Winnipeg (mission team leader)
Major Brenda Critch, divisional director of women’s ministries, Prairie Division
Major Cheryl Atkinson, Regina Haven of Hope
Debbie Clarke, Heritage Park Temple, Winnipeg
Dianna Bussey, director, correctional and justice services, Winnipeg
Donna Lee Samson, Heritage Park Temple, Winnipeg
Jenny Hale, Southlands Community Church, Winnipeg
Justin Russell, Heritage Park Temple, Winnipeg
Tim Prathipati, Southlands Community Church, Winnipeg
Trish Patey, Prince Albert, Sask.
Paula Marshall, territorial headquarters, Toronto