Refugees part 4: Don’t Romanticize the Work

Dark eyes and hearts

A missions trip to work with the refugees sounds so humanitarian, so helpful, doesn’t it? However, the actual work is far from “glorious”. Don’t get me wrong, the result of working in the pain-filled process is glorious — the reconciliation of sinful men and women into loving, Father-adoring children through the work of Christ Jesus. I speak of heavenly glory; the glory of the upside-down story where God shines through from the darkest corners of life. . . . . but the earthly work to arrive at the heavenly glory is not for fun-seekers or resumé-builders. It is work which conforms to and identifies with the Cross.

In the experience of our team, the most frequent and challenging question we have asked in these early years is, who are we doing this for? The work in the camps challenges us at our most basic human level. There, we are dramatically confronted with what it means to be a human being. Month after month, our men encounter wave upon wave of trouble. As each wave of trial and trouble passes over us, we see another layer of human wreckage in its wake — and another layer of Gospel character which needs work in our own lives is exposed. If a Christian does Gospel work among our new immigrant friends, even for a short time, and they do not walk away from the camp saying, “Oh Lord, I’m just a sinner saved by grace,” then something is fundamentally wrong with their theology.

Why We Do Anything At All

One might ask after reading the above paragraphs, “Then why do anything at all? It seems like it is such a futile endeavor.” And yes, while the process is long, arduous, and pain-filled, each initiative we do is pointing to something greater than itself; a hope beyond. Here are 3 reasons why we consider investing in these initiatives as a worthy endeavor:

  1. We do initiatives to help them with life skills and development. As I mentioned before, many of the men have good energy and are eager to work, but they lack the necessary skills to be of much benefit to a European context. In most cases, that is no fault of their own. It may be their parents had no more money to send them to school, or there were no education programs where they lived. So, full of energy and nothing good to do with it, they left. We are striving to put together initiatives which help them understand the safety measures, industrial theory, and working environments of Italia which are quite different from their various homelands and often different from other European nations.
  2. We do initiatives to build relationships for the gospel. The initiatives are the platforms for Christian love, and this is how the gospel works in every sphere of life. Often, gospel proclamation flows quite naturally from Gospel service. The men ask us all kinds of spiritual questions after they’ve seen our intentionality to serve and help them. In fact, the staff of the Catholic association running one of the camps in a Roman convent have begun to ask us for spiritual counsel and answers. We do everything for free, from a fountain of grace, and that provokes questions.
  3. We do initiatives to welcome God into Italia. I know this sounds a bit strange, but hear me out. Jesus brought a small child into his band of disciples to teach them. The disciples had been having one of their favorite arguments and playing one more round of “Who is the Greatest?” It seems they really liked that game. Bringing the child up into his arms as an object lesson, Jesus said (paraphrasing Mark 9:33-37), “The greatest will be found with the smallest, the least of all. Receive someone like this (no status) in my name, and you will be receiving me. Now, if you receive me, you will also receive the one who sent me — and that’s the greatest!” God is found among the struggling and hurting more than the wealthy and self-satisfied. We do initiatives because those initiatives draw us into the place where the Father loves to show up and distribute grace. The struggle is worth it because our King is worth it.

What we Encounter

A brother in our ministry who has had a good amount of hands-on experience with the men in the camps put together a list for us to realize what we often encounter in the work. The following list will de-romanticize any kind of thinking that we (whoever we are) will save them. No, we need something — no, someone — who can go deeper than any of us can and transform such incredible wickedness and soul-destruction into healthy children of God.

  • Prosperity Gospel
  • spirit and ancestor worship
  • Animism – the control of localized spirits to obtain blessings
  • Physical trauma
  • Mental trauma
  • human slavery
  • forced criminality
  • Families left behind
  • War
  • Genocide (both inflicted and victims of)
  • Islam, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism — all works-saving religions and beliefs
  • deep distrust
  • Womanizing & pornography
  • Fatherless and orphaned
  • Mother with siblings from multiple men
  • Sex trafficking
  • Broken relationships
  • Greed
  • Smuggling
  • Laziness and no trained work-ethic
  • Cultural timeliness (extreme tardiness)
  • Desire to be like kings and/or tribal chiefs
  • Illiteracy and lack of education (reading, writing, speaking)
  • Majority are young and lacking life skills and experience
  • Internet/Facebook identity and image management
  • Escape based on lies
  • Medical Problems
  • Marital Problems
  • Fatherless Children
  • Desperation and depression
  • Language challenges (eg. learning Italian or other European languages)

Upon arrival, other struggles and problems begin to arise:

  • There is a deep belief that this country (or the next) is the promised land
  • They lose early enthusiasm to seek work and learn the language as depression increases.
  • Loss of motivation to establish the critical basics — for example, wanting to make money without learning the necessary work or language skills first.
  • Pressure increases to make money and send it back to family and tribe.
  • a false sense of entitlement increases
  • Islamic and Prosperity-gospel theologies polarize men and create strong resistance
  • Religious activity becomes a mask for personal ambition. There’s a strong sense of doing religious things to get God to make them money.
  • Camps are only meeting minimal needs for two years or more and not truly setting the refugees up to successfully achieve work and permanent residence

Enduring Negative Effects and Dangers

  • False documentation — there is a black market where men pay thousands to take on the identity of someone else.
  • Begging — due to the lack of small job opportunities and their lack of skill or will to work toward something more stable, a number resort to begging on the street or selling small items (often for those connected with organized crime).
  • Homelessness — if you don’t have some sort of official income, you cannot obtain a housing rental contract. So, you either pay someone else for a room or become homeless. As the amount of men exiting the camps increases in this next year, this could become a hardship in numerous cities.
  • Petty criminality — begins with stealing small things or running some kind of false marketing claim or false work. Theft and corruption only increase over time.
  • Remaining illegal within the country and hiding under the radar
  • Hatred grows and men become more susceptible to evil, radicalizing ideas.

If you take a few minutes and thoughtfully consider the scenarios we are facing, you will immediately have a missionary prayer list on your hands. If you’ve desired to pray more precisely about life-changing requests, then put your gloves on, lean into the Lord, and open some doors to the Light of the World for us! It will be a delight to share stories with you where your prayers have been heard and answered.

Click here if you would like to read part 3 of this series.

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