A team of 11 from the Garstang (UK) FMC, led by Gina (Long) Ramsden, recently volunteered at one of Thessaloniki’s 19 refugee camps and assisted in the Thessaloniki FMC’s drop-in center with kids activities, showers, English, dental care and eye glass fitting.
The following report is written by one of the team members, Joanna Devany.
It’s been hard to ignore the growing refugee crisis in Europe over the past year and, frustratingly, there’s been very little we can do to help despite the massive need.
So, when I first heard about the trip to Greece to help, my friends and I jumped at the chance. Visiting Thessaloniki in late October was an incredible experience, including celebrating my 18th birthday while on mission! It was such a privilege to be a part of something as important and momentous as providing aid for the crisis, and we definitely all felt we made a difference.
Garstang Free Methodist Church is planning six mission trips over the next year, and we were hugely excited to be a part of the very first one: a trip that was so relevant to the state of the world at the moment.
Our roles were ultimately very practical, which well suited us as a team. We spent four days working with an organization called Intervolve in their warehouse, which was situated right next door to the camp we were most able to serve – a temporary camp called Softex on the outskirts of the city. With Intervolve, we were able to sort over 10,000 items of clothing in preparation for the winter. (These items have since clothed approximately 1,000 people in Softex.) On other days, we were able to work with Help Refugees, a larger organization which distributes food in several camps. Throughout our time with them, we were able to buy, pack and distribute vegetables to Softex. It was incredible to see a job from beginning to end and to see how people within the camp appreciated such a small donation which enabled them to create a sense of normality by cooking for their families.
The situation in Greece is ever changing, and it wasn’t always possible to visit the camps. We were based out of Anagenesis Church, which is the Free Methodist church in the center of Thessaloniki. It was great to link up with Mike and Maria Long, who have been providing aid from the very beginning. Mid-week they turn the church into a drop-in center for refugees. They provide showers, food, activities for children, English lessons and transport. It was a huge privilege to spend time one-on-one with the refugees – such inspiring and resilient people. It was impossible to imagine the magnitude of what they had been through. The children were all so happy and sweet, and it was so lovely to spend time playing outdoors with them, giving them a break from the camp conditions. Knowing what they were going back to, I think we all found it difficult to see them leave the church.
The time we spent in Thessaloniki has made a huge impact on each of our team members. And we, in turn, were able to make such an impact by helping small organizations with few volunteers. The commitment of the volunteers was incredibly challenging. We were able to help for ten days, but in reality, there is still a great need in Thessaloniki, and across Europe. This trip has been a life-changing experience for everyone involved – so valuable in many ways and certainly unforgettable.