Serving with an Open Heart

2016. augusztus 11., csütörtök

The RCH’s American intern recently visited our partner church, the Evangelical Church in Greece, to learn more about their aid work with refugees. Kearstin Bailey, a Global Mission Intern (GMI) currently serving in Budapest with the RCH, spent a week in Katerini, Greece immersed in vital on-the-ground work with refugees who are fleeing persecution and seeking safety in Europe.

What began in early June as a conversation at a Consultation on Migration turned into concrete actions during the first week of August as the RCH’s GMI spent a week with the Evangelical Church in Greece (ECG), working alongside them in their vital outreach to refugees. When Kearstin Bailey first spoke with Alexandra Nikolara, of the ECG, she was quite taken with the work that they were doing in northern Greece, just an hour away from Thessaloniki in the city of Katerini.

After discussions with Nikolara, Bailey made plans to visit and volunteer her time and energy to their work. She went into the situation knowing only that she traveled with, “an open heart and a willingness to serve in whatever capacity the church needed.”

“I was honored to be immediately welcomed and swept up in the work of the team in Katerini. They truly involved me in every aspect of their work, from the legal paperwork that must be filled out, to meeting the families who receive aid from the church, to even getting to ride along with a Syrian couple as they went to an appointment with the UNHCR. From the moment I landed I was treated like one of the team, giving me a really unique insight to the work they do in Katerini,” says Bailey about her work with the Evangelical Church in Greece.

The ECG in Katerini takes a multi-faceted approach to helping refugees that involves a strong focus on the following immediate and long-term needs: sustainable housing, food, and medical care. There are team members in charge of each of these categories as well as a lawyer and a translator on staff who come in as needed. During her week in Greece, Bailey got to experience all these sides of the work that is being done there.

The ECG in Katerini is currently working with 42 people total in their housing program. They have eleven houses that are operational and in use by families, with another three that are pending and will soon be in use as well. The housing program began when a church elder generously decided to open up his home to refugee families in need. Soon, others in the congregation began to do the same, and eventually people started offering up apartments that they own and the program spread by word of mouth from there. As Nikolara likes to say, it makes an incredible difference when families have their own, “door to close and key to hold.”

To help with family’s food needs, the church has set aside a portion of its food bank area to be stocked with food for refugees. The food bank is open to the wider Katerini public one day a month, but three days a week, refugee families in need can stop by and pick up fresh produce as well as other cooking staples. Attached to the food bank is a clothing bank that people can take items from as they need them. This food and clothing bank center was originally set up by the church in 2012, as a response to the economic crisis in Greece that hit many people quite hard. The system was already in place when the migration crisis happened, so the church was easily able to tweak the system to serve the growing population in need.

The staff here also attends to the medical needs of refugees in Katerini. Due to this, the staff is on-call pretty much 24/7. In July, a woman and her three children were all sick and in the hospital, and the staff of the church stayed by her side, taking three-hour rotations so that her and her children were never alone. One of the team members also helps out with transportation needs in regards to medical care for the refugees, so that nobody has to miss a doctor’s appointment because they cannot afford the public transportation costs to get there.

The Evangelical Church in Greece’s Katerini congregation is doing impressive things in the field of refugee aid work, and it has impressed members of other European churches. In October, a task force from the World Communion of Reformed Churches, including a delegate from the RCH, will visit Katerini in October to continue discussions on the global church’s collective responsibility in this time of mass migration.

Kearstin Bailey is a Global Mission Intern from the United Church of Christ in the United States. She is currently serving with the RCH for a two-year term, doing everything from communications work in the Ecumenical Office to field placements with both the Refugee Ministry and Roma Mission of the RCH. If you would like to read more about her time in Hungary, you can view her missionary blog here.

Article by Kearstin Bailey

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Reformed Church in Hungary

Address: H-1146 Budapest, Abonyi utca 21.   

PO Box: 1140 Budapest 70, Pf. 5

Phone/Fax: + 36 1 460 0708 


Our church through American eyes

We encourage you to read our  former GM intern Kearstin Bailey's blog about her time, spent in Hungary.