Message from Greece

2016. március 22., kedd

As the migration situation in Europe does not seem to be waning anytime soon, reformed church leaders have continued their commitment to show solidarity for those fleeing to the European Union from conflict zones. As part of the European solidarity, Sabine Dreßler of the Reformed Alliance in Germany talked to Rev. Dimitrios Boukis, general secretary of the Evangelical Church of Greece, about challenges facing not only his church but all of those in Europe. The message posted on WCRC website is clear: The Church should become a real solution.

How do you experience the current situation in Athens where so many refugees are stranded?

The current situation in Athens is becoming more chaotic and complicated by the hour. The once “transit refugees” are now an ongoing “stream of people,” confused and puzzled because they see their hopes and dreams at a standstill in extremely poorly organized camps and “hot spots.” No one is really sure what the exact number of refugees is and even worse the government agencies seem to be totally unprepared to handle basic needs for food and “room and bath.” The ongoing refugees are now flocking to all possible “public buildings” not in use, like the old airport facilities in Athens, closed in 2002, a number of sports arenas, old army camps, etc.

A major challenge is feeding them, which is largely covered by the private donations of organizations, businesses, churches, local authorities and common people. The ECG has a strong presence providing food, clothing and children’s programs in different areas of Athens.

Your church is also involved in supporting the people in Eidomeni. Could you describe the situation for us? What is needed most right now, in practical terms as well as in politics?

The ECG has a presence in Eidomeni since the very early beginning of the refugee crisis. Today the situation is out of control and changes rapidly. We do not know what to expect every time we visit the site. The once transit station of the United Nations in Eidomeni is now an endless refugee camp of over 12,000 persons. There is an immediate need of proper shelter and better feeding, bathing and lavatory facilities. It is obvious that all these people need to move to the infamous “hot spots” established in an area fairly close to Eidomeni. But even the “hot spot” will not be able to host more than a third of the persons now camping on the borders with FYROM [the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia].

The ECG is heavily involved in providing food, clothes, tents and firewood to more than 6,000 people four days a week. It is obvious that none can replace the European and Greek governmental policies and plans that can provide permanent solutions for the massive issue of the refugees in Eidomeni. I believe that the Church should become a real solution of the problem by fighting this battle for humanity in two fronts: The first is to immediately provide all services possible to the people in Eidomeni and elsewhere they can reach. This requires human forces and financial generosity. The most urgent need is for food supplies, tents and warm covers.

The second front is for the Churches in Europe to publicly support all policies of compassion and true solution of the problem, which means to support the voices of those politicians who open their countries to host the refugees while they are fighting for the end of war in Syria.

The borders of the Balkan refugee route are closed now, the European Union is highly disunited and haggles over numbers of refugees, over relocating people. As a Christian and a Reformed pastor: What is your message to us as Churches in Europe?

As a pastor of a Christian Church, I believe that the Church of Christ in Europe should find its real mission once again by achieving the respect of the people in Europe, as it becomes an agency of a pragmatic solution of the problem. To reach this goal, the European Churches should move out of their comfort zone of simply being a “national church” and offer a “salvific presence” in the whole of the European society. This presence is nothing more than putting into action the common Church belief of the “sanctity of all persons created after the image of God.” After all, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (views)” (James 1:27).

Reformed church leaders’ continuing commitment in Europe

The World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) European Area is busy bringing together church leaders from around the region to focus on migration and asylum and the challenges that it brings. The Greek Evangelical Church plays an important role in this. In January, prior to the Synod Meeting of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland, Praeses Manfred Rekowski invited the leaders of their partner churches to a consultation titled "For You Yourselves Were Foreigners..." to talk and exchange of views on the refugee situation. On behalf of the Reformed Church in Hungary, Bishop István Szabó was present and asked the participants to continue this common work in Budapest, where the next meeting will be held later this year. At its Area Council WCRC Europe has decided to set up a task force to focus on issues of migration and asylum, which hopes to monitor developments in the member churches and their respective countries, encourage theological reflection and an exchange of best practices among member churches, contribute to churches’ and organizations’ investigation of root causes for flight and migration, as well as equip our communion of churches to work on a regional and national level as churches who stand together to seek humanitarian solutions. The first meeting of this task force will take place in the beginning of June, parallel to the follow up consultation jointly organized by RCH and the Church of Rhinland, hosted by the RCH in Budapest. The Evangelical Church of Greece (ECG) has invited the WCRC to visit in order to, “have a firsthand experience of the current situation of the refugee camps (hot spots) and the ‘border passage’ to Europe (Balkan passage) as well as the diaconal efforts of the ECG.” This event will be a WCRC global and European joint effort, and the RCH will be represented in the group.

About the Evangelical Church of Greece

The Evangelical Church of Greece is the oldest Protestant denomination in Greece, first established as the Greek Presbyterian Church of Athens in 1858. A few years later, in the 1870s, a second Greek Protestant Church of Congregational origin was established in different areas of Asia Minor and Pontus of the Ottoman Empire.

Since both Greek Protestant Churches were of common origin, the American Board of Missions was always in full communion. In 1927, a few years after the 1922 “Greek Tragedy” when millions of Greeks were forced to flee the Turkish state, the two Churches united under as the Greek Evangelical Church. Today, the Greek Evangelical Church is fully recognized as a religious entity in Greece under the title Evangelical Church of Greece (ECG).

The ECG is a Reformed church of Presbyterian/Congregational order with 33 churches in Greece, 5000 members and 28 pastors. Given its size, the ECG has a rather large diaconal service through various children’s and youth camps, two rehabilitation centres for substance abuse persons, a refugee centre and language training program for refugees in the center of Athens (since 1994), a programme and a shelter for assisting, training and hosting victims of human trafficking and is one of the major contributors to the two elderly houses of the Evangelical/Protestant community in Greece.

The ECG is a long standing member of the Reformed community since the 1880’s and a founding member of WCC and CEC. It is also a member of the CPCE family.

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