It was with shock and disbelief that many of us arrived in the Hungarian capital of Budapest for the bi-annual ASI Europe convention at the end of August. What greeted us at the central station, just a few blocks away from the convention venue, was at that time yet unknown to the world — thousands of refugees were camping out everywhere, in the limbo of a political battle. This made a deep impression on ASI members. As the newly-elected officers met for their first meeting, a medical doctor offered 100,000 Euros to ASI Europe to do something for the plight of the refugees starting to flood Europe.
The new executive committee was thrown into the middle of an unexpected crisis, and an equally unexpected opportunity to make a difference, and this weighed heavily upon them. With much prayer, the team approached the task with a sense of urgency and energy that only God could give. By His grace, in only five short weeks, there was a medical first-aid bus with a complete medical team on the way to the Greek island of Lesbos, one of the main entrance points to Europe. The project Adventist Help was born!
The mission is to help rescue the refugees who are constantly arriving in rubber boats, many totally unseaworthy, on the beaches of this small island. In addition, we want to simply show them the love of Jesus in action and help connect them with other Adventists who offer help and assistance along their way up through Europe.
“It has been amazing to see how the Lord opened door after door, and performed one miracle after another to get us where we are today”, says Dr. Viriato Ferreira, ASI Europe President. “I am so inspired to see what God can do through laypeople working in cooperation with church leaders.”
Realizing that this story had to be told to the world, I traveled to Lesbos with two camera girls from LifeStyleTV. We had been following the news reports of the refugee crisis, and had even gotten pictures and personal firsthand accounts from the team on the ground, but none of this could have prepared us for what we met when we arrived on the island.
The facial expressions of the children coming out of the boats and wandering the streets were enough to touch the deepest chords in our hearts. The sheer numbers of people everywhere, and the frequency of the boats arriving on the shores (often more than one at a time) was simply overwhelming. But even more moving was to see the tireless efforts of volunteers who work in shifts around the clock, assisting the new arrivals as they come soaking wet and freezing from the boats. Our lives will never be the same after this experience.
God has blessed the Adventist Help team in amazing ways, and with a wonderful spirit of reconciliation. Medical volunteers from all across Europe and beyond, work shoulder to shoulder to bring relief to people in need. Christiane Theiss, ASI Europe vice-president for marketing, and the project´s on-site coordinator, humbly shared that the team, “because of a Christ-like character, has the best connections with other volunteer groups and the local population. It is truly a remarkable team to work with!”
Life at the medical first-aid bus has few dull moments. Many patients are seen every day, and over 1,600 have been cared for since the team arrived on the island just a few weeks ago. The team is wonderful in the way they take care of each other, for what they experience, no one should have to experience—because no refugee should ever have to flee this way, and be forced to risk their life at sea to find peace and a new life. The battle between life and death is very real here. One moment the doctors are comforting bereaved parents who have lost their child in the waves, the next moment they may experience the joy of successfully resuscitating a blue, almost lifeless baby on the beach. In the midst of all this suffering, answers are not always easy to come by, but a loving embrace works wonders.
After the attacks in Paris, one of our doctors, Michael-John Von Hörsten, expressed it this way: “These are refugees. Not violent jihadists. Not economic migrants. They’re here to find refuge from a lifetime of Friday nights in Paris.” This is true for most of those we meet. Yet it is thought-provoking for us to realize that some of the terrorists who indiscriminately killed people in the Paris attacks, seemingly came via one of the Greek islands off the coast of Turkey.
One of the volunteers helping at our first-aid bus shared that two of his best friends were killed in the Paris attacks. “However,” he said, “on the beach they are all human beings, in desperate need of help.” How one can keep serving in this situation with love, instead of hatred, is to me a miracle of God’s grace. Showing Christ’s love on the beach may be our best defense against future terrorist attacks.
Many medical volunteers with varied backgrounds have assisted at the Adventist Help first-aid bus, working side-by-side with the Adventist team. They have also helped facilitate donations of much-needed medical equipment, turning the bus into what is probably the best-equipped medical first-aid station on the island. This team is making a real difference.
Kim Busl, ASI Europe vice-president for evangelism, wrote on the last day of his visit to the island, where he and his wife, Joyce, helped for one week: “Today we had a Jewish female doctor from Israel on the bus, providing medical care and warm, dry clothing to a Syrian woman. This scene greatly affected a Greek pediatrician working with us, and he was moved to tears as he expressed that it gave him hope for humanity.”
Please pray for the Adventist Help team. They truly need it, and so do the dear people to whom they so untiringly try to show the love of Jesus—a love that most have never experienced before!