ATHENS — When people hear stories of Muslim refugees, they usually fall into two camps. The belief is that they are either a potential security threat or simply people who need help in finding a home and livelihood.
Some, however, see an opportunity to save refugees now and for all eternity.
In Athens, Mars Hill is the very spot where the Apostle Paul first introduced the Athenians to the Gospel message. He first talked to them about their unknown god and then introduced them to the one true God. Two thousand years later, evangelists are still preaching the Gospel in Greece, but instead of traveling long distances like they did during the time of Paul, those they are hoping to reach are coming to them.
Greece – First Stop in Europe
They're coming by the tens of thousands – refugees and migrants fleeing war and hardship in their home countries, seeking refuge and a more promising future.
Greece is their first stop in Europe.
"I came to Greece with no purpose in mind. Not for money, not for wealth. I just want to forget what happened to my children. I want to live in a safe place and forget my children," explained Syrian refugee Amal.
Amal's Family Tragedy
In 2015, a sniper in the Syrian civil war killed Amal's husband. A week later, while still grieving his death, she traveled to see her sister.
"I left my sons at home and went to visit my sister who lives seven hours away. Her husband had just passed away. I went to comfort her. ISIS members came into my house while my sons were sleeping and slaughtered them," she sobbed as she recalled the tragedy.
Traumatized, Amal left the hurt and heartache of Syria behind. She made her way to Turkey and then Greece.
Alone in a strange land, Amal – which means hope in Arabic – soon lost hope.
"I have no one to talk to. I feel my head is going to explode. I cannot sleep unless I take a sleeping aid. I'm not used to being alone. I'm used to having my sons around me."
A Greek Church Reaches Out to Refugees
Around that same time, other refugees found a caring family at the Apostolic Evangelical Church of Thessaloniki.
"We are reaching out because we saw that need coming to our door, coming to our city and we had to react," explained church pastor Paul Dimitriadis.
As part of that outreach, a volunteer named Katy approached Amal.
"I sat down next to her and I hugged her and I said is it okay to pray with your own god and she said it's okay."
Amal explained, "When Katy saw me she hugged me and helped me. She took me to church where I showered and she gave me clothes....When I visited the church on Friday I felt so comfortable and I slept that night without taking a sleeping pill. I was so happy. I loved the program. Everything I heard is so true. It's all in the Bible. It was a happy day for me."
Amal Is Baptized
Afterward Amal underwent an operation to remove a spot on her liver. She told us how the experience grew her faith.
"It's true that my children were taken away, but God stood by me when I need him during the surgery. After surgery my connection with God became stronger because I got to the church more often and I could trust God. This is the only thing that matters."
As a result, Amal made a big decision and then demonstrated her commitment to Christ.
"I was baptized because I trust God so much."
The United Nations placed Amal in an apartment along with a Muslim family. Although she would prefer to share housing with a Christian widow like herself, Amal told us she wants God to use her where she is.
"I want to show God's love to others here and be an example to people," she insisted. "I'm praying that I'll forget my pain and experience a new, healthy life full of joy."
And after visiting regularly with Amal, her new friend Katy is optimistic for the future.
"Amal means 'hope' and I think nothing is by chance," Katy said. "Yes, I think there is hope for Hope."