Last year I was in Greece (I shared a little of this on my blog), working with a man called Pastor Phillip. Pastor Phillip is a small Korean man with a very big heart. He can speak Korean, Greek, English and a little bit of Persian. He has a thousand visions and even more friends. He is also the mastermind behind the Samaria operation.
The Samaria operation is a refugee centre in the red light district of Athens that is dedicated to feeding upwards of 500 refugees a week with one square meal a week. But these things don't just happen, so I asked him his story. "How did Samaria start? What was the vision?"
Nearly twenty years ago, Pastor Phillip was studying here in Athens. One night he was walking home from aforementioned activities and happened across three Afghan men standing around an oil drum. They were warming their hands on the fire inside. They had few clothes and less money. Food wasn't even a question. In that moment, Phillip had a thought come into his head.
"What is stopping me from helping?"
After some consideration, Phillip decided that there was nothing stopping him. He went home and made a meal for each person he saw. Three servings of Chicken, rice, and bread. The next week he came back and did the same thing. And the next. And the next. He had two friends helping him with this, and together they pooled their resources to buy a large pot and burner to keep up with the growing demand for food. Refugees came from all over town for this free meal. There was no vision for Samaria; there was no plan or end goal.
The idea was simply to feed the mouths that needed feeding, because there was nothing stopping him. When Phillip and his friends inched closer to the lowest digits in their bank account, it was replenished by a spontaneous, unrequested phone call from a friend who was prompted by God to give money. Nothing is stopping me.
Again and again, when the money nearly ran dry and the tension was heightened, somebody would come through with unprompted generosity. Random acts of kindness and love have contributed to the development of Samaria over the years to make it what it is today. Never once has Pastor Phillip asked his friends for money, or begged for a loan from the bank. God has been filling his cup with the exact amount needed to fill the cups of 200+ others twice a week for years and years.
But that is not the only thing Samaria is doing in Athens. Samaria is not just a food service. It is a home. It is a safe place where people are welcome to spend their afternoons in the company of people who love and care for them. It is four stories of generosity and service; where people can come to learn English, Swedish and German for the sake of a brighter future. The only cost is their time and patience while people like myself or Nana teach to the best of (our) ability. Samaria is a Church on Sunday, but a home and a school every day of the week.
Recently one of my team members posted on his own blog about the moment a statistic, a refugee, becomes a face and a name. It is an incredibly powerful moment, when the numbers are reduced to dust in your mind in light of the human being standing in front of you. You are offered a not only a face and a name, but a story. A life. Something worth more than money or time. A person with dreams and hopes and family. Johannes talks about the moment every stereotype is blown to pieces and is replaced with something tender and unique; a friend. A fellow human. Another one of you. His message is powerful.
One night I talked at my team about this during our nightly meeting. My favorite response was from Johannes; "I am terrified to know what Jesus has to say when He hears church boards discussing buying another loudspeaker."
There were six of us there in Greece. Six people experienced this paradigm shift in a very personal way, and we have six or more churches between us. What if our church didn't need another iPad or a better projector? What if we went home and started a baby Samaria in each one, each serving fifty meals a week. Three hundred hungry mouths fed once a week.
What if three times a week a 19 year old girl with nothing better to do took some time to teach English to those who need it? Maybe fifty people would learn another few sentences in English or Swedish, or Danish. What if every one of our churches thought about the role of the church a little bit harder, and decided to embrace it? What if six churches decided to love God and love others in the most real way possible? What if?
I'm a little bit angry that I have naught but a blog or a website on an infinite platform to share these thoughts. But if I reach one heart with what I've written, and that heart is yours, I beg of you to do something with it. Take this message to your church or your home and create something beautiful. When you see a need, even a small one, ask yourself this question:
"What is stopping me from helping?"
Dakota Neibling is a 19 year old missionary kid who grew up in the suburbs of Brisbane, Australia. She endeavours to love the Lord and love people. Currently a full time volunteer at Youth With a Mission, she has a heart for politics, international relations and social change.
Dakota Neibling's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/dakota-neibling.html