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I was recently in Greece, on the island of Lesvos for a few days. I wrote this on the flight home after a very encouraging visit, but first want to give some background.
I went to Afghanistan during my first summer with YWAM and again the next year with Marti, just after we had married. That was 1970 and 1971. At the time, there was just one missionary family there, the saintly Dr. Christy Wilson and his wife Betty. They were working quite freely with the blind, but no one was allowed to speak about the Christian faith to other Afghans. As a result of their labours and their unceasing prayers, there were a few blind Afghan believers.
Since then, the tribal conflicts in Afghanistan and the ruthlessness of the Taliban have been steadily driving millions of people out of the nation. As a result, the majority of refugees in the Moira Camp, on Lesvos, are young men and boys from Afghanistan. Our YWAM team and other missionaries are working amongst the refugees, so I joined them at a community centre adjacent to the camp, where 15000+ people are jammed into a camp designed for 2,500.
An evening at the community centre
We arrived in the early evening and worked to set up tables and chairs and make tea. When we were ready and opened the doors, 80-100 men and boys poured through the doors. (The women are not usually allowed out of their tents and immediate surrounds. That’s the nature of their oppressive culture.) I greeted a few of them and was silently asking the Lord to whom I should speak, when a man I guessed to be in his late 20s came through the door with a younger girl. I asked for an interpreter and Ali, an Iranian who gave his life to Jesus two years ago, volunteered to help me. He spoke very good English and most of the Afghans spoke Farsi, the same language as Ali and most Iranians.
We briefly introduced ourselves to one another and the man, Aref, confirmed what I had guessed, that the younger girl was his sister. As I was wondering how to start a meaningful conversation, Aref explained, and Ali translated, that he had not come to debate or find out more about Christianity; he had worked next to an American military base for some time and a soldier had given him a Farsi Bible. Aref had been reading it for two years and became convinced that Jesus is who he says he is in the Bible. He had come to find out what he had to do to become a Christian.
A supernatural sign
He went on to say that he had experienced God in a very unusual way the night before. He had been reading his Bible, then finished and closed it, but “someone” opened it again. After a short time, he closed it again, but it was opened again in the same way. That happened three times and he knew God was speaking to him. It is not unusual for the refugees to report supernatural signs. As I asked him questions, it was clear that he had good understanding and was deeply convinced that he must make it official: he was ready to make Jesus Lord, identify with him publicly and boldly witness to others.
I led him in a prayer of repentance and faith, then prayed for him to be filled with the Spirit. He was clearly deeply touched by the Holy Spirit and I knew that God had done what He wanted to in that moment. Ali then told him where he could find fellowship and ongoing discipleship.
You might wonder about his sister. When it was obvious that Aref was ready to surrender to Jesus I turned and asked her, “what about you?” She shyly answered that she was not ready yet but wanted to find out more.
More new arrivals
Aref and his sister left right after we finished praying for him, so Ali and I looked for others to talk to. While we were looking over the crowd, two men saw us looking and waved us over to talk to them. They were also Afghans and had just arrived a few days before. Everyone there had made the long trek across part of Afghanistan, all of Iran and Turkey and then had paid people traffickers to get them across the few miles of Aegean Sea between Turkey and Mytilene, the main city on Lesvos. (You may remember reading in Acts 20 that the ship the Apostle Paul was on docked at Mytilene nearly 2000 years ago.) As we sat down with the two new arrivals, several other young men joined us. They had been reading the New Testaments, Bibles and other Christian literature that were made available at the community centre and they had questions. For another hour we answered questions from sincere and intelligent inquirers. Afterwards we prayed for them and moved on to others, including an Iranian in his late teens who said, “I want to make it clear that I am no longer a Muslim and I want to know more about Christianity.” Another rich conversation followed.
Prayer ripens the harvest
In 1991, I was with 17 YWAM leaders in the Sinai desert when the Holy Spirit challenged us to make ourselves available to His leading to reach the Muslim world. At that time, it was very rare for a Muslim to become a Christian, but we held hands around a pyramid of stones we had built as a witness and committed ourselves to God’s purposes. From the covenant we made, we initiated the 30 days of prayer during Ramadan; that is now a season of concerted prayer for Muslims with millions of Christians participating. We also went on to make the Reconciliation Walk from Germany to Jerusalem and spoke to hundreds of thousands of Muslims, Jews and Eastern Christians, whose forefathers suffered at the hands of the Crusaders.
So much has changed since then! “The harvest is ripe”, and I would urge all Christians everywhere to ask the Lord if there is some way they can engage with the millions of refugees who have come to historically Christian nations. There is also a great need and opportunity for believers to go to Lesvos, or Northern Iraq, or Jordan where there are of millions of refugees. They are intensely aware that Muslims have been killing and displacing millions of other Muslims over recent years and doing so in the conviction that they are serving “pure Islam”. It’s no wonder that such a very large number are looking for a better way of believing.
More labourers needed!
More could be said to explain the sins of the “Christian” world, our own wars and the differences between that and what Muslims are experiencing now, but that will have to be another time. For now, I will finish by repeating the words of Jesus, “Pray that the Lord of the Harvest will send forth labourers…!”