An Afghan migrant jumps off an overcrowded raft onto a beach at the Greek island of Lesbos on Oct. 19, 2015. Thousands of refugees — mostly fleeing war-torn Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq — attempt daily to cross the Aegean Sea from nearby Turkey, a short trip but a perilous one in the inflatable boats the migrants use, often in rough seas. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

A battle for the souls of refugees

LESBOS, Greece (RNS) — When Muslim refugees arrive on this Greek island, it is more common for them to take selfies than to drop to their knees and pray, say refugee camp volunteers.

And recently, at Lesbos Solidarity-Pikpa, one of the three main camps on the island, a few talked about the suspicions they’ve encountered about their religious motivations — suspicions they say are unfounded.

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A Syrian man, who gave his name as Murad, said: “Everybody says refugees are terrorists. Believe me, the terrorists stayed in their countries. They are fighting now, they are making business, they are living. But we are dying every day. If every refugee was a terrorist, would (the refugee camp) still be in one piece?”

Lesbos is just a few miles from Turkey and has been major gateway for Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans headed to the European Union. Although the flow has slowed to a trickle since a deal between Brussels and Ankara cut off the route last year, more than 3,000 people languish in the camps, waiting to be processed.

An Afghan migrant jumps off an overcrowded raft onto a beach at the Greek island of Lesbos on Oct. 19, 2015. Thousands of refugees — mostly fleeing war-torn Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq — attempt daily to cross the Aegean Sea from nearby Turkey, a short trip but a perilous one in the inflatable boats the migrants use, often in rough seas. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

For Muslims who wish to pray, the facilities at the camps are modest at best, usually tents set up as makeshift mosques. There are no imams.

But what the refugees do sometimes find are Christian groups that come to proselytize, said volunteer Philippa Kempson, who moved to Lesbos 17 years ago from England and makes jewelry for a living.

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“We had groups sending in aid and hiding Bibles in amongst the women's products, so they’d be handed out with them. They were getting us to hand out their propaganda. And there were religious messages written on the backs of things — it was incredible,” she said.

It was not possible to verify that account. But Greece has restrictions on proselytizing – especially to win converts for faiths other than Greek Orthodox Christianity. At a worship session next to a pile of discarded refugee life jackets, volunteers from the international Christian volunteer group Youth With a Mission seemed to be aware of the limits.

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“My mission in life is to bring hope to the hopeless through relationship,” said a young woman from New Zealand. “And that's exactly what we did volunteering in camp Moria. We weren't able to go and tell them who Jesus is, but we could be the example of who Jesus is.”

(Jenn Lindsay is a freelance documentary filmmaker based in Rome and a doctoral candidate in religious studies at Boston University) 

Comments

  1. So what? And if there are restrictions on proselytizing for faiths other than Greek Orthodoxy, why aren’t the Greek Orthodox out there in the refugee camps proselytizing? And providing material help?

  2. “why aren’t the Greek Orthodox out there in the refugee camps proselytizing?”

    Because its tasteless, counterproductive and creates animosity between the refugees and providers of care.

    “And providing material help?”

    Very good question. One worth exploring!

  3. The arrogance that my faith is better than yours.

  4. How is that arrogant? I think that my computer is better than PC users’ computers and actively proselytize for Apple. Administrators at my university think that it’s better than other colleges, extol its virtues in a flashy website and on glossy brochures, and actively recruit students. Why should religion be different from any of the other products we like and try to sell?

  5. ‘Tasteless’??? I suppose that’s why Fundagelicals, who don’t worry about good taste, proselytize while liberal mainline Protestants who do worry don’t proselytize. And that is why bad religion drives out good.

  6. True, it is not always arrogance but much of Christian proselytizing, past and present, involves an attitude of superiority and certainty of their position with the presumptuous belief that your faith is wrong and we know what’s best for you. If you manifested that attitude about your PC, you might be labelled arrogant.

  7. I’ve been in the receiving end and have witnessed others being subjected to Evangelical proselytizing and it is arrogance because of their absolute certainty.

  8. So much the more reason not to leave evangelism to the Evangelicals. I’ve got an article in defense of proselytizing: http://home.sandiego.edu/%7Ebaber/research/defenseofproselytizing.pdf contra Margaret Battin’s discussion in _Ethics in the Sanctuary_. I argue that evangelism is not paternalistic because the aim is (of should be) to promote the interests of the institutional church through recruitment of warm bodies who will pay to support it–so that the church can maintain buildings and do ceremonies for those of us who enjoy religion.

  9. Or you might be a liberal.

    That very attitude you describe lost Hillary the election

  10. Except that Hillary got the majority of votes.

  11. That’s debatable. But whether she did or didn’t she and her crew still lost a critical mass of voters by virtue of the very attitude of arrogant superiority that coastal libs are famous for. And instead of learning from the mistake, the Dems seem to be doubling down on it and instead trusting in increasing minority share of the population to carry them to power in the future. Not a terrific plan.

  12. “That’s debatable.” Actually not, the Electoral Official Count shows Hillary with almost 3 million more popular votes. https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/2016/election-results.html

    “But whether she did or didn’t she and her crew still lost a critical mass of voters by virtue of the very attitude of arrogant superiority that coastal libs are famous for. And instead of learning from the mistake, the Dems seem to be doubling down on it and instead trusting in increasing minority share of the population to carry them to power in the future.”

    Would that it were true, about both parties, but it is the same or similar thing said of the Repubs in their losses to Obama, and almost every past election since at least the 20th century about the losing party.

    And with the decline in popularity of Trump, the Repubs and Dems, perhaps we’ll get a chance for real leaders to make successful bids.
    But I won’t be counting on it. So I’ll just have to keep voting on losers since I haven’t been able to bring myself in many years to vote for anyone in any of the two larger parties.

  13. I’m a bigger bigot than you–but not a racist. I’d love to see these immigrants from the third world come to the US and other first world countries because they will assimilate. And the more people who assimilate the sooner we will see the end of their detestable ‘traditional’ cultures.

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