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A refugee’s granddaughter on Europe’s crisis

'Growing up, I only heard my grandmother’s story. Now I see it,' says Eleni Melirrytos, whose grandmother fled a genocide in Turkey after World War I. Now the Church of Christ she serves in Athens, Greece, sees a new generation of refugees at its doorstep.

This has been one of the longest, hottest summers I can remember in Greece. It’s still in the upper 90s.

But if you are homeless, walking the streets, it’s better to be hot than wet and cold. 

Views | Eleni Melirrytos
It must be that the Lord is protecting the refugees. 

Recently, on a Sunday afternoon in downtown Athens, I saw a group of Middle Easterners walking the empty streets. (Most Athenians abandon the city during the hot summer months for their home villages and islands.) 

“Oh, it is quiet,” one of the refugees told a reporter. “No gunfire. No noise.”

I am the granddaughter of a refugee from Asia Minor. My paternal grandmother, also named Eleni, fled Izmir, Turkey, at age 7 following the death of her family during the 1920 genocide by the Ottoman Empire. A ship took her and her aunt to the city of Thessaloniki. There she met my grandfather. Eventually they moved to Athens. 

She was the strongest, most determined person I’ve known — and the best cook and housekeeper on the planet. But she forever carried the pain of the sudden separation from her parents, her house, her land and all that she knew.  

Now I see a new generation of refugees. They arrive on boats and stay in small camps on the west side of Athens, headed to Austria, Germany, Switzerland and other countries that offer them asylum. As they wait, they sleep at the port on the cement and in the squares, some holding newborn babies. 

Growing up, I only heard my grandmother’s story. Now I see it.

Refugees stream from a ferry into a port in Athens, Greece. (PHOTO PROVIDED BY ELENI MELIRRYTOS)

The Bible is full of references to the aliens living among us. In Greek they are called prosfigas — the one who has to leave. 

God has a special interest in protecting them, maybe because the very first man and woman had to leave their home in Eden, maybe because his only son voluntarily left heaven and came here because there was no other way to save us. He was chased from his birthplace and lived as a refugee in Egypt. 

Members of our congregation, the Omonia Church of Christ, are doing what we can to help. Weekly, we deliver bags of relief supplies to the refugees. 

Refugees leave the port in Athens with supplies provided by the Omonia Church of Christ (PHOTO PROVIDED BY ELENI MELIRRYTOS)
The massive wave of people on our shores, in our ports, adds to the tragedy of our country’s financial and ethical crisis. Even before this wave of refugees, our young professionals, nearly 50 percent of them unemployed, were leaving Greece. We had friends over for dinner recently, and I counted 14 people. Five were due to leave in the coming week for other European nations. One of them was our daughter.

This is the prime time for all of us to practice first century disciplines, to share what we have, to share God’s love, to be hospitable.

Our hands are small. And our recourses are smaller than the tragedies that afflict this world. Yet we yearn to take care of the wounded, though others consider them our enemy. God fuels our passion to reach out and share what we have, to share who we are, whose we are.

We are all refugees. We left our home in haste, and one day we will return. 
More on churches serving refugees

Europe’s refugee crisis calls churches to respond — but how?

• The long road form Baghdad: Former Muslim spreads Gospel to Michigan’s Arab community

Ukraine’s refugees share stories of loss, hope, new life

South of Chernobyl, Christian camp becomes a place of refuge

Editorial: We all are displaced

The people of Nonesuch Road: In Abilene, Texas, refugees find new struggles, new life

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