Refugee life, hardships and hope

Solomon came to Greece in 2016. But not the way most people visit this beautiful island on the Aegean. Solomon* and his son Hassan* took the risky route, along with 68 others, desperate enough to attempt the sea voyage, and leave everything they knew and loved. He, like so many others, left a wife and five children to seek safety and security from the dangers in his native Afghanistan. Fortunately, as it turned out, the Greek coast guard intercepted their small rubber boat and rescued everyone on board. Boat-load after boat-load of people were arriving at the island of Lesvos, often too many to keep the boats afloat—many people drowned when their boats sank as a result of the desperate overcrowding in inadequate craft.

Safe, but hardships ahead

Safely on Lesvos, many hardships awaited 38-year-old Solomon and his teenage son. After being registered as refugees, they continued travelling onto the mainland, expecting to finally find shelter and better conditions. It was March; the weather was still cold. They longed for a shower, even cold water would do. However, the ‘shelter’ in the port city was an empty warehouse. “I felt so dirty, like insects crawling all over," recalls Solomon, “but the sanitary conditions were basically non-existent. We were 200 people sleeping in this warehouse, yet the nights were freezing cold.” Two months later, the police moved them to a refugee camp, gave them tents to sleep in, and provided some food.

The misery of refugee life was almost more than he could bear, and now he had even become a diabetic with no money for medication. Solomon despaired, regretting that he had left his beloved Afghanistan, even though there had been threats on his life. The fact that he worked as a translator for foreigners, was enough to cause serious trouble with the Taliban, and he knew it was only a matter of time before he was arrested or worse, if he had stayed. He was able to contact a friend in Afghanistan and asked him to pray. Anton did more than pray. He connected Solomon to a friend in Greece; this friend happened to be the OM field leader in Greece, Gabby Marcus.

His only hope

Dirty, smelly, broke and downcast, Solomon felt too ashamed to meet Gabby, but it was his only hope of changing his situation. They had agreed to meet at a metro station, so with no money left, Solomon sneaked onto a train, hoping not to get caught. “Gabby was very kind to me,” says Solomon. “We talked a bit and walked to the OM office. Gabby asked discreetly if I wanted to take a shower. The office had a full bathroom; towels, soap and shampoo were provided, and I stayed in that bathroom for an hour! The first shower in months, and with hot water, felt like the top of luxury!”

The gift

Solomon had grown up in a Muslim family and had no plans of becoming a Christian. However, in Afghanistan, he had been able to secure a job with a Korean couple who were starting up a business. They kindly let him sleep in their compound, in a small room close to the guard at the gate. After some weeks, the Korean asked about his Muslim faith, commenting that he never saw Solomon pray. He also gave him a book to read, which Solomon left on the shelf. Yet, when his boss a week later asked if he had read the book, he said, “Yes,” not wishing to offend his boss. He thought he had better take a closer look at this book. After all, he had no other books to read and maybe next time, his boss would ask more questions.

He liked what he read, especially the parts where Jesus talked about forgiveness and loving your enemies, not to mention that prayer and fasting should be done in private and not boasted about. He even recognized some stories from the Qur’an. Plus, he was disillusioned with his Muslim faith, having seen so much fighting, so many dead bodies. How could Muslims kill other Muslims when they all believed in the same God?

Fellowship

Some time later, before the Korean couple left Afghanistan, they introduced Solomon to another Korean lady who helped him with in-depth Bible studies. In due time, she also connected him with a small fellowship of Afghan Jesus-followers. For Solomon, who had thought himself the only Afghan Christian, it was utter joy.

Solomon now moved to a translation job at the US Army base hospital, where he noticed how caringly the US doctor treated his patients. It was very unlike what he had experienced before. When he asked the doctor if he might happen to be a Christian, the man laughed and said: “Of course, I am a Christian!” His reply gave Solomon the courage to share that he, too, was a follower of Christ. He was invited to join the fellowship in the base chapel but was reluctant to go. Many Afghan eyes were keeping watch; it would be dangerous for him to attend a Christian meeting. When he managed to secretly slip in, the doctor anointed him with oil and Solomon cried and cried. It felt like a baptism, although Solomon’s baptism in water would only happen later, in Greece.

Time to leave his beloved country

The threat of danger kept rising. Solomon had moved on to work for a Christian NGO. When a friend was stabbed because he worked for foreigners, Solomon knew it was time to flee the country. Reluctantly, he discussed it with his wife, and they made their plans. Solomon and his teenage son made it into Iran. They then continued by taxi towards the Turkish border and the seemingly endless 12-hour walk in the dark and cold of night. Together in a group of a hundred Afghans, some too weak for the walk and needing to be carried part of the way, they made it across the mountains into Turkey. “My son,” said Solomon, “kept holding my hand, encouraging me to move on.”

Later, his wife and five younger children moved on to India, safe from the Taliban. As for many refugees, life is difficult, and the separation hard on all of them. 

Working for OM

In Athens, Gabby and Solomon met up again a few times, and Gabby asked if Solomon would be available to help them in the office. They could not pay much, but the nearby Filipino church provided accommodation, and life started improving.

Serving for 18 months with the OM team, Solomon led many Afghans to faith. He got baptised and studied for a diploma in theology at a Greek Bible College, graduating in January 2019. His dream is to study further and become a pastor.

Discipling others

Currently Solomon is serving in two churches as well as OM’s café, discipling new Afghan and Iranian believers, preaching and translating. He is also teaching English to refugees through one of OM’s programs. With his background, he is bringing his Muslim understanding to the situation in a way that is unique and can speak into other refugees’ lives as no one else could do.

Homesickness

Life has certainly improved from those first months of utter hardships. However, as the Afghan proverb says, ‘A woman is half your faith,’ meaning that only together you are complete. Solomon questions how long he will be able to continue on without his family, including the loneliness, temptations and desire to be part of his children’s childhood. And, of course, his wife and children long for the same!

“I love my country and my people,” shares Solomon, “and we pray for peace in Afghanistan. My hope is to one day go back and live there, in peace, with my wife and children.”

*Name changed for security

Solomon’s oldest son Hassan is still with him in Greece. Please pray for the rest of his family to be re-united soon. Pray for Solomon’s ministry and the ongoing ministry among refugees in Athens. God is doing a great work in this city, yet there are many hardships.

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