I met Christian in a refugee squat house in the Exarcheia neighborhood of Athens during a recent mission trip to Greece.
When I introduced myself, he simply replied “Christian.” He had already expressed some skepticism toward us, so the moment was a bit tense. In that split second, I couldn’t tell if the word “Christian” was inflected as a question or was simply a statement. I answered, “Yes, I am a Christian.” He gave the smallest hint of a smile and explained that “Christian” was his given name and that it didn’t describe him in any way.
Christian went on to identify himself as an atheist, anarchist, and communist who finds no value in “religion.” Oh, the irony of his name coupled with his religious and political stances. Christian didn’t hide how concerned he was to see a group of American Christians at this squat house. Anarchists converted this abandoned hotel into housing for refugees who are stuck in Athens. Of course, the anarchists occupied the hotel illegally, but what do they care, they have little concern for the law. More on our encounter with Christian later … some background information is in order.
Responding to Crisis
Athens was a boiling cauldron of political unrest this spring when I arrived for a mission trip. Protesters crowd the streets of central Athens on my first full day in the Greek capital. As our group got our bearings, walking around the city, we encountered a noisy protest parade and the riot police who gathered to ensure public safety. Greece continues to languish from a decade of economic problems which led to wildly unpopular austerity measure from a government. Nobody enjoys austerity measures, especially government-imposed austerity. In 2015, a nation — already humbled and broken — became the epicenter of a historic refugee crisis. People are angry.
The first wave of refugees came to Greece on rubber rafts launched from Turkey. It was the death of a young Syrian boy in one of these crossings that brought the crisis to the world’s attention. Most came with the help of smugglers who charged exorbitant rates for unsafe passage into Greece. The first refugees were from Syria. Fleeing the civil war and ISIS, these Syrian refugees found their way to Turkey, Greek, Italy, Germany, and other locales. Afghans and Iraqis who face religious, political, and social pressures in the wake of the “war on terrorism” joined the migration. Africans, displaced by religious and ethnic violence, made their way to Greece as well. The influx of hurting people came at a time when the government was ill-prepared to give adequate care.
Many respected NGOs (non-government organizations) and religious relief groups rushed in to provide relief. Christian expressed disdain for the NGOs who attempt to work within the boundaries and limitations of Greek law in their assistance efforts. Evangelicals receive his scorn because they share their faith in addition to meeting physical needs. Christian’s group of anarchists from Greece and other parts of Europe also responded with help, but without feeling any need to follow national laws. They reject the NGO label outright. The group provides housing, social activities, and advocacy without taking a dime from the government, NGOs, or religious groups. On top of all of this, Exarcheia is the epicenter of anarchism and radical activism in Athens.
How We Met Christian
We were distributing a film about Jesus, called “The Savior,” on memory cards for Android phones when we met Christian. After visiting most of the shops in the area, our interpreter wanted to take us to a place he used to live. We didn’t ask questions, we simply followed him hoping for opportunities to share. The moment we walked into the hotel lobby, I knew we weren’t welcome. The young, hipster Europeans at the front desk had a decidedly Antifa vibe. We knew immediately that they wouldn’t allow us to freely share the Gospel with the refugees. As we started to leave, Christian came around the corner and asked what we wanted. He invited us to the second floor to talk.
Christian explained that “everything is political” and that violence is acceptable in order to bring societal change. He seemed willing to fight us, the UN, the Greek government … anyone who would stand in the way of his agenda. We explained that we don’t think politics is everything. We told him that we had found greater purpose following Christ and gave him brief glimpses of the Gospel.
Christian is mad about the mistreatment of refugees and I am too. I just don’t understand his reasons for caring. In his philosophy, there is no God who created us and no God to pass along His image. Christian does not realize it, but he only sees the value of other people because God imprinted that idea on his heart. Before we left, I thanked Christian for caring and told him that I would pray for him as he helps the refugees. He seemed okay with that.
In that squat house, we stepped deeper into human brokenness. The brokenness is evident in poverty and hopelessness of the refugee crisis and in the humanistic, atheistic philosophy undergirding the relief efforts of these leftists. God did use their misplaced zeal to convict me. Why don’t western Christians get more involved in situations like the refugee crisis? We acknowledge God, have unprecedented access to Bible, we read passages that call us to action (Salt and light, Sheep and Goats, the Great Commission and the Great Commandments), and we believe that all people bear the image of God. I guess the better question is “Why don’t I get more involved?”