A Cup of Tea, Under a Bridge, In Jesus' Name

How does the banished son of a North African become a beloved child of God in Southern Europe? Well, over tea, served under a bridge, of course. 

John’s story is the same as millions of other migrants to hit the shores of Europe in the last three years—until it diverges where he met Christ. Today he’s on the north shores of the Mediterranean, living in his pastor’s spare bedroom, serving his church, and patiently navigating the paperwork to become a legal immigrant. 


The Back Story

When John’s father kicked him out of their house in North Africa, he joined the infamous European migration crises and made his way to Turkey by patching together a dangerous route—sometimes on foot, sometimes over water, sometimes at the mercy of human smugglers—always very dangerous for a young man, barely 20. 

John first settled in Turkey and learned the language. He attained legal residency and a girlfriend. He even picked up English. When his girlfriend broke up with him one year in, he set out—further on and further up into Europe—in search of the good life that he couldn’t have in North Africa and hadn’t yet found in Turkey. 

Like all migrants, John waited in the camps. He had to find a way across from Turkey to Greece. But like most migrants who make it to Turkey, he was kept there. The European Union is reluctant to bloat itself further with newcomers. 

Like others, John searched for a way to be ferried across the Aegean Sea. He had to consider the financial cost, the reliability of whoever promised him passage, the safety and reliability of the craft. He tried for a whole year to gain passage. 

At one point, John attempted passage by clinging to the underbelly of a large truck heading north and west. He was discovered and badly beaten. Those back injuries persist even now, a constant reminder of how far he’s come. 


The Lord Establishes Our Steps

A non-practicing Muslim, John was depressed and wondered why Allah would make him wait on his new life. He watched as others on the trail successfully gained passage to Greece, while he grew in despair. He says he kept asking Allah, “Why are you keeping me from going? Why are others making it while my plans keep falling through? Why won’t you let me go?” He even promised Allah that he would follow Islam more carefully if only he could move on to Greece. 

Finally, John’s day to cross the sea arrived. He was welcomed on the other side by Christian missionaries who staffed the migration reception on the shore. He made his home in the camps and heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

But John wasn’t interested in the Christian story. He waved away the missionaries’ efforts at spiritual conversations. He continued in his pursuit of a better life. 

Unlike in Turkey, John was able to leave Greece in just five weeks. He felt his fate had been reversed. But the quick timing haunted him. He wondered why Allah required him to languish in Turkey but readily blessed him in Greece. He had a sense that the timing of his journey was divine, but he couldn’t make out why. 

Unbeknownst to even himself, John was living out the proverbial truth, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). The timing would lead to a divine encounter under a bridge. 


Tea Under a Bridge

Alone, penniless, and homeless, John followed the path of other migrants and eventually found himself under a highway overpass with men mostly from Sudan, but also Nigeria, Algeria, Ghana, Iran, Mali, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. It’s estimated that between 200 and 300 men lived under and around that bridge when John arrived—right at the height of a bottleneck on the migration path west further into Europe. 

The bottleneck was caused by stricter border controls. By the time John arrived, the average stay under the bridge was one to three months. Legally crossing the border to the west was almost impossible. Migrants were risking illegal paths along mountain cliffs or through motorway tunnels, often suffering death and injury. 

Right around John’s arrival, missionaries and pastors from surrounding communities started visiting the men under the bridge on Thursday evenings. They brought pots of tea, snacks, and friendship. John immediately felt a connection to two of the visitors—they were like a mother and a father figure to him. 

As these two missionaries began to share the love of Christ with John, he didn’t rebuff them like he did the missionaries in Greece. Perhaps he was more travel weary now, less confident. Whatever the case, he couldn’t deny his awareness that his long wait in Turkey and his speed in Greece timed his arrival under the bridge to perfectly coincide with the efforts of these new, kind, and Christian friends. 


“What are you going to do with what we’ve talked about?"

Lee, the missionary who became a father figure to John says that one night after several Thursdays of talking with John about Jesus, he asked him, “What are you going to do with what we’ve talked about? You have to decide if you’re going to walk with God.” 

John recounts that after almost two years of feeling alone on the migration, that night he felt the hand of God reach in and grab his heart. He was crying and didn’t know why. 

In John’s distress, Lee embraced him saying, “God wants to take you into his arms. He wants to hold you.” John grew solemn and walked away alone. He needed time to think over the truths Lee had told him. 

John was experiencing what Paul told the men of Athens, 2,000 years prior. God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:26-28). 

In the following weeks, John began to spiritually awaken—he began to seek God and find him, as Paul said. Rather than receiving tea and snacks, he started to serve them. He became an encourager to the migrating men in his midst. He hungered for time with the missionaries.


Further On and Further Up

Just as he was learning more about Jesus, John found a way across the next border. He took his chance to move on. In his journey, God led John to an Arabic Christian—a new friend who was able to explain the gospel to him in his mother tongue and with the help of a shared cultural background. John’s eyes were opening more and more with each step of his migration. 

His journey led him to a community from which one of the missionaries he met under the bridge had come. Susan, the woman who had been a mother figure to him, was there. She and her church welcomed John with open arms. 

Like a grandson, John was invited to Susan’s mother’s home. Though an atheist, she had an old wall hanging in her home that proclaimed Acts 16:31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and be saved.” John says seeing that stopped him cold in his tracks. 

It was following that encounter with the word of God that Susan and her pastor witnessed John in the fight of his life. Though he had migrated more than 5,000 miles through Northern Africa and across the Mediterranean Sea, though he had been hungry and hurt and all alone for nearly two years, this—this—was the real fight, “for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). 

With Susan and the pastor by his side, John wrestled for hours with the truths he had learned. Finally, by God’s grace and through prayer and a move of the Holy Spirit, John believed. 

John began his new life in Christ as he began his new life in Europe. He lives in the spare bedroom of not just Susan’s pastor, but now his own pastor too. He is serving the church and growing in his knowledge of the Lord Jesus. Church members are helping him navigate the path to legal status in their country. 

John wants to get a job and move on. Though it’s no longer just Europe that John has set his sights on. Now he wants to go further on and further up in the Kingdom.

Christmas Terror in Berlin Reminds us of Our Present Opportunity in World Missions

The Berlin truck attack last week was a poignant and symbolic tragedy: a Muslim attack on a Christian (Christmas) setting; death at the scene of rejoicing in Christ’s birth; violence invading a peaceful celebration.  It was horrifying proof of what Europeans fear most when they consider hosting refugees.  Now that the suspect is dead, Berlin is closing down their Christmas markets, and the world grieves, here are some important things to know and pray about before we Christians move on. 

The attacker, Annis Amri, embodies the great debate currently facing Europe: to welcome refugees or to close borders and protect the citizenry.  Beyond the important, secular, political debate, Christians can agree that the current refugee crisis in Europe is a unique and unprecedented opportunity for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.  

Amri was a 24 year old Tunisian asylum seeker and was in fact identified as a security risk by the German government.  Amri left Tunisia in 2011, spent time in Italy (including four years in jail for robbery and arson), and was supposed to be deported to Tunisia.  Instead, he went to Germany where he was closely watched after seeking asylum under a false identity.  As recently as July of this year he was detained and would have been deported, but Tunisia did not have the required paperwork prepared for him.  He was released after two days and then fell through the cracks of close surveillance.

Germany is seen as a liberal beacon in Western Europe.  Headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, the country has maintained a welcoming environment for refugees, with Merkel pushing her people to differentiate between terrorists and refugees.  Between 2014 and 2015, 2.4 million people moved to Germany—a record number of immigrants.  900,000 refugees from predominantly Muslim countries moved in last year.

As a result of the record influx, Germans’ perception of the Muslim population is much greater than it actually is.  A recent study shows that the Germans generally think that Muslims make up 21% of their population, when in fact they make up about 5.5%.  

Right-wing political groups and voices are calling for closing borders and unleashing “the state on their citizens in the name of protecting their virtue”.  Political cartoons show Merkel with blood on her hands, calling Germany’s altruism reckless. 

But to unleash the state on its citizens in Germany is to evoke recent history—the surveillance of both the Nazis, as well as the East German Intelligence Agency known as Stasi.  Germans are, for obvious reasons, leery of allowing government surveillance of the people.  Merkel’s cabinet, however, approved legislation expanding their surveillance powers just last Wednesday in the aftermath of the attack.

Europe is indeed facing a unique moment in history.  The civil wars in nearby Africa and the Middle East have brought unprecedented numbers of refugees, immigrants, and Muslim background people onto the continent.  Europeans are divided as to what should be done: welcome or restrict?    

But as Christians, we know this is an open door for our generation to reach Muslim peoples as never before.  Jesus called us to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).  Well the nations have come to Europe, and especially to Germany.  The current Pioneers missionaries in Europe will tell you that through personal, everyday contact, relationships between ordinary Muslims and ordinary Christians are flowering and Muslim background refugees throughout Europe are getting acquainted with Jesus.  

Such once-in-a-generation opportunities are finite and don’t last forever.  May Christians make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15).  Currently Pioneers has two missionary families reaching Muslim immigrants in Germany.  Pray for them, pray for those they encounter, and pray and ask the Lord if you should go too.  

Pray: Refugee Ministry Training

This little girl from Syria, is now a refugee in Europe. 

Did you know that 80% of missionaries who work with refugees experience burnout within the first year? Pray for 25 missionaries this week as they receive training in ministering to people with severe trauma, understanding Islam, church-planting within a refugee camp context and learn how to thrive, not just survive, in ministry among people on the move. 

Life in a Refugee Camp in Greece


This American Life goes to Greece this week to document what they find in the refugee camps. They find refugees falling in love, refugee kids mad at their parents, and refugees living in a gas station and an Olympic baseball field–all trying to move forward while standing still.

Listen to the show and check out the interactive tour for an inside look at a current world crisis and opportunity for the gospel.

Interested in joining Pioneers' work with refugees in Greece?  Go here to check out the current opportunities. 

Refugee Crisis

AMANDA LYNN September 16, 2015

One refugee explained to a reporter* that the sea is the only country without visa requirements. Many have risked dangerous travel by boat across the sea to find refuge in Europe, and some of those risks have ended in tragedy. Many others actually arrive and find that border restrictions are increasing.

And tensions continue to rise in Europe as refugees search for asylum and a fresh start. One particular hotspot of activity is the Hungarian-Serbian border, where the influx of refugees has already doubled from last year’s totals. The eyes of the world have been focused on Budapest in the last two weeks as Syrians, Afghanis and other victims of war have been detained from trains and kept from crossing the border by a new razor wire wall. Some asylum seekers protest their detention by refusing to eat and drink until they are able to cross.

Though the situation is dire, God is mobilizing Pioneers on the ground in nearby areas to join forces with local Christians and humanitarian aid organizations to bring relief and a message of hope.

One of Pioneers’ core values is innovation and flexibility—something in high demand during this crisis—allowing many of our field workers to shift gears to provide medical attention, set up warm water washing stations, distribute kits with essentials for hygiene, share coats or blankets for the increasingly cool weather, give food and water and pray for them in the name of Jesus when the refugees are willing. Many refugees just need someone to hear their story. Pioneers listen and look for opportunities to share the story of how a life in Jesus can bring hope.

Would you consider making a gift to our Pioneers on the ground in Hungary to help them provide for the needs of the refugees they meet every day? If so click here. You may also want to contribute to a wider effort to help victims of war around the world. If so, take a moment to check out our Victims of War project. 

*NPR Morning Edition report on September 15, 2015.