Two years ago, SIM Associate Barbara Boynes stepped out in faith to serve refugees when she volunteered at Europe’s largest refugee camp in Moria, on the Greek island of Lesbos.
Many refugees on their way west, get “stuck” in Greece and the retired nurse became passionate about their plight after watching the harrowing events unfolding on the television news.
“I volunteered to help refugees in the UK and wrote lots of letters, but knew I needed to do more and get out of my chair and do something,” she recalls, “and so I asked God: ‘I know I have to go, but tell me where to?’”
Barbara prayed with a friend for answers and the following day, she read an article about an older couple serving with the HowWillTheyHear campaign, which was launched by SIM UK in 2015 to reach refugees throughout Europe.
“It was a miracle because nearly 40 years ago, I’d felt God telling me to go to Asia, but said no because I had young children,” she says.
“After reading the article, I joined SIM UK and they gave me four choices in Greece of where I could serve refugees and I picked Lesbos, which is close to Turkey and part of Asia Minor, so it seemed like I was fulfilling God’s calling from all those years ago!
“The moment I set foot in the refugee camp at Moria, I knew I was in the right place.”
For six weeks at the end of 2019, Barbara, then 68, worked as a volunteer with our friends at Eurorelief, showing compassion in practical ways, five days a week.
She recalls: “When I arrived, there were 15,000 people in a camp designed for 3,000. I expected it to be all gloom and doom, because all the refugees had been through great trauma and some had lost hope, but they were all smiles. I was amazed by their resilience.
“I was also inspired by the young volunteers I worked with and found joy in my relationships with them, as well as the refugees.
“I helped with the running of the camp and settling in the new arrivals – who were mostly from Afghanistan – and monitoring who was in each tent. I saw terrible things, but the joy came from conversations with the refugees as I tried to listen, show kindness and share the gospel where appropriate.
“I feel God used my age and experience as being older certainly helps because there is lots of respect for age in the Greek and Middle East cultures. As soon as I came back to the UK, I packed my suitcase, knowing I’d return.”
Barbara, who is supported by Vineyard Church, Ipswich, is now planning to reprise her volunteering role in the new year and serve at the new temporary camp on Lesbos in Mavrovouni, which was created after Moria was destroyed by fire in September 2020.
“I couldn’t have done this when I was younger,” she admits, “but my heart has always been for refugee ministry and it will always be so.”
By Kerry Allan
- God will keep refugees safe from disease, violence, hunger and other dangers this winter.
- For his protection and blessing as Barbara returns to Greece in March 2022.
- For governments to recognise the plight of asylum-seekers with compassion as they welcome them and treat them justly.