Like many SIM workers, Sherilyn and Deane Grainger had to suspend their usual ministry – working amongst refugees and migrants in Palermo, Sicily – because of COVID-19.
The couple were forced to close the Gospel Hope Centre, where normally, refugees and migrants can drop by for food, clothes, Bible studies or just a friendly chat. The pandemic has intensified the struggle for survival among the refugees, who mostly come from West Africa, North Africa and Bangladesh.
“COVID-19 has ruined the local economy. The lack of tourism has affected many businesses and Sicilian people, so it is extremely difficult for refugees and migrants,” explains Sherilyn.
Sicily’s tight three-month lockdown kept non-essential workers within a 200-metre radius of their homes and they could only venture out for food and medical supplies. “Very few refugees and migrants were essential workers, so they had no means or money to pay the rent, or for power or gas,” adds Sherilyn.
And as lockdown restrictions continued, phone calls to the centre increased as desperate refugees and migrants struggled to feed their families once their work and income evaporated and they were denied any form of government assistance.
In response, the couple stored food supplies at their home so they could deliver relief parcels – each with a gospel tract included.
When the centre had a limited reopening in May, summer clothes were sorted and distributed and Deane was able to meet some of the regular men for discipleship and encouragement.
However, amidst fears of a second wave of the virus and uncertainties about further restrictions, it was decided not to renew the lease on the centre. However, the couple find this is creating new opportunities to show God’s love to migrants and refugees.
“Since the lockdown was lifted and without the centre, we now meet more people every day on the streets and in a cafe, getting contacts to distribute more food bags,” says Deane, who also provides biblical encouragement through weekly messages and videos via a WhatsApp group.
The couple are also able to share the hope of Christ while remaining socially distant through a Facebook page ‘Gospel Hope’.
On a personal level, the couple, sent by SIM New Zealand, are grateful their personal experience of lockdown meant extra time to study Italian and spend more time in reading God’s word and prayer.
And now summer has arrived, the beach is beckoning — with masks worn by order of the mayor — although it “does give scootering a somewhat clandestine look,” jokes Deane.
By Susan Beguely
- For the Graingers to have the resources to continue demonstrating Christ-like compassion to those in Palermo.
- For refugees and migrants to find a source of income and stay healthy during the pandemic.
- That they will clearly see Jesus in their interactions with Sherilyn and Deane.