Refugee in Sicily longs to have a Bible

07-10-2023

Southern Europe

Michiel Bakker, RD

Migrants arrive in the port of Catania following a rescue operation of migrants off the coast of Sicily by British vessel HMS Bulwark. Photo AFP, Giusi Cosentino

Italian Christians are paying attention to refugees in various places in their country. Johan Kaashoek from the Dutch village of Elspeet visited them last week and went to several reception camps, including on the island of Sicily.

Kaashoek recently returned from his fourth trip with the Dutch Foundation Evangelisation Boat Refugees Italy. He travelled through southern Italy for a week with his wife Alyda and with Jeannette van Oostrum, a fellow board member of the foundation. An aspiring board member with an African background, Yemdji Kenyem, also went along for a few days.

On the southern Italian island of Sicily, the group met many young African men from countries such as Gambia, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Nigeria. "At a camp for refugees who recently arrived in Europe, we spoke to young people who excitedly told us about their ideals. They are optimistic and look forward to getting an education or finding work. Among those who have been in Italy longer, we noticed that boredom and doubt are beginning to set in. Several even wondered whether they were right to travel to Europe."

Cardboard

At a family reception camp, Kaashoek found mostly families from Iraq and Syria waiting for the right documents. "Refugees sometimes stay for a long time under terrible conditions in miserable shelters. For example, we came across an abandoned industrial estate somewhere. People there live in old tents with holes in them and structures made of pallets and pieces of cardboard, without proper sanitation. Very shabby."

During the trip, board members visited local intermediaries who "put their heart and soul" into helping refugees in the camps. "This is how we got to know Tomasso and Saulo, two men who, in addition to their business activities, spend a lot of time helping their neighbours. We were touched by their great commitment and compassion. In all the locations we visited, we noticed that they had the trust of the administrators and received a lot of cooperation."

Language

The two men handed out backpacks that included toothbrushes, toothpaste and shampoo. They also contained Bible materials. After handing out these backpacks, the refugees were offered a full Bible in English, French or another language.

Handing out the Bibles elicited a variety of responses. "Jeannette spoke to a young refugee who said he often read from the Bible in his home country but had not had one with him during his three-month flight. He was grateful for the Bible he was given. He wanted to start reading in it every day."

Empty

The camps are also home to many Muslims. "Sometimes it was difficult to get into conversation with them, but others gratefully accepted a Bible and immediately started reading in it. We hope, with the support of the GBS Bible Foundation, to continue providing our Italian intermediaries with Bibles to distribute to the refugees. There is a great need for this. Furthermore, we may then leave it to the Lord, Who will ensure that His Word will not return empty."

This article was translated by CNE.news and published by the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad on October 3, 2023

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