Mission to Care for Syrian Refugees

Mission to Care for Syrian Refugees

January 13, 2016

Rev. Deborah Coble Wise of Trinity United Methodist Church in Waverly is preparing to head out to the Greek Island of Lesvos on a 10-day mission to help refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. All during the Advent season, thinking about Jesus, himself a refugee, these distressed and displaced people were on her mind. “Last week, two boats overturned and 60 people died. This is still a human rights issue. There are people dying to get to freedom. They’re cold, they’re wet, they’re hungry, they’re terrified,” she says.

Link to Deborah Coble Wise’s GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/42hhfqsc

What also kept her thinking about their plight was her sister-in-law. “Both my sister-in-law and brother are veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. And my sister-in-law has a Vietnamese background. I asked her, ‘When did your family come from Vietnam?’ And she said ‘In 1975,’” relays Rev. Coble Wise. “She said, ‘I was a little girl, I was 7, and I don’t remember anything about being in Vietnam.’ And that was kind of the end of her story. But she was very passionate about the refugees and their story. And for someone who has served in the Middle East and for someone to be so passionate and compassionate for the refugees really started me thinking and really pulled at my heart.”

Hear the conversation with Rev. Deborah Coble Wise

An Opportunity Presents Itself

The trip to Lesvos came about very quickly following a Facebook message exchange that she had with Wes Magruder, pastor of Kessler Park UMC in Texas. After finding out that Magruder was planning to take a group to Greece in late January, and at the urging of a friend, she asked if he had room for one more. He did, and within a matter of days, Rev. Coble Wise had the blessing of her church council and began raising money through a GoFundMe page for the trip.

“We hit $3,000 last night, which is really exciting. I had two very generous $1,000 donors who both remained anonymous,” she reports. “Yesterday, in worship, the church was invited to give if they wanted to. I have promised and pledged to take two suitcases with me full of goods to give away, because they are really running through socks. They need hand warmers, they need those lightweight reflective blankets.”

“It’s so cold there and folks are traveling with just what they can carry on that boat and they’ve having to camp for days and they’re burning everything they can find. So it’s a situation where even dry socks or a dry long-sleeved shirt or a jacket can make the difference in someone being able to have at least a little bit of a comfort.”

Mission to Lesvos

What is happening in Lesvos is just the beginning for these refugees. “This is just the first step in their journey. This gets them from Asia to Europe,” explains Rev. Coble Wise. “But it’s harrowing. Just that relief of leaving the fighting behind, of crossing the ocean, of arriving on the land in Europe is a big deal. Any funds that are leftover will go to the UMCOR response to the refugees. So if folks still want to contribute, that would be fabulous, and we will be very good stewards of their gifts. I just appreciate so much the support of folks from Iowa, for me to be able to go and to witness, bear witness, and come back and tell the story.”

Magruder is the team leader for the trip, and his church already does quite a bit of work with refugees in Texas. “He’s very familiar with working with and with honoring people of different ethnic groups, and partnering with the refugees. Wes has also been a missionary in the past. So it’s sponsored by Wes’s church and other United Methodist Churches in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.”

Exactly what the group will do once they get to Lesvos will likely depend on what the needs are on the ground. They could be helping people off of boats, unpacking donation boxes, or cleaning up roads, among many other things. “I’m very open to where the needs are and just wanting to be present and to be helpful. That’s my goal. But I’ve been doing a lot of reading in preparation for being a non-anxious presence in the midst of a really hurting place.”

Bringing Light to Darkness

With this whole trip having come together so quickly and unexpectedly, Rev. Coble Wise is confident that the Holy Spirit has been at work. And she’s prepared to answer with whatever help she can offer. “When we have the opportunity to respond out of our giftedness, out of the wealth of our experiences to a disaster, if we have the means to do it I think it’s what we’re called to do.”

Rev. Coble Wise feels honored and blessed by any support that can be offered, but she emphasizes that prayer is what they need most. “The whole team needs prayer. We can’t make a journey like this without prayer. We know that we’re walking into some emotional challenging places, and we’re going to need lots and lots of people praying for us.”

She hopes that in some way the team will be able to bring a little peace and light to refugees during this dark time and feels fortunate to have a chance to do so. “I’m blessed to have a church that’s supportive of that sort of ministry. And that’s thanks to the folks at Trinity United Methodist Church. They’re very faithful in that respect, and I’m really honored by their trust.”