From February 20-27, 2017 I had the pleasure to volunteer in Katerini with the Evangelical Church in Greece’s affiliated refugee-aid non-profit, Perichoresis. I first served with the ECG in Katerini in August 2016 after meeting Alexandra Nikolara, the team leader for refugee aid work there, at a Consultation on Migration hosted by the Reformed Church in Hungary in June 2016. I was moved by the work that her church is doing for people on the move and I knew that I had to get involved with them and see what refugee aid work looks like in a different context. On my first trip to Katerini, in August 2016, Nikolara’s team was six people – on this trip, her team now numbers around fifty. The work used to be done under the umbrella of the local ECG congregation there in Katerini, but the need for their services has continued growing and so they have restructured their work and are now a church-affiliated non-profit.
My week spent with Perichoresis was enlightening in so many ways. During both of my trips I was able to see many different facets of the work being done in Katerini which helped to provide me with a well-rounded picture of the situation. On this trip I spent time in the newly created nursery program, attended English and Greek lessons with children, visited hotels near Thessaloniki that are currently managed by the non-profit, helped the office staff to run errands, and shadowed a caretaker for a day to learn about the housing program in detail.
What stuck out to me during my time with the Perichoresis team was how consistent they all were in the mission of the work. No matter whom I spoke to, whether it was someone in an administrative position, a driver, a housing caretaker, or a social worker, every single person was on the same page about the work being done in Katerini and their motivation for doing it. Everyone I came into contact with felt a call to help people on the move and Perichoresis does a fantastic job at identifying and maximizing a person’s particular strengths. The team meets each morning so that they are aware of what’s going on in the various facets of the organization, collaborating where it is needed but also giving one another space to breathe and do their own work. That an organization has experienced such tremendous growth in such a short time, and has managed to grow in a sustainable manner and not sacrifice their original mission, is an impressive feat – one that continues to inspire me now that I am back in Budapest.
The work being done in Katerini, on the surface, may seem similar to the work being done here in Budapest for refugees. Both ministries started out on a congregational level and have since grown, though in Katerini it happened at an explosive pace. In Budapest the growth has been slow and steady, with the RCH’s refugee ministry staying under the umbrella of the national church until 2014 when Kalunba Nonprofit Ltd was founded. The non-profit is currently in cooperation with the RCH’s Diaconal Office’s Unit for Refugee Integration as their implementing partner. Both churches have faced pushback for their work with people on the move, but neither has backed down from their call to serve those in need. Both organizations have housing and language programs for their beneficiaries, as well as organized community events to give people a chance to socialize.
The biggest difference though is the context in which the work is done. Greece did not have a choice in whether or not it wanted to accept refugees – they arrived by the boatful’s, emerging from the sea battered and exhausted and defeated, and the Greek people got to work assisting them however they could. Almost at once, support systems that were put in place following the 2012 economic crisis in Greece were adjusted to serve the new population in need. Hungary, however, has taken every opportunity it can to make it known that they do not want refugees in their country, for a multitude of reasons. This leaves an air of palpable tension among the general population here – fear stoked by many government-funded communications campaigns and outward hostility towards those who are from other parts of the world. The context in which this type of work is done matters greatly. I see my colleagues here in Hungary struggle some days, but that makes their successes all the more meaningful. Despite all of the challenges, I am thankful to be serving in this context because I am all the more aware of how needed my presence is right now. The Reformed Church in Hungary seeks to take ownership of its work with refugees, and through partnerships with outspoken churches like those in Greece and other areas of the world, there is plenty of support for them in their endeavors.
Kearstin Bailey serves as a Global Mission Intern with the Reformed Church in Hungary. Her appointment is supported by Week of Compassion, Our Church’s Wider Mission, Disciples Mission Fund and your special gifts.