Being There and Near
Beyond Borders, Lesvos, Greece
“The people in the camps need you – to hold their hand and say – ‘I am here, near you,’” says Fatima* a former ESL student who sought asylum in Greece, on the island of Lesvos.
“I first met Fatima in the summer of 2018, as I was walking along the beach in Greece. I saw two women: one a Somali and the other Syrian,” remembers Liz Steggall-Lewis, Associate Director of Beyond Borders. “With my very basic Arabic, I was able to understand that both of the women were asylum seekers and that Fatima was interested in learning English.” That led to Fatima being tutored for six weeks by Beyond Borders’ members, Marge Lewis and Judith Gunnett.
“Our plans for educational programs for refugees on Lesvos had just fallen through,” Liz shares. “We were trusting in Col 4:3, ‘that God would open a door for this new ministry’.”
Originally, Beyond Borders planned to begin work on Lesvos by delivering an English Camp for women and an educational camp for their children. Then three weeks before the start date, with a team of almost fifty people ready to go, the partner organization backed out. With that decision, they lost the building they were hoping to use and more significantly, access to refugees themselves.
Yet God opened the doors that summer for informal educational opportunities, a children’s camp, and the English Camp for women to occur. After these summer activities ended, Fatima went on to attend classes held at an outdoor restaurant led by Beyond Borders staff, Bill and Doris Robinson. She completed two levels of the English Camp curriculum. “Our staff were reaching out with God’s love and building relationships. God used these opportunities to open doors,” Liz continued.
With her new English skills, Fatima started working with an NGO that offers education classes for children on Lesvos, which brought her a sense of purpose and joy. She and her husband were later moved to Athens with their son. Since then, she has been granted asylum in another European country.
In 2019, Beyond Borders offered three educational programs for over 1,000 people living inside of Moria Refugee Camp. Beyond Borders has provided adult ESL for men inside of the camp, as well as ESL classes and an early intervention program for women and children inside of the camp. They have also partnered with two NGOs to deliver a school readiness program for children outside of the camp and adult ESL classes. Sadly, escalating violence in and around the camp, coupled with the spread of Covid-19, means programs on Lesvos have been suspended indefinitely. This, while the International Organization for Migration tells us that refugees from 64 different countries continue to pour into Greece, many through the island of Lesvos.
Fatima shares, “They (Marge and Judith) gave me what no one had given me, but they gave it to everyone – their love, desire to help, their words (language)…that helped me through the difficulties. They made me believe that there are people who give us peace and love without conditions.” The vision of Beyond Borders is a world where no border restricts access, to an education that transforms lives through Christ’s love. Liz says, “It has been an honor to know women like Fatima. We pray that God continues to open doors to be agents of Christ’s love through education to those who are displaced.”
*Name has been changed