Warm greetings to you this Easter! He is risen.
This has been a busy start to 2017.
After returning from Greece, we spent some time in the U.S. in late January and early February. Miki attended an intensive class at Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky as part of her degree requirements, and we attended missions conferences in Norcross, GA and Tuscaloosa, AL. It was an encouraging time to be there. We wish we could have seen more of you.
In late March, Charlie was in the UK, where he attended a gathering dedicated to helping refugees and aid workers combat the stress and traumas associated with the refugee crisis. It was a good reminder that while providing basic needs has to be the priority, we cannot neglect the mental health of ourselves and those whom we serve. The information really helped Charlie to understand some of the challenges he was having emotionally as part of this vital work. One of the more troubling facts he learned was that in 2016 alone, aid worker turnover peaked at nearly 80% in Greece. The challenges are really that heavy – and we have seen them first hand.
We spent time as a family in Southern Europe during December and early January, where we worked in support of relieving the refugee crisis there. As with our earlier work along the “Balkan route”, we had the opportunity to witness first-hand the very difficult and dangerous circumstances in which refugees are currently living in Presevo, Serbia, in Thessaloniki and Lesvos, Greece, and in Northern Italy. In each of these locations, we worked primarily to prepare and distribute hot meals and tea, as well as to give out blankets, tents, sleeping bags, stoves and other supplies to refugees living in local camps and on the streets.
During the week of New Year’s, many of the camps were covered in snow, and temperatures dropped down into the teens. Several thousand people, including women and children, were still sleeping in tents in overcrowded camps, or in sleeping bags in abandoned, window-less buildings in the city centers.
In the first few weeks of the 2017, there were several reports of death from hypothermia as a result of these conditions.
We worked alongside several organizations and individuals serving refugees in the area, of which most were from Europe. The current view of both refugees and volunteers whom we have come to know is one of confusion, even disbelief. It seems no one can understand how the conditions in these camps can still be so inadequate, more than 2 years after the significant influx of these refugees into Europe began (although refugees have been coming into places like Turkey and Sicily for much longer).
In several camps and squats, little iron stoves made out of old wheels have been built and provided by individual volunteers and small charities. We met another handful of volunteers who are building wooden platforms on which the refugee tents can be set up in order to help keep them out of the mud and snow. One particular camp near Thessaloniki has gone so long waiting for promised electricity by the Greek government that finally a few volunteers started welding and delivering 12-foot electrical posts themselves, which are specially fitted with necessary input and output requirements, so the residents of the camp can begin to have heated water and mobile phone charging.
The funds for these desperately needed items is coming primarily from individual donations – including from some of you. Just like us, we witnessed volunteers taking breaks from cooking meals, sorting aid and building stoves in order to make calls to potential donors throughout the day. Many of the volunteers themselves sleep in their vehicles, or in small flats and shacks with no running water or heat. Most we have met are receiving no salary, but see themselves as privileged simply because they have European or U.S. passports. They are legally allowed to live and work here, unlike the very people they feel compelled to serve. But as the statistics above show, there is a tremendous price to pay for serving.
So they volunteer 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week, for weeks at a time, in order to provide a bit of relief to the thousands of people who have come into Europe fleeing violence, war, persecution, or famine, while those people sit in squats and tents, and wait and wait and wait.
We can not say enough about the people we have met, both among the refugees and volunteers. Their love and service is flawed, and sacrificial, and passionate. They desire and hope for more – for better. They ache every day – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Essentially, they are just like you and me.
So, this month we write to ask you to once again consider coming and helping in this relief effort. Consider spending even a few days working alongside one of the many charities, getting to know some of the refugees and their children, as well as the volunteers who are giving every day. They need people to come pick up the slack. Could that be you?
This is one of those situations where nothing short of human compassion and connection will do.
People are hurting in ways we personally have never witnessed. There is no “quick fix” here. Solutions will only come family by family, person by person, with long, concentrated, sacrificial effort. Please prayerfully consider coming and taking a look for yourself. Or, consider financially helping to send someone if you are not able to come yourself.
Looking Forward/Prayer requests
Miki has just published her first book! Over the past 18 months, Miki put together an 8-week prayer study, entitled “More than Enough”. It is now available as an Ebook for purchase on iBooks and Amazon. The catalyst for the book came from Miki’s work in prayer ministry in Europe. Much of the material has come from her teachings at prayer gatherings and conferences over the years. Please check it out. If your Sunday School classes or small groups would like to use the guide in a more group setting, contact us directly and we can give you a bulk discount! Here’s the links:
Charlie is currently finishing up a record on which he collaborated with gifted musician, pastor, and dear friend, Gustavo Faleiro, while they were together in Paris some months ago. The 5 song album covers topics of romance, refugees, orphans, faith, and more. We’ll let you know when the album comes out, but in the meantime, here’s a link to the first single, “Chatelet”.
Charlie also recently finished another collaborative record with the United Methodist Church of Russia. This was the second album in the series called “Music Lab”, where Russian worship leaders from up to ELEVEN time zones gather to learn about writing and recording worship music to hopefully add to the Christian music canon of the UMC in Eurasia. To see a glimpse into this process, check out these videos – just make sure to turn on the English translations in the video settings! (The translations won’t be perfect, but you should be able to get the basic ideas)
You can hear the whole album here:
As our work continues to expand through Europe, we definitely covet your continued prayers and support as we learn more. Charlie will depart Monday for Greece once again. He’ll be checking out new opportunities to connect aid and support to refugees in need throughout the various camps in the country. Look for his video updates on Facebook.
In May, Miki will attend a conference in Athens, Greece focused on at-risk children as a result of the refugee crisis. Given our experience working with orphans and street children, the situation for unaccompanied minors traveling as refugees is a cause near and dear to our hearts. Please be praying that new connections will be made, and that we will find opportunities to help in the future.
Finally, it is difficult to describe how deeply grateful we feel each and every day for the support and love that is poured out into our family by so many of you. There is no doubt that our lives and work here would be impossible without every single person whom God has used to provide for our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. We pray that you all will know the peace and truth of the love of our Father through Jesus Christ in 2017, and that you will know how much you all mean to all of us.
In Him Who is Savior and Lord forever,
Charlie, Miki, Isabel, Jasper and Celia
Ways to donate to this ministry:
By Check: Send a check to the following address, noting “Chastain/Russia 322” in the memo:
6234 Crooked Creek Road
Norcross, GA 30092
By Credit/Debit Card: Go to: https://www.tms-global.org/give
In the box noting: “Give to a Missionary”, fill in the amount and 0322 for the “Four-digit Missionary ID#”
To give to our special projects account (refugees, prayer work), use the “Give to a Partner or Project” and fill in “Chastain Special Projects”