|Many greetings, dear brothers and sisters,|
We hope this finds everyone well, especially since it has been a while since we have been able to connect with several of you. We are very blessed, especially in this difficult season, to be able to check-in with you all this week.
Early this morning, just after our alarm went off, Charlie’s phone started ringing. It was Karam*, a Syrian refugee calling from the island of Lesvos, Greece. He was calling on FaceTime to show Charlie the food stations that EuroRelief has gotten set up in the dirt lot outside of Kara Tepe refugee camp, a few miles from where Moria camp had stood before last week’s fires leveled it. Our youngest had come and gotten into bed with us before getting ready for school. So, the three of us stared quietly at the grainy images coming from Karam’s phone – images of aid workers, people of all ages sitting in groups around the lot, aid trucks, and a lot of dust.
These sorts of calls and messages come many times through a typical the week, and especially so since the Moria fire. For those who have not yet heard, for the past several days the community of the Greek island of Lesvos has been reeling after the destruction of the Moria refugee camp, which left more than 13 thousand men, women, and child refugees displaced, once again. Humanitarian aid groups, like Remar SOS, have been scrambling to string together new ways to provide basic needs for the thousands of families who were displaced from their tents/shelters as a result of this tragedy. We’ve seen images of parents and grandparents running from the fires holding the hands of their young children, young folks sleeping in cemeteries, and small children lying under large cardboard boxes with their hands over their ears to keep out the noise of traffic and upheaval while they try to sleep by the road.
This is a community of people who had already experienced significant trauma before arriving in boats on the shores of Lesvos. We can only imagine the long-term effects that this fire and destruction will have in their lives.
We are writing to share some of these recent developments with you all, because we know that we haven’t been in touch very well for some months now, and we realized that we need to catch up and to try and describe what’s been happening in these places. The images that have come out of the Moria fire in recent days are actually similar to those we have being seeing of displaced families in places like Southern Europe and Northern Latin America for a few years now. We’ve continued through these years to struggle to find adequate resources to appropriately process and respond to these situations.
Our Recent Journey – A Brief Recount
As most of you know, by the time we decided to leave Tallinn, Estonia in early 2018 and to move to Northern Italy, we were already dealing with significant stress as a family, mostly as a result of the work we had been doing with refugees in places like Greece, Serbia, and Northern France. By that time, we had learned that Charlie was struggling with what was called “vicarious PTSD” as a result of some violence and suffering he’d witnessed in refugee squats and camps, and all of us were unsure how to navigate the sense of crisis that the work had brought into our lives.
Unfortunately, one of the things that we did not realize at that time was that the counseling resources upon which we’d relied serving as missionaries up until then were not well-equipped to handle the severity of the stress that we were under in our new work with refugees. Our eyes were being opened to deeper levels of trauma and crisis in these communities, and we did not yet understand that this work required a level of counseling expertise and support that our central network could not provide. As a result of this misunderstanding, as our work with refugees continued to develop, our family received a significant amount of counseling that was generally misguided and even, at times, caused us more injury.
By the time we landed back in the U.S. early last year, we were exhausted, broken, and genuinely afraid to make any sudden moves. For about 4 months we moved back and forth between our parents’ homes, who were very gracious to let our family “crash” until we felt like we could start to get some footing again.
Where We Are Now
These past several months have been a time of putting our feet back down “on the ground” a bit.
First, we are very blessed to continue to serve in partnership with TMS Global as members of the CoServe team. As we have shared before, the two international moves – first to Italy and then to the U.S. – left our account at TMS Global deeply in the hole. We understood that if we wanted to begin to crawl up out of that hole then we needed to find stable work in the U.S. as quickly as we could. Thankfully, the part-time/temp work that Charlie was able to find in Atlanta and Miki’s appointment to Acworth UMC helped us to begin making that transition.
In April, Charlie was offered a full-time position as an audio engineering instructor with Tweed Recording Studios in Athens, GA. The leadership there has been following our work with refugees, and wants to support our work with TMS Global and these communities by allowing Charlie opportunities to travel to visit camps and aid workers in the future. In June, Miki received her new UMC appointment as part-time pastor-in-charge at New Prospect UMC in Buford, GA. So in July, our family made one more move, this time just a couple of hours down the road, to Athens, GA.
Finally, through some guidance from some of Miki’s Asbury professors of counseling and UMC connections, through 2019 we were able to connect with well-trained counselors and group-therapy sessions. These resources have helped us walk through some deep struggles we’d been having with crisis and trauma, which had overflowed into our personal health and into our marriage. Some of these connections continue to be regular resources of counseling and support for us today.
Status of the Mission Work
After a year spent regaining our footing back in the U.S., as we began to see this past Spring that the Lord was settling us in the Athens area and that we were indeed going to be able to continue serving and supporting refugee communities regularly, the devastation of COVID-19 hit the world. All international travel became tightly restricted. At this time, U.S. citizens are still not allowed to travel into the European Union at all, significantly impeding our primary means of working with these camps and organizations on the ground.
We wish that we were able to provide more specific upcoming travel/mission plans, but making long-term, concrete plans for international travel at this time just isn’t feasible. Charlie is working on a possible option to get special approval for travel in partnership with a local aid organization on the ground in Greece, so we appreciate your prayers in that effort.
As you can imagine, COVID has not just impacted our ability to connect with the folks with whom we serve in these camps, but it has had a major impact on almost every missionary we know serving with TMS Global and with other organizations. We are all struggling and praying for the Lord to show us new ways for serving and connecting through this season – especially as many of these communities where we serve are the very ones getting the most severely hit by the effects of this virus.
In our work with refugees, we have seen communities that were already restricted in their movement experience even greater restrictions as local authorities attempt to keep some control over the spread of COVID. We have seen refugee families who had begun to find new means for earning some income to feed their families lose those opportunities for work, as businesses have closed and risk of infection has remained very high. Then, of course most recently, we’ve seen families who’d at least found a tent – some form of shelter for themselves and their children – even within the dangers of Moria, once again displaced and sleeping on the streets in a foreign country as a result of fire. The details of the fire are slowly forthcoming, but most agree that the tensions around COVID amongst the small Lesvos community likely fed the anxiety that led some folks to set multiple fires to the tent community of more than 13,000 men, women, and children.
At this time, we are talking with workers and refugees we know on the ground as frequently as we can. We are watching and waiting for the doors to reopen for us to be able to go to Lesvos and other refugee communities to work. We are continuing to financially support the work on the ground as the Lord provides those funds. And we are praying – not only for provision and protection for the families around the world who will sleep on the street tonight, but for hearts – including our own – to continue to be softened and moved to compassion and to action so that real transformation can come in these communities, according to God’s will and to the glory of His name.
Our Support Status
We want to especially thank so many who have continued to support us with prayers and financial support through this difficult season. As members of TMS Global’s CoServe team, we have been able to direct the majority of support funds we receive straight to projects/specific mission needs on the ground. We have continued through these months to send out project-based funds to organizations we know working with refugees in Lesvos and in Northern Bosnia. Additionally, as we have found full-time work in Georgia, our account balance at TMS has been able to recover more quickly. But we still have a way to go.
Before the COVID travel restrictions, we were making plans to go into Southern Europe to visit these groups and to work on new opportunities for serving in refugee squats and camps that have been developing in Northern Mexico. Our hope is that we will continue to see our balance improve to a healthy level at TMS Global, so that when doors open for travel again we will be able to make plans to visit folks who have been faithfully serving on the ground in these places and to continue to support and encourage them with personal visits.
Thank you again so much for your faithfulness and love for us and our family through these days! We’d love to hear from you and to know how you are and how we may be praying for you.
With love in Him,
Charlie and Miki
Ways to donate to this ministry:By Check: Send a check to the following address, noting “Chastain/0322” in the memo:TMS Global
P.O. Box 936559
Atlanta, GA 31193-6559By 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 the special projects account, please specify “Chastain Special Projects”