Thomas, Gibbs Help "Seekers" Find Jesus

By Mark Janssen

Lauren Thomas and Karly Gibbs went as teachers … as educators, but came home from a two-month stint in Athens, Greece, having been taught … having been educated.

“I have never seen God work in such powerful ways,” said Gibbs, a sophomore from Overland Park, Kansas. “For those who are Christians, Jesus ‘is’ their life. You can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voice.”

Thomas, a sophomore from Mitchell, Neb., added, “We have our faith and we believe, but we saw cases where because someone left their Islamic background, families have disowned them. In some cases, they have had to leave their home country. To them, Jesus is their everything. It was a very powerful message for us, who believe, but have never had things taken from us … like family … because of our belief.”

Thomas and Gibbs, members of the Thunder’s volleyball team, were two of eight Manhattan Christian College students to go on a Mission trip to Greece in June and July. The others were Gabe Awbrey, Hannah Corbus, Frederick Isbill, Alexis Samuel, Daniel Southworth and Katherine Wenger.

Also in the group were MCC sponsors Dave and Jen Cupery, plus Seth Sagstetter from Kansas State University.

“Our purpose was working with refugees at the Work Alliance Relief Center in Athens,” said Dave Cupery, an MCC professor in Intercultural Studies. “It was a Mission trip through the Greece Evangelical Alliance.”

Cupery estimates the MCC group touched the lives of up to 1,700 individuals with many of those being refugees from the primarily Islamic countries of Syria, Afghanistan and Iran.

“Many are smuggled into Turkey and eventually make their way into Greece, which is an entry point into other European countries,” said Cupery. “They want to keep on the move because they know the bullets are real, and they will come.”

It can take 15 to 18 months to get across Turkey and into Greece, which serves as a type of Governmental holding ground until they can legally reach their end goal of reaching Germany, or maybe France.

Working at a day center that provided help with needed paper work refugees, a warm shower, laundry facilities, and a place to get a haircut, Gibbs said, “We’d see 50 or 60 people a day ranging from little kids to the elderly. Most were Muslims, but you could tell that 10 or 12 a day were what I would call seekers, who were wanting to understand about Christianity.”

What intrigued the “seekers” was seeing Christianity as an avenue of hope.

“It was part of the journey for the refugee. It was a journey of hope to a better life,” said Cupery. “They find it fascinating that our God is so personal and relational. The God in Islam is far less personal and faith is work related. The refugees have gone through traumatic events. They can relate with the fact that Christ suffered, as well. There is an element of hope when they understand God loves them, and loves their families.”

As Gibbs continued on the experience, “There are certain areas with the Muslims where we could agree, which helped open a dialogue, but only to a point. They believe that Jesus was a prophet, but not the Son of God. They don’t understand why Jesus died on the cross, and why Christians are the way we are because Jesus loves us.”

“With them, they ‘have’ to be Muslims,” said Thomas. “It is not a choice.”

Cupery emphasized, “With the Islamic Quran, it’s a life or death decision.”

As with Christians, those who believe in the Muslim religion consider themselves very moralistic. But as Thomas added, “Their religion is more work-based. You go to heaven for what you do.”

Whether Muslims or Christian seekers, the students looked for the good in people, and in so many cases found that good.

“The older people asked good questions,” said Thomas. And of the young, she continued, “They were so different than American kids. You saw the 3-year-old refugee kid taking care of his four-week-old sister or brother, and many could already speak two or three languages.”

“They were phenomenally mature and independent,” Gibbs added of the youngest of the refugees.

While serving as volunteer missionaries, the students had definite rules to abide by.

“We had Bibles with us, but we could not give them out unless the refugees asked for them,” said Gibbs.

The students were also asked not to get into heated religious debates with the refugees, but were open to answer any questions when asked. For both sides communication was difficult as the refugees spoke either Arabic or Farsi, which meant using a translator through Google.

Thomas comes from the tiny town of Mitchell with fewer than 2,000 folks in the panhandle of Nebraska. Earlier in life she had two missionary stints in Haiti.

Gibbs is a city girl growing up in Kansas City where she attended Blue Valley Northwest High School. She hopes to continue her missionary work in South America or Poland.

The MCC students lived in an area of Athens called Victoria, which was three or four miles from the relief center. To all, it was an experience in itself.

“It was near a red-light district where there were a lot of drugs and alcohol,” said Thomas. “We always had a guide with us, but we still had to stop trying to worship with them because it was just too risky.”

But overall, Gibbs said, “It was a wonderful experience. We saw no love in their religion because they had to be Muslim. Because it was so work related, there was no love to it. They had trouble understanding why we had such love for Jesus and seemed to be such good people. What we tried to do was get it across that Jesus died for you. He loves us, and he loves you, as well.”

MCC Scoreboard

3/14/2018 | Baseball at Kansas Wesleyan University | L, 27-2 
3/10/2018 | Baseball at Colorado Christian University | L, 26-4 
3/9/2018 | Baseball at Colorado Christian University | L, 21-0 
3/9/2018 | Baseball at Colorado Christian University | L, 7-4 
3/3/2018 | Baseball at Baker University | L, 6-0