A Different Life

by Daniel Lorefice

Daniel serves the Lord in outreach and discipleship in Italy.

Most of the migrants are men, aged 14 to 40, from places like Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Pakistan, Syria and Tunisia. Some are fleeing civil unrest and war. When they arrive in Libya or Tunisia they wait in illegal centres for weeks or months, living on the edge of survival. Women and the weakest often do not survive in Libya. People have to pay a lot of money to traffickers for a place on an overcrowded and sometimes makeshift boat. Traffickers may call the migrants’ families asking for money to pay for their crossing. During that phone call they may be mistreated so that their cries can be heard by their relatives who will then try to collect money from the entire village, believing that once Europe is reached, the money will be returned. Migrants are often on board without food or water for days in the hope of reaching international waters, where they are entitled, under European law, to be rescued and to apply for political asylum. Vessels laden with migrants stop a few miles from the coast, then the coastguard is called for help.

To speed up the process, traffickers may capsize the boat or set fire to it, even if there are women or minors on board, then disappear. Those who manage the crossing wait at least 40 days on the island of Lampedusa, between Libya and Sicily, where they are checked, so as not to risk bringing infectious diseases into the country. Once they are transferred to Sicily, they are sent to refugee centres scattered throughout Italy. These are large houses that host between 20 and 200 refugees. The government provides them with shelter, food, basic necessities, language courses and job placement. However, there is little to no work for them other than manual labour for two or three Euros an hour. The migrant-dependant businesses want to keep them in refugee centres in Italy as long as possible to receive as much money as they can. It is not long before migrants’ dreams of redemption and freedom in Europe encounter a different reality.

We shared our testimonies and our faith in Jesus Christ, sang songs of hope and prayed for them and for the staff.

Migrant Mission For several years in Sicily, at the Ispicamp Bible camp centre, we organised a mission camp with people, aged 18 to 40, from all over Europe. After a few days of training and studies in missiology and discipleship, the group goes out for outreach. Last summer, with 25 young European believers, we were able to visit a refugee centre in the south of Sicily. The centre hosts 20 minors, boys aged 14 to 17, from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria. We played football with them and ate together. We shared our testimonies and our faith in Jesus Christ, sang songs of hope and prayed for them and for the staff. The team of social workers working there were touched by our visit. They told us that some of the teens have been in the refugee centre for about four years and no one had ever asked to visit them, play with them or spend time with them. The people of southern Italy are largely against migrants and refugees, seeing them a nuisance or even as a threat. Sadly, sometimes even churches are not always welcoming to them. They thanked us many times and asked us to visit them again soon. The next time, we hope to bring more Christian material for them, such as gospels and audio Bible material in their mother tongue that can be loaded onto their mobile phones. In their disappointment and uncertainty, far from their homes and families, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only true hope for these young men.

Natalia & Victor The invasion of Ukraine by Russia on 24 February 2022 triggered a dramatic increase in the number of displaced persons. The UNHCR estimates that as of April 2023, more than 8 million refugees have been registered across Europe, most of whom initially fled Ukraine to neighbouring EU countries. Most are women with their children. When Natalia and her son, Victor, arrived in central Italy they met Sara, a believer who works with us at kids’ Bible camps. She invited them to join us in Sicily this summer so that Victor could be with other children to play, have fun and listen to Bible stories. There Victor heard about Jesus and His love for him and Natalia came to know the God of all consolation who binds up the broken-hearted and cares for the widow, the orphan and the stranger. All the staff surrounded them with love and care throughout the week.

I remember Victor as he looked in vain for his daddy among the many fathers who came to pick up their children at the end of the camp. ‘I am a chief accountant, my husband is a lawyer and my son studied at public school in Kyiv until the third grade of primary school. The day before war broke out, we gathered in Goloseevsky Park, Kyiv. The children played and went on the swings, and the adults said that in the modern world there is no place for war. The next morning we were awoken at 4am by a loud noise, not like thunder or fireworks. We jumped up, after a moment we heard it again – the sound of explosions. I hugged my frightened son, picked up my phone and read a message from my mother, “The war has started.” I clung onto my son’s hand and we fled. Sara, a Christian woman of evangelical faith, not knowing our language, approached our children to support them, playing, dancing, communicating intuitively with gestures and giving them strawberries. All the children fell in love with her, she was the personification of goodness and warmth, like a ray of sunshine. She spoke simply of good and evil, of the Lord Jesus, and this resonated in the heart of every child. We have been transferred to another city which was painful, as these fine threads of relationships are suddenly torn apart again. Especially important for us is the support of believers. When I had moments of being very worried about my relatives in Ukraine, we prayed to Jesus with them, knowing He could help us with our problems and so each new day brought hope.’ – Natalia

Finding Refuge in the Lord In Genesis 21 we read about Hagar and Ishmael as they travelled alone in the wilderness, foreigners without resources. God heard Ishmael’s cry, showed Hagar the water and blessed her. Likewise, when we see someone in need, let us act. Mothers travelling with their children are probably the most fragile and needy group of refugees we meet. For them, finding work is even more complicated than for a male migrant or refugee and so they experience double discrimination. Due to their vulnerability and lack of economic resources, they are often easy prey for prostitution rings and other criminals. ‘This is what the Lord Almighty said, “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another”’ (Zec. 7:9). The number of refugees taking part in our Italian courses every week is growing. Around 40 young men attend the classes in a little brethren church in Monza. We are praying for new volunteer teachers and for an increase in the distribution of gospels in their own languages. Some of them have expressed a desire to read the Bible with us. We also have a ministry with foreign children in two different villages in the north of Italy. We are organising seven summer Bible camps in Sicily.

This requires a lot of work and needs more people to come and help. Pray that each of these ministries helps not only in providing for people’s material needs but, above all, that we bring them to the Truth. In their struggles, disappointment and uncertainty, the only true hope for a different life is through knowing Jesus Christ as Lord.

Daniel Lorefice serves as a missionary in Italy, in church, camps and refugee ministries; he is director of the Christian centre, Ispicamp, in Sicily and of SaleLuce (Salt and Light).

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