Cross-cultural volunteering: 'Love is the number one language'
Anderson Martinez said he was willing to go anywhere he was needed, and that need was in Greece with a team serving refugees who fled violence and civil war in their countries.
Martinez spent his summer break near Thessaloniki, where he visited refugees in their homes, helped them improve their English, played games, cooked together, and just hung out.
Originally from Colombia, Martinez has lived in the United Kingdom for 10 years, where he is part of the Longsight Church of the Nazarene.
When he heard at the Church of the Nazarene's Eurasia Regional Conference in 2015 about the region’s M+Power initiative to help train and deploy Nazarenes into volunteer cross-cultural service, he wanted to go.
“I started feeling like I want to do something else than just attending Sunday services,” he said.
A three-month summer assignment worked well for his university schedule.
In Greece, some people still live in refugee camps, but several of the most vulnerable families were moved into private apartments or houses in the nearest town. The team ministered to both groups of people.
"It was a really beautiful time because you hear about the situation in the news," he said. "You hear a thousand refugees are coming to Greece, or 10,000, but then when you go to a camp, those numbers you hear in the news become faces, and then those faces have names, and those names become part of your everyday life."
The Nazarene volunteers in Greece worked in partnership with another evangelical church. Through combining efforts, they were able to go beyond the basic support of food and clothing distribution provided by the United Nations and other large non-government organizations.
“It was like a family relationship," he said. "They were happy when we come to visit them.”
Martinez does not speak Greek or Arabic, yet he found ways to communicate without language. Sometimes it took drawing pictures.
“They see you are making the effort to talk to them," he said. "There’s many ways to communicate. You don’t need the language. I think love is the number one language.”
Most of the people he spent time with have now moved on to Germany, France, and the Netherlands. Martinez is planning to visit them this summer with another volunteer he worked with. Their goal will be to help these families connect with churches in their new communities for further support and relationship.
Martinez said that his experience of serving cross-culturally has changed the way he looks at people he doesn’t yet know.
“Sometimes you put labels on people," he said. "If they look different, you already judge them: ‘This person doesn’t look like I like, so I’m not going to make effort to speak to this person.’ But when you are there, you meet people [who] cannot change their clothes for two to three days, or take a shower because there are no available places to take a shower. That doesn’t mean this person is bad or less than me. I learned I should stop judging people and putting labels and instead should make the effort and give them the time to interact and to see who the person is.”
For those who feel a tug toward cross-cultural service, Martinez said, “If you feel God is calling you, go. I understand sometimes you have fear, sometimes you fear that maybe it’s not your language, [you don’t have] enough money. But if God is calling you, He knows and He will support you and He will make the connections you need to go there.
“Once you are there, just trust in Him and you will learn whatever you need to do His work there.”