Earlier this year, 25-year-old Theodore Dimitriou was browsing the website of the Trans-European Division of the Adventist Church when he came across a video that would unexpectedly change his life. It was a video report from Greece that had been produced by the Church for World Refugee Day (June 20). It highlighted the work being done by Adventist Help, a project developed specifically to respond to the refugee crisis in Europe.
Theodore didn’t have any medical qualifications but he knew he wanted to help. He lived in Tasmania but he’d seen his sister get involved in overseas mission trips and he longed to do the same. Already planning a six-week trip to Greece in July to visit family members, he decided to cut his holiday time short. Instead he would spend a few weeks volunteering with Adventist Help.
Working in such a faith-driven team was amazing—we saw God provide miracle after miracle during critical situations.
“I sent an email to the project coordinator of the camp in Oinofyta and they were eager to have extra hands —particularly as I spoke Greek,” says Theodore.
The first thing he noticed upon arriving at Oinofyta was the warmth and friendliness of its refugee residents. At that stage there were close to 150 residents but this rapidly grew to more than 600 in the following three weeks. “They showed us volunteers so much generosity and love,” he reminisces.
Theodore started off volunteering as a handyman and a translator. He also escorted refugees to medical appointments with issues that could not be treated by the Oinofyta clinic. Eventually he began coordinating the logistics of operating the team. The team consisted of almost 40 volunteers from various places—Australia, the United States, South America and Europe. “Working in such a faith-driven team was amazing—we saw God provide miracle after miracle during critical situations,” he says.
People were healed, even though doctors had said they were facing imminent death. Medical supplies and services were provided just as the volunteers were about to give up. And he met some incredible people during his experience—including a particularly special young woman who was one of the other volunteers.
“I believe meeting Lara was a divine appointment,” confesses Theodore. “To be honest, it was a surprise to us both. Individually we haven’t had perfect pasts–we were both at the point where we had come to Greece to do God’s work without distractions and then return home. But as I got to know her, I saw qualities that attracted me—her passion for people, her desire for truth and her sincere love for God.”
Upon reflection, Theodore believes it was his decision to go where God wanted him that led him to meet Lara. “I almost didn’t go to Greece—it was leaving my will in God’s hands that allowed Him to accomplish what He did.”
Throughout Theodore’s volunteering experience he had the opportunity to connect with the camp residents and make friends with them. Gradually he began to see the residents as family. Initially planning to spend just a few weeks volunteering at the camp, he ended up staying for almost three months.
“I was especially touched by the story of one man—I’ll call him Ahmed,” Theodore says. “He was a government medical researcher who also considered himself a devout Muslim. But after an incident involving a teenage girl who was brutally killed in the name of Allah, he became confused and scared. Was this sort of violence really condoned by God?”
Ahmed had many questions but knew that if he asked them, his job, his life and the lives of his young family would all be placed in jeopardy.
“I didn’t know whether I really knew God—or if God even knew or cared about me,” Ahmed told Theodore.
But then Ahmed had a dream. He dreamed of a stranger dressed in white, with shoulder-length white hair.
Ahmed would never forget the expression on the stranger’s face—one of kindness, gentleness, benevolence and compassion. “I know you,” the stranger told him.
After having that dream, Ahmed firmly believed that there is a God who loves him and knows him personally.
“His life has not been the same since then,” says Theodore. “Ahmed has been moved throughout different refugee camps during his journey from Afghanistan. But he has sought to bless and better the lives of other people along the way. He is content to spend the rest of his life in a refugee camp if it means he can continue to be a blessing to others.”
Ahmed’s only fear is for his children’s safety and the threat posed to their lives due to his newfound faith.
“Please pray for him and his family to find safety and strength wherever God leads them,” requests Theodore.
Now back in Tasmania, Theodore will finish his degree in biology and continue working as part of a research team interested in plant physiology. Next year he plans to return to Oinofyta with Lara, with whom he is in a long-distance relationship. Lara is Croatian but has been living in England for 11 years.
“I thoroughly recommend volunteering with or supporting Adventist Help,” he says. “If anyone is contemplating this kind of work, I would say go. Don’t wait for your life to feel like it’s sorted out. Don’t worry about not having medical skills. All you need is a willing pair of hands and a compassionate heart. Let God take care of the rest.”
Vania Chew is assistant editor for Adventist Record.