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Finding Meaning in Suffering: The Impact of Greece Mission Trips

Each year, GAC students have the opportunity to go on a mission trip to Greece to work alongside Hellenic Ministries, an organization that serves refugees in the area. For most, this is an incredibly meaningful experience. For senior Katie Williams, the trips she has taken to Greece since her freshman year inspired her to create an entire AP art portfolio based on the experience of the refugees she met.

“These trips opened my eyes to the refugee crisis. We feel like we’re so far away from it but it’s a part of so many people's’ lives and it’s hard not to address it. I feel that attention needs to be called to that and I wanted to do that through my art.”

Through her art, Katie has sought to bring to life both the physical and mental struggles that refugees experience. Her piece “Hiding” captures the nature of suffering in a poignant way by showing a statue curled up in a fetal position and hemmed in from all sides by a wood enclosure that is tightly wrapped around the statue’s frame. There is no room to move, perhaps even to breath. “Where they are trying to escape, the places they are trying to get into are not letting them in,” says Katie. A striking feature of the statues in all her pieces is that they are faceless. “They don’t have an identity. I think this is how people see refugees a lot of the time.”

Her second piece, “Leap of Faith” represents the struggle of refugees to leave their homes by showing a statue perched precariously at the top of a tall slender pole. Katie considers: “Even though it’s a place of war and danger, it’s still their home. It’s hard to step out in faith.” In refugees is also the desire to push forward and “hope against all hope”. This is represented in Katie’s piece called “Hope” which features a statue pushing against a blue hand. The blue color is inspired by something Katie learned which is that Syrian refugees weave blue throughout their clothing to represent hope.

The fourth piece, and Katie’s favorite, is a self-reflective piece meant to draw the observer in an interactive way by having them look into a mirror. There she hopes they will see that what has happened to refugees can happen even to them. But as in the art piece, even as it happens to you, you can’t see what is going on, which having the mirror facing the opposite direction as the statue is meant to convey.

While Katie’s future as an artist is secured, she feels her calling is to teach in the older elementary grades. But while she may never have the chance to walk her students through the depth of understanding she achieved through her art portfolio, she will have the opportunity to bring them even just one step closer to empathize with the people around them, or even across the world. This understanding is something that is cultivated in GAC students through trips such as the Greece mission trip. Says trip leader and teacher Mandy Richey, “Working with refugees in Greece offers GAC students a worldview of God’s Kingdom.  It’s often easy to get used to ‘church’ being the building where we go on Sunday and the people we worship with each week. But in Greece, we see the Kingdom of God differently.  We see people from across the globe, especially the Middle East, who have come to know Jesus and He has changed their lives. We see that God’s love truly extends to all people on Earth.  And these refugees become our friends. We become Facebook friends and follow each other on Instagram. We look forward to seeing them again each year. Sometimes we won’t see them again on earth, but we forge bonds that will extend into eternity.  We are a part of the Kingdom together.”

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10

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