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Disaster Response Team Responds to Wildfires in Greece: Current Updates

For an overview of the devastating fires in Greece and MTW's involvement in relief efforts from the beginning, scroll down to our initial post from Thursday, July 27, 2018. We'll be updating this blog as new information becomes available. 

November 12, 2018

Many of you have generously given to provide supplies for relief and rebuilding efforts in the aftermath of the devastating fires in Greece last July. Thank you! A team of six returned to the U.S. on Saturday, Nov. 10, following a weeklong disaster response trip to the Mati area of Greece. There they served alongside MTW missionaries and national church partners in ministry to the local community in the ongoing clean-up from the devastating fires.

On July 23, 2018, the worst wildfire outbreak in 100 years swept through Greece leaving devastation in its wake. More than 90 people lost their lives and thousands lost homes and vehicles. With few evacuation options, many were trapped in their homes or cars and were overcome by smoke and fire; others on the coast drowned trying to escape by sea. Mati, one of the most beautiful seaside towns in Attica, was left devastated. This tragic event has been referred to as “The Modern Day Pompeii” and “Greece’s 911.”

MTW missionaries and national partners, working alongside the First Greek Evangelical Church and her four church plants, have been reaching out to the victims of the killer fires since day one. Most homeowners haven’t been able to do much rebuilding on their own due to lack of funds or insurance, so the assistance that the Greek church is offering through the volunteers along with the aid from MTW’s GDR teams is extremely helpful in the process of rebuilding. In some cases it is a rebuilding of one room at a time.

Burned Room

Following an initial MTW assessment team trip in September, MTW’s Global Disaster Response and the Greek Evangelical Church laid out a plan for how MTW could best help in the longer-term efforts to aid the churches as they respond to this tragedy. Last week’s response team was the next step on that journey.

The Greek Evangelical Church in Glyfada, led by Pastor George Tolias, has been leading the disaster response ministry efforts in the Mati area. The MTW response team arrived to work alongside them, and spent the week serving the homeowners of fire-ravaged homes in Mati with much-needed cleanup, sharing the message of Christ along the way.

Rebuilding homes, rebuilding lives
The church selected five families/houses that they have been ministering to in Mati, and the MTW response team served these families through cleanup work at their homes. Volunteers from the Glyfada church come out to Mati three days a week on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The ongoing efforts of the local church serving this community has been tremendously heartening to the area’s residents.

The resident of the first house the team visited had put his own life at risk to help others in his community when the fires swept through the area, losing his car in the process. He also helped pull some people out of the sea when they jumped in to escape the blaze. The team was able to help by cleaning up debris, pressure washing the house, painting, and listening to his story.

Team Cleanup

At another house, the first and second floors were damaged beyond repair, in part due to water damage. Here the team helped clear some rubble and remove tile and mortar down to the concrete subfloor. The owner will then apply a sealant and eventually retile.

The help the response team provided also came in the form of relationships and spiritual conversations with the homeowners and other residents of the area. Everywhere the team went, the Greek people were warm and hospitable. Each one shared a little bit of their story. Some shared their experience surviving the fire, some shared their frustration with the government for not responding quickly enough, and some shared that they will pick up the pieces and keep going. Everyone encountered was grateful that strangers would come across the globe to help people they had never met, expecting nothing in return. And each time the team was able to point people back to the Greek Evangelical Church.

Relationships and spiritual conversations
One of the homeowners, a non-believer, asked deep spiritual questions over the course of several days. After interacting with team members he said that this was the first time he had ever heard that Jesus claimed to be God. An MTW missionary entered into the conversation the following day so that after the response team leaves they can keep talking.

Greek Church

Other spiritual conversations happened naturally throughout the week, whether among refugees at the Glyfada church who were learning about Jesus for the first time, among homeowners they were helping, or among Greeks who took an interest in a couple team members at a local coffee shop.

At the coffee shop, two team members ordered coffee and were chatting when an older man came up to their table and asked where they were from. Their standard answer was that they were friends of George Tolias, the pastor of the Glyfada church, and are connected to the Greek Evangelical Church. They explained they were just coming to help in the community. They chatted with him and asked some questions, then another man from another table chimed in as well and joined the conversation. Again they had the opportunity to point people to the church. As two MTW missionaries arrived, the second man came over to the table and thanked them and shook each one of their hands as he walked around the table, and then he left. The waitress came over and told the team that their bill had been paid by the man who just left.

Thank you for making these rebuilding and spiritual conversations possible. It’s heartening to see how God works through tragedy to draw people to Himself as they see the body of Christ in action. MTW plans to send future teams to continue rebuilding this devastated region of Greece. Donations are still needed to help with further materials and supplies as the Greek Evangelical Church and MTW Global Disaster Response continue to respond.

Plan to join us for our next Disaster Response Training June 28­-July 3, 2019, in Cherokee, North Carolina. Learn more at mtw.org/disaster or email [email protected].

Your help is still needed to provide aid to help those devastated by these fires. Please consider making a donation to the Greece Disaster Relief Fund to help with relief efforts.


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October 26, 2018

The first response team will deploy in November to serve the affected community alongside local church body, helping with refurbishing damaged homes, teaching on disaster response preparedness and methods, ministering through crisis counseling, and continuing to assess future needs for the affected community. Please pray for our GDR team and the Greek Evangelical Church as they minister to a hurting population through word and deed.

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September 5, 2018

Potential Team to Greece

Our Global Disaster Response (GDR) Assessment team has returned from their on-site trip to Mati, Greece. The data our assessment team collected from the fire disaster in Mati has been analyzed and discussed among GDR leaders. GDR is prepared to give aid to the cleanup efforts spearheaded by the Greek Evangelical Church in partnership with MTW. Greek Evangelical Church leaders have requested a self-sufficient GDR team to come to Mati and assist in working alongside and training volunteers in the proper cleanup necessary for a disaster like the one in Mati. We are currently working to put a GDR team together so that they may arrive in Mati before the Christmas holidays.

“Fire season” in Greece occurs every year, much like the destructive hurricane season in the Caribbean. Over the last 10 years, 30 percent of the Greek state of Attica has succumbed to wildfire. In the immediate hours after the tragic, life-taking Mati wildfire, the Greek evangelical church, developed a 5-year, 3-stage action plan to assist those most affected. Because of the growing regularity of wildfires and their increasing proximity to cities, Greek Evangelical Church leaders desire to develop a Greek disaster-preparedness mercy ministry. This mercy ministry will involve current and future Greek Evangelical Church members being trained to respond to the next fire disaster as well as opening doors for relationships and church planting in these areas.

The Greek people from the Athens and Mati area are very urbanized. Our team will work with the Greek church volunteers, teaching them how to correctly use a range of tools and clean up while working alongside them. These volunteers want to be on the front lines serving, but they do not know how to do it. We want to build relationships through our cleanup effort and aid those affected by the disaster in processing it.

The GDR trip will be seven to 10 days and will take place some time before Christmas 2018. Dates are still being determined. The scope of the work includes power-washing of fire-damaged homes, clearing of burnt brush and trees, cleanup of destroyed property, helping to train Greek volunteers on proper cleanup skills, and relationship building through conversing with Greeks affected by the fires as team members work alongside them. The team will be living in GDR tents in an empty campground in Mati.

The mayor and pastors will designate houses that need to be completely cleaned of fire damage inside and out. These are large, family compounds and it will take a significant amount of time to clean. Order of priority will be determined by local Greek project coordinator.

If you are interested in being part of this team, please email us at [email protected] and we will put you on a list to receive additional information as further details become available.

Your help is needed to provide aid to those devastated by these fires. Please consider making a donation to the Greece Disaster Relief Fund to help with relief efforts.

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August 14, 2018

The GDR Assessment team has returned to the States and GDR leadership will debrief with them this week. Recommendations include clean-up of the area, training in fire and flood disaster preparedness and mitigation, training in relief skills, and training in responding to psychological trauma, as well as provision of equipment to aid in clean-up. 

Every disaster is an opportunity for change and every crisis is a time to encounter Christ. The Mati wildfire is a unique opportunity, as it has already brought ethnic Greeks and a variety of refugees together in the clean-up. The Greek Presbyterian churches have seen this door to mercy open and have been serving since the fires. They want to both expand and improve their offering to the victims. The church had tentative plans developed before the assessment team arrived. This team was able to apply their expertise in crisis to augment those plans and ground them in the reality of disaster and best practices. MTW's Global Disaster Response has been asked to continue to assist both in this disaster and in preparing for the future. 

All agree that GDR can help in two ways: direct field response, and training. This parallel yet intertwined approach has the potential to be a tipping point for the area and also for kingdom growth. Wildfires are common in this region, but the Mati fire was much worse than normal in terms of loss of life, property destruction, primary and secondary psychological trauma, and ecological damage. This crisis can be used as a springboard to train, equip and prepare the local church for the next one, as well as reduce its effects afterward.

The recommended response combines local church leader and volunteer training, with observation and implementation on the field with GDR/MTW response teams. This not only is the most effective way to learn, it also generates meaningful relationships and long-term growth in Greece and beyond. Second, working hand-in-hand with these leaders potentially creates a space for future church-planters and missionary-workers to help the Greek people, get experience working overseas and better see God’s calling for their lives.

This is a horrible event, yet biologists have long known that fire leads to regrowth. This tragedy has seeds within it. Seeds of mercy, first and foremost. But also seeds of change as the Greek society experiences God’s love through quality care and restoration from Greeks, sojourners in Greece, and helpers from around the world. Finally, these seeds can be spread around the world as those who work here take their skills to new locations in need. 

Your help is needed to provide aid to those devastated by these fires. Please consider making a donation to the Greece Disaster Relief Fund to help with relief efforts.

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August 12, 2018

The GDR Assessment team traveled to the coastal town of Mati over the weekend. Fire damage in Mati was more extensive than the team expected. The fire moved extremely fast through the area charring trees, burning structures, and melting cars and all flammable materials. Properties were marked by colors of spray paint—green, yellow, and red—based on severity. An estimated 75 percent of structures are at least moderately destroyed. Flooding is an extreme concern as the region moves towards the rainy season starting in October. The soil in and above Mati is ashy and prepared to slough off with minimal rain.

Greece damage

The assessment team will meet with Greek team members tomorrow in Athens to discuss proposed disaster relief plans before their trip home. The hope is to be able provide some long-term assistance to the Mati area including area clean-up, and training local pastors, lay people and volunteers on trauma-response, clean-up, and fire/flood preparedness.

Greece damage

To see more photos and videos taken in the area, click here.

Your help is needed to provide aid to those devastated by these fires. Please consider making a donation to the Greece Disaster Relief Fund to help with relief efforts.

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August 10, 2018

Our Global Disaster Response Assessment Team is on the ground and has begun assessing how and where to best focus our response efforts. The team from the U.S. joins MTW missionaries and the First Greek Evangelical Church in Athens. We're thankful to have so many folks in Athens who are eager to provide aid wherever possible. The MTW-Athens team and the church are close enough to be able visit the affected areas three days a week.

Relief supplies

In addition to working closely with our partner church, the First Greek Evangelical Church of Athens, we are meeting with three other local area evangelical churches to help better coordinate relief efforts. 

These local pastors are reporting that the volunteer effort in Mati, the seaside resort town that has seen the most destruction and loss of life, is going smoothly, but at the same time very slowly. The main concern now with the effort is clean-up. The local volunteer “clean-up” effort is expected to continue from now until the end of the year 2018. A true, strategic clean-up and relief effort is not currently underway with the volunteers. Pastors and volunteers lack knowledge/resources to holistically clean up and secure a disaster area. Due to poor infrastructure in Greece, there is no governmental presence in the clean up and local expectations of time needed to clean up is in excess of two to three years. 

In addition to clean-up, secondary needs in the area include trauma counseling training for local pastors and GDR disaster preparedness/mitigation training before the next fire season. There is also a need and an opportunity for strategic church partnership in local disaster preparedness ministry, with churches coordinating with the local Synod to support Greece in current and future disasters. These local pastors have a shared vision to see centralized, organized, continual Greek relief efforts aimed at bringing in hopeful church planters from abroad. 

Our GDR team is still in the process of assessment and determining next steps. Please continue to pray for them, and for God to lead these efforts for His glory. 

Stay tuned! More updates to come!

For those who have given, thank you for your generosity! If you haven't given, please consider making a contribution to the Greece Disaster Relief Fund to help with relief efforts.

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August 8, 2018

Our Global Disaster Response Assessment Team departs the U.S today, and arrives tomorrow in Greece.

Since the wildfires swept through Attica on July 27, a team that includes one of the pastors with the First Greek Evangelical Church in Athens, along with church members or elders and MTW missionaries, have been going to the affected area every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. These teams, averaging 10-15 people, travel in the church van and go for the whole day.

These teams are connecting with people affected by the fires, and building relationships through acts of mercy. This include cleaning up people's yards and property, as well as just sitting and talking with folks about what they have lost and what they will do now. The team is particularly trying to help the elderly and those most in need.

A pastor with First Greek Evangelical Church in Athens met with the mayor in Mati, a coastal town where the fires were especially devastating. The mayor was very interested in the teams continuing to come and help.

Global Disaster Response is estimating that our initial response to the fires will take as long as three months. Generally speaking, MTW's role in disaster response is not as "first responders," but rather to provide relief and serve the community over a longer period of time. It is a marathon, not a sprint.

For those who have given, thank you for your generosity! If you haven't given, please consider making a contribution to the Greece Disaster Relief Fund to help with relief efforts.

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Monday, July 30, 2018

With a death count that continues to rise, this has become one of the worst natural disasters in living memory for those in Greece's southeast region of Attica. Rescue crews are still combing the land and sea for missing people. Public outcry against the Greek government has escalated due to a perceived lack of emergency preparedness and poor crisis management.

MTW missionaries serving in Greece and a team from the First Greek Evangelical Church visited the area on Saturday. They described a disconcerting, eerie quietness that surrounds an area after a disaster of this magnitude. The mayor of Rafina has officially halted donations as they have an overabundance of water and supplies, but no manpower to get it delivered.

A Global Disaster Response Advanced Resource Assessment Team (ARAT) from the U.S. will head to the disaster area on August 8. They will work alongside the MTW-Athens team and the First Greek Evangelical Church to determine next steps. Please pray for those devastated by the fires, and for wisdom as we assess how best to help. 

Please consider making a contribution to the Greece Disaster Relief Fund to help with relief efforts.


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Thursday, July 27, 2018

The worst wildfire outbreak in 100 years swept through Greece on Monday, July 23, leaving devastation in its wake. With wind gusts of up to 80 mph, the 14 wildfires spread rapidly. More than 80 people have lost their lives, with the death count expected to rise. Thousands have lost homes and vehicles. With few evacuation options, many were trapped in their homes or cars and were overcome by smoke and fire; others on the coast drowned trying to escape by sea. Reports are that Mati, one of the most beautiful seaside towns in Attica, has been totally destroyed. This tragic event is being referred to as “The Modern Day Pompeii” and “Greece’s 911.”

MTW missionaries and national partners, working alongside the First Greek Evangelical Church and her four church plants, are making plans to reach out to the victims of the killer fires. Please pray and give to help bring relief and the love of Christ to those suffering from these horrendous fires. Your prayers and financial assistance will be an encouragement as the teams decide how and where to help. We will be updating this post on the Greece disaster relief efforts as updates become available.  

Please consider making an online gift to the Greece Disaster Relief Fund #97201

 

Funds received by MTW as part of a disaster response appeal are used for relief and recovery, construction, travel for response teams, and related needs as well as for longer-term rebuilding and church planting. Exceptionally, when there are unspent funds, they will be used in future disaster and compassion situations.

Staff, Athens Greece Nov 12, 2018
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