On a recent Sunday night, BMS World Mission worker Ann MacFarlane received a text. “Come to the port in the early hours of Monday morning.”
If MacFarlane had been back in Reggio Calabria on Italy’s southern coast, she would have been there at the port with others from her church, ready with clothes, bottled water and help for disheveled immigrants who had arrived on a rescue boat, having risked everything to get to European soil.
Unfortunately, she was back in the United Kingdom on home assignment and could only pray.
She later heard that 800 people were on the boat, including 20 newborn babies, several young mothers with small children and many children under the age of 16 with no parents at all. All were looking for a better life.
“It’s humbling and very sad, as many of these people have left behind their loved ones,” MacFarlane said. “It isn’t that they want to leave behind everything that they hold dear; many don’t have a choice. They can stay where they are and die or they can make the journey and at least have the opportunity of a new life.”
In the last few months, the BMS Italy Action Team has been helping MacFarlane on her trips to the port. They were collecting clothes they had gathered at the church for some migrants they had met.
A young girl needed shoes but none was in her size. Action Teamer Izzie Russell had the same-size shoes so she ran home to her flat and brought them back so this needy girl could have them.
“I thought it was lovely for Izzie to do that,” MacFarlane said.
Most of the immigrants are taken by buses to other parts of Italy to be processed, but many stay in Reggio Calabria, particularly young African men.
“At all the traffic lights and outside the bars and every street corner, you will find these young men begging for money,” MacFarlane said. The men are hoping to get enough money so they can move further north to find work.
BBC News has reported that at least 1,750 people have died crossing the Mediterranean this year, a 20-fold increase over the same period in 2014.
MacFarlane’s husband, David, says that Italians feel let down by the response from the rest of Europe to the crisis, as some countries have decided not to fund the rescue operation, fearing that it encourages more people to make the perilous journey.
“The Italian people in our area are very angry that they seem to have been left by the rest of Europe with this problem, especially by the decisions made by Britain, France and Germany over a year ago not to encourage going out to sea and bringing these people in,” David MacFarlane said.
“There is anger, but praise God there is also a good response from the majority of the Italian people towards this crisis. The main thing is that they are helping to alleviate the problem.”
The MacFarlanes have urged prayers for a solution to the situation and for the immigrants who come to Europe at a heavy cost, with no guarantees of a brighter future ahead.
“In my mind and in my heart, every day I bring before God these poor boat people,” Ann MacFarlane said. “We have a God of the impossible, and I think he will make things happen. I just ask people to pray for this situation.”
Chris Hall is the editor of BMS World Mission’s Engage magazine. A version of this news article first appeared on the BMS website and is used with permission. You can follow Chris on Twitter @chrishallnewb and BMS @BMSWorldMission.