Freedom through Facebook
August 2016

By Josie Oldenburg — Bill and Joan Ginther know that switching on the news or scrolling through Facebook just might change their lives.

“If you watch the news and do nothing, you should stop watching the news,” Bill said. “That’s how we operate.”

And that’s why, several months into the refugee crisis in Europe, they found themselves walking through the muck, delivering hard-boiled eggs and apples to refugees stuck in Macedonia.

“When the refugee crisis became more public, we thought, ‘We have to do something,’ ” Bill said. “We decided to ask: ‘Lord, what would you have us do? We are available, we’re semiretired, we have time, we have energy.’ That’s a dangerous prayer. He takes you up on it.”

Soon after that prayer, the Ginthers saw a SEND Facebook post inviting people to serve refugees living in two hastily organized camps along a train track in Macedonia, near the border with Serbia.

Muddy refugee camp in Europe
Nearly 500 people were living in the camp when the Ginthers visited. 

They went to the so-called “mud camp,” populated by 472 people who had made it to Serbia but were pushed back.

“We were immediately overwhelmed with the needs and the desperation,” Bill said. “We thought, ‘What can we do? We are just a couple of people.’ But we realized these people needed a listening ear. So we started to listen to people, to talk to people, to ask if we could pray with them.”


Tahir and his kids
Tahir, right, with the two siblings with whom he fled Syria.

During their time in Macedonia, Bill and Joan developed a close connection with Tahir who had fled from Syria with his two siblings. Tahir was close to earning his law degree when their region of Aleppo was bombed; 10 people died in their apartment building. The family decided to send the children away, while Tahir’s parents stayed behind to care for their own elderly parents.

The Ginthers tried to meet the family’s physical needs, delivering clothes and healthy food to supplement the simple meals the Red Cross provides.

One day Tahir asked, “So, why are you here? What brings you all the way from Canada?”

“That’s a great introduction to say that we believe God sent us here to be with you, to listen to you, to be his presence here,” Bill said.

During their time in the camp, Bill prayed that Tahir and his siblings would have hope beyond their surrounding circumstances, that they would have hope for a home beyond this earth.

And then Bill and Joan left.


That could have been the end of the story. But Bill is on Facebook. So is Tahir.

“These are ordinary young people. They have cell phones. There are a hundred phones lined up, waiting to be charged by the generator in the camp,” Bill said. “If you’re on Facebook, you can be found, and you can stay in touch.”

So, they did. Using Facebook Messenger’s voice-call capability, they started talking every other day.

One day, Tahir told Bill: “I would be interested in what you have.”

“I would be more than happy to pray with you now,” Bill responded.

“Just give me one night just to think about it.”

Early the next morning, Tahir phoned Bill: “I’m ready. I’m ready to make your God mine and to accept him as my own personal savior.”

“I had the pleasure of leading him to the Lord by phone,” Bill said. “God can use social media. And he did.”

Cell phones at charging station in refugee camp.
The camp’s charging station is always busy.

Tahir has been on fire, eager to share his newfound faith and to grow. He asked for an Arabic Bible and received a New Testament.

“He wasn’t satisfied,” Bill said. “He asked: ‘Wait, isn’t there more?’ I told him there are one-year Bible reading plans. He said, ‘A year? Why would it take that long?’ ”

When Tahir and his family received a five-day pass to leave the camp, his first request was to go to a church to share his testimony. And he did.

“There are up to 60 million refugees in the world,” Bill said. “They are forgotten people. I shudder when I hear the term migrant or refugee. These are just people. Unless someone goes to bat for them, they are lost in the system.

“These are people with lives and real feelings and hearts who are waiting to know the Lord. They are individuals created by God who deserve something better.”

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Josie Oldenburg
Josie and her family served in Ukraine for 12 years before she joined the SEND US Communications Team.