A Chat with Yochana Darling of the International Christian Consulate
Today I want to highlight an awesome Christian organisation an old school friend of mine Founded and is heavily involved with in Greece, The International Christian Consulate. Her God directed story is amazing and the work the ICC do is both incredible and much needed.
They really need people’s help to continue doing God’s work there. Please take the time to get to know Yochana’s heart behind the ICC and really consider supporting them in some way, whether that be financially or through one of the other methods outlined below.
[JW] Hey Yochana! So for those who don’t know you, tell us who Yochana Darling is! Where are you from? How did you become a Christian?
[JD] I’m British and was born in Sussex but I’ve lived in lots of different places, so I’m from all over really. Currently I’m living in Greece, where it’s a lot warmer and sunnier than the UK! Actually, I’ve been a Christian for as long as I can remember. Honestly, one of my earliest memories was from when I was about 2 or 3 years old, sitting in my bed asking Jesus to come and live in my heart. He’s been with me ever since. When I was really young, I had a close relationship with Him, and He’s been my rock and anchor through every storm and trial in my life so far. Without Him, I wouldn’t be who I am today. When I was 7, what I wanted more than anything in the whole world was to be baptised, because I wanted to do what Jesus told us to do and because I loved him more than anything. I was asking to be baptised after every single baptismal service at my church for the next 7 years, until I was finally allowed when I was 14!
[JW] How did you get involved with the International Christian Consulate?
[YD] Well, that follows on nicely from my previous answer – soon after I was baptised at age 14, God gave me a vision – it was really huge and actually it overwhelmed me a little bit if I’m honest. He showed me pictures, like scenes in a movie – I can still see them now… of people, not in the UK or the west but in the Middle East. I’d never met anyone from the Middle East and I’d never been there but he was showing me His people in hiding and running for their lives because of persecution for their faith. I saw scenes of Christians being beheaded and captured by people that look like ISIS. Bear in mind this was 22 years ago! I had never seen a Muslim, never mind an Islamist and I didn’t understand what He was showing me. But I knew that He was calling me into that context – to do something for His people amid that horrific persecution. He also showed me that this calling was not yet but for a time a few years away. This vision was so big that I just held it in my heart and never told anyone. In everything that I did, it was there in the background of my mind – that I knew God had a plan for me and He wanted me to do something. Honestly, I didn’t know how on earth it could ever happen… after all, I was a shy, introverted girl who nobody really took seriously. But I guess that when God plans to do something, He makes a way even when it seems impossible.
Then in 2014/15 we started seeing the rise of ISIS and the horrific things they were doing. We saw the mass beheadings of Christians and the capturing of Christian and Yazidi girls into slavery. We saw people running for their lives and going into hiding and so on… it was all over the TV. I was seeing on my TV the things that God showed me in that vision 22 years ago! Every time I turned on the news, my mind was taken back to the vision, and my spirit became more and more urgent in understanding that now it was the time to do what God was calling me to do. I kept telling the people around me “I have to do this thing that God’s been asking me to do – it’s all over the tv!” Of course, they had no idea what I was talking about, and I didn’t know where to begin in explaining. I’ve never really been great at articulating things verbally so I was struggling to express what God had impressed on me. One day, a close friend suggested that I asked God to give me the words to express it… good advice! I did that and very quickly I had the answer. What I heard so clearly was simply this: “I want you to establish my consulate for my people from the Middle East”.
And that was it. The word consulate, perfectly summed up what He was asking me to do. As Christians, we are citizens of the Kingdom of heaven. A consulate is a representation of a state (or a kingdom in this case!) in the territory of another, and it exists to protect the interests of and provide help to its citizens when they are in trouble in a foreign land.
So, I shared the vision and stepped out in faith. I came up against all sorts of opposition – people saying “you can’t do that” or “you can’t call it that” or “you’ll never find any Christians from the Middle East” or “who are you? You won’t be able to do that”. But when God decrees something, I guess he makes it happen! He moved mountains and performed miracles, and the International Christian Consulate was founded in 2015 and registered as a charity a year later.
[JW] Tell us about all the different work the ICC does.
[YD] Well, operationally we are based in Athens, Greece. Since the refugee crisis began, people escaping war and persecution from the Middle East have escaped through Greece. Millions of people have crossed the border into Greece in search of safe refuge. In 2016, God sent me to Greece to find Christians amongst those who were fleeing and to find out what was happing to them. What we found out was both shocking and tragic. First of all, you have to understand that Christians are a very small minority in the refugee/migrant population – it’s only about 1 or 2%. So they are massively overlooked. They were fleeing horrific persecution from all across the Middle East, and then finding themselves in refugee camps here in Greece, where they were persecuted all over again by the other refugees. No-one was listening to their cries for protection. 88% or more were being threatened with death daily, and experiencing frequent physical and sexual attacks simply because of their faith. This was especially the case for those who had converted to Christianity from Islam.
It quickly became clear that there was a real need for emergency safe housing, so they could escape the persecution in the camps. No-one was helping them. No-one was protecting them. No-one was taking their situation seriously. Even the translators they were using to ask officials for help were deliberately mistranslating because they were against them for converting to Christianity. Their situation was hopeless.
So we started a safe house programme. One of the first cases was a family of three where the 13 year old boy was being threatened with beheading – he was so scared that he stopped speaking. His mother was heavily pregnant and being threatened with knives. One night during Ramadan, we had to go and rescue this family late at night because the others in the camp were getting more violent and the knife threats were getting too serious.
Now we have 9 safe houses across Athens, providing emergency safe shelter for people like that family – who are being attacked or persecuted in other refugee accommodation because of their faith. We also have a day centre called the House of Faith – named after Galatians 6:10, which provides a safe place for Christian refugees to meet together and to access services and support that they would otherwise struggle to access for fear of persecution in other facilities. We have a basic clinic at the centre and we provide integration classes and support, Greek and English language classes, psychosocial support, health classes and something the refugees value and love more than anything else we offer – bible studies and discipleship! They are growing so much in their faith and I wish I could show you what God is doing in these people who have given up and lost everything to follow him!
[JW] The refugees you deal with on a daily basis have been through some truly horrific things and been persecuted exclusively for their faith. Could you share what some of them have been through and how do you help them start the process of overcoming that trauma?
[YD] Yeah, unfortunately this is something that people don’t want to look at… but the reality is, the vast majority (88-95%) of Christian refugees we come across have experienced faith based persecution in the refugee camps here, never mind the persecution they fled in their home countries. The persecution they face is not just a bit of verbal abuse (though actually, that’s a given in this situation – it’s almost constant)… I’m talking about people being beaten within an inch of their lives; men and women being gang raped as a punishment for converting to Christianity; tents and containers being destroyed and set on fire; knives held to the throats of women and children; whole families having petrol poured over them and threatened with being burnt alive just for reading their bible or singing a worship song. This is serious persecution that should never be allowed or tolerated in a continent where there is supposed to be freedom of religion.
When they come to us, they are often in a traumatised state, and desperate for somewhere safe to sleep. Sometimes they have fled with just the clothes they are standing up in and haven’t eaten for days, and they arrive needing all sorts of assistance. We have showers and washing machines, and sometimes we have some donated clothes we can offer if they don’t have anything. We try to help them in that crisis period by helping them to feel safe. Our day centre is only for Christians – this is so important in maintaining security for the beneficiaries, and vital in making them feel safe. Other beneficiaries who have been with us for a while step in and help support them – just as they were supported when they themselves first arrived. We’re like a community – it’s beautiful actually.
Overcoming the trauma takes time, and we do what we can to help with that. Often it involves firstly providing somewhere safe to stay – hence the safe house programme. After that, we can begin to deal with their immediate needs and then as they feel safer, they are able to start facing the traumas they have experienced. It can be pretty difficult and they really need time and space, as well as prayer support and pastoral care. We’re fundraising at the moment to create a healing retreat facility to help deal with some of the trauma, so they can heal and focus on rebuilding their lives.
[JW] I know your faith is super important to you, how has it been tested since you started at the ICC and how do you hold onto it in those moments?
[YD] One thing I’ve learnt is that Satan hates this ministry. I’ve really had some battles to fight through and there have been times when I’ve been brought to my knees, literally. I’ve had to really go into spiritual warfare and there’s often a lot of spiritual opposition to this work. One of the things I’ve found really hard is the almost complete apathy of the western church – I feel like I’m shouting from the rooftops for Christians to support their brothers and sisters who are suffering so much here, but they just don’t seem interested. I’ve really grieved over that, but I know that God is bigger and even when things get really hard, I have to trust Him with all I’ve got. He brought this work into being – I certainly didn’t do it – it’s only by His doing that this mission even exists and I like it that way, because then He gets the glory, not me. He’s my rock and even when it seems impossible, all I can do is cling to Him and stand on his word and his promises. He says He will bring to completion that which He started. He said he will never leave or forsake us. He promises to provide all our needs. He also told us we will have trouble in this world… and boy have I seen that… but at the end of the day, He alone is God and He will have His way.
[JW] What are the best ways for people to support what you are doing, financially or otherwise?
[YD] We really need regular donations. It costs about £7000 a month to run the safe house programme and the House of Faith, but we currently get only about £500 a month in regular donations. Every little bit helps. If you can spare the price of a cup of coffee every month, or if you can give a bit more… either makes a big difference.
Perhaps you might consider organising a fundraising event at church – how about an Arabic/Persian night? Or a charity coffee morning… or a sponsored run? It would be great to see a change where churches are really willing to get alongside us and try to help. You can like our facebook page and share on social media – help us reach more people. Help by speaking to your church leaders and see if the church might consider supporting us. Also pray for us regularly – we are in a spiritual warzone here – we need your prayers!
[JW] Unfortunately the western church can often be apathetic when it comes to these kinds of issues. How can we change that?
[YD]We need to speak out for our suffering brothers and sisters. One day, we might need someone to speak out for us. One day we might need someone to help us. I think we have to be brave enough to look at things that challenge us and think outside of our bubbles. Often it’s easy to ignore the things that don’t personally impact our lives… but what if it was happening to your close family? Because these people are your family too. I think as a body of believers we need to recognise our responsibility to help each other – even if they are on the other side of the world… and to do something about it.
[JW] If there’s someone reading this who has been inspired to think about working for the ICC, what advice would you give them?
[YD] We are always happy to have volunteers – reach out to us and see where our needs are and how your gifts and abilities might be put to good use!
[JW] A fun fact for everyone out there, we actually went to the same boarding school, Christ’s Hospital in Horsham, England and are both Old Blues. Is there anything from your experience there that has helped you in what you’re now doing at the ICC?
[YD]Actually yes! Half of our team went to boarding school and our experiences have really helped with managing things. With the safe house programme especially, we have put our own boarding house experiences to good use – it’s a bit like running a boarding school in that sense! I feel like a houseparent sometimes! Christ’s Hospital was a real blessing for me, and it taught me many things, not least that challenges can be overcome.
[JW] How can people be praying specifically for the ICC and you?
[JD] Prayer is so needed. The work here is hard – spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically. Please pray for protection, wisdom, discernment and provision. Please also pray for our beneficiaries – that God would heal their trauma, and strengthen them in their faith. Pray that they find hope and are able to rebuild their lives here, in spite of the challenges that lie before them. Greece is not an easy place to live – the economic crisis still significantly impacts many areas of life, taxes are very high, jobs can be hard to come by and the culture is pretty chaotic! Pray for mountains to be moved and for provision for this work to continue – provision is a big need right now.
[JW] Before we wrap up, here’s a few quick fire questions to get to know ‘you’ better…
[JW] What’s your favourite Bible verse?
[YD] I have too many favourites to pick just one, but I live by this one: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your steps. (Proverbs 3:5)
[JW] What’s your favourite food?
[YD]I love Indian food!
[JW] Are there any songs that mean a lot to you?
[YD]I love the Revelation Song, because it’s straight out of scripture and it reminds me to give glory to God and that our King is already on the throne in heaven but one day soon He will bring the Kingdom to earth as well, when He returns.
[JW] What’s your go to move on the dance floor?
[YD] Haha! Can I get you a drink? I’ll just be over here while I watch your awesome dance moves!
[JW] What’s your most embarrassing memory from Christ’s Hospital?
[YD] When I fainted in the middle of a biology lesson. I wasn’t feeling very well before the lesson even started and then Mr Gladding was shaking a pair of lungs and a liver in the air, talking about bile secretions. I ended up unconscious on the floor!
[JW] Would you prefer to fight a 100 duck sized horses or 1 horse sized duck?
[YD] Definitely 100 duck sized horses! I had a lot of contact with horses growing up so I understand their language much better than ducks!
[JW] Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to say to everyone out there?
[YD] Thank you for being interested enough to listen to me this far. Shamelessly, I want to say I’ve really grieved over the total apathy of the church and western Christians towards the suffering of their brothers and sisters here. If this issue matters to you and you want to help, please talk to me… talk to your church leaders… share with your small groups… think about ways you might be able to help – even if it’s in a small way. Because right now, your brothers and sisters here think that Christians in the West don’t care about them, and I think that’s a real tragedy. We need to do something about it!
[JW] Thank you for taking the time out of your busy life to talk to us today Yochana. We wish you and the International Christian Consulate the best with everything you guys do and will be praying you get the help you need!
More information can be found on their website here, and other pictures of the shelter in use/being set-up can be seen here.
If you feel called to reach out to them, please message their Facebook page below.
Be sure to Get Plugged Into us below as well as we’ll have more content on this coming soon.