Admittedly it does seem a contradiction to speak of a forest camp in the city, because they are both opposites – the forest means isolation, no protection or shelter, being exposed to danger and cold weather, while city life means comfort, a home or apartment, warmth and social life.
Well, around 10 km from the heart of the city of Rome there is such a forest camp of African refugees — around 150-200, who live in deplorable conditions in an enormous old abandoned factory, with no lighting, no toilets, no bathrooms, no food — only cold water. The majority of refugees have travelled by boat from Libya to southern Italy, then to Rome. They are catered for in official government refugee centres, where they receive accommodation and food, but those provisions only last for a year, after which they are obliged to leave their refugee centres and provide for themselves.
Now with 13% unemployment in Italy, thousands of Italians without work, plus the enormous population of refugees, these homeless young people are desperate, with no hope, no future — what can they do to survive? We don’t know the history of this centre, but evidently some refugees have discovered this old building and moved in. The gates to the street are open, there are no guards, you can just walk in. On both sides of the long corridor inside, the homeless have built make-shift huts as rooms to sleep in. Some have purchased generators for lighting. Just from one side there is natural light that comes through the windows. The only positive thing is that the building inside is dry. To go to the toilet they need to take a walk to the fields with trees nearby. The men have built crude huts outside the back of the building where they have a cold shower.
Whereas in other official refugee centres we aren’t permitted to enter to talk or witness, here we have complete freedom to enter, like the refugees themselves. The majority of them are Nigerians, and nearly all born-again Christians, while there are others who are Muslims from different countries. All the Nigerians speak English, so the three of us who visit are able to communicate well, while others speak French and a little Italian. By coincidence we made contact with the centre just a few months ago and go to visit once a week. We pass out clothing and fruit, and we speak openly with the Nigerians, giving them Bibles in English, sharing from the Word of God to bring comfort and give hope, as well as teaching them the ways of the Lord. When some are willing we pray with them and share their burdens — they are generally grateful and appreciative of the love we show them. Actually we can’t do more than that to help them in their plight, but with these small gestures of love, a smile and a hug, we are able to communicate meaningfully. Of course we also speak with the Muslims, and witness to explain who Jesus is and how to go to heaven, but generally they are very closed to the gospel.
Yet we do want to do more, so we are praying and hoping to rent a premises to use as a storage facility for clothing and literature in various languages, not too far from the centre. Here we can also take some of them to read the Word together, maybe offer a meal and pray with them, as well as give them our friendship. This is a project we are working on and we trust God to provide, so at the moment we don’t know how things will go, yet we press forward by faith, trusting in the Lord for His guidance and provision.
Our objectives are to encourage and build up the faith of the Nigerian believers, and also see Muslims come out of darkness into the glorious light of the gospel.