Our mission is to support refugees who are coming into Sicily, Italy, seeking asylum and a better way of life. This ministry has been a nine-year journey for us, but we are confident that God has a plan and purpose for all our lives and has designed us to fulfill this mission. This process has built a faith and confidence in us that we can do something out of the ordinary. God has given us courage and boldness and a trust in Him that He will take care of all our family’s needs as we embark on this necessary journey. We thank you for your prayers in support in this ministry.
We are Andrew and Susan Bisson of Sioux Falls, we have four young children, and we are missionaries preparing to leave for Sicily, Italy, for the next three years.
We met in 2003 at our local church and married less than a year later. In our first year of marriage, we were invited to a mission’s conference at Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas. It was there our hearts were really pricked for the nations and everything that was happening. That conference helped us to realize we could be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
But Andrew wanted to work for Sioux Falls Fire Rescue, and we wanted to start a family, so we went back to Sioux Falls and, for the next five years, did just that. We built a home , had two kids, and everything was going as planned. But one day, just as Andrew was finishing up building our deck, we looked at each other and we knew, This isn’t it. This is not what we are supposed to be doing.
We prayed, sought counsel and decided for our five-year wedding anniversary that we would travel back to Texas and explore possible opportunities in missions. Shortly after that trip, Andrew quit his job, we sold our home and moved to Texas. We began participating in training schools and discipleship programs that would prepare us to live and work overseas.
During our training in Texas, we took multiple, short-term mission trips overseas to get some discipleship and leadership experience while also beginning the immense work of fundraising. Then, in 2014, we moved with our family to Budapest, Hungary, for our first, long-term assignment overseas. We had three kids at the time, and Susan was five months pregnant with our youngest.
When we first arrived, it felt right, but it was a difficult year. We didn’t have a house, Susan was pregnant and there was no team on the ground to guide us. It was pioneering work. Moreover, 2015 was the year of the Syrian migrant crisis, when over a million people would come into Europe seeking sanctuary. But three weeks after our fourth child was born, we found ourselves serving in the train stations surrounded by thousands of refugees. There was such a sense of urgency. These families were so eager to get to Germany, where they knew they would be safe. But amid the desperation was so much gratitude. They were extremely grateful for the help.
Susan would go from family to family, asking what they needed and trying to help in any way she could. One of the biggest needs was feminine products, but because of the Muslim culture, we couldn’t just give those out freely, so she’d have to walk around with brown paper bags. As men would engage the men, women would engage the women and give them what they needed. The response of thankfulness was overwhelming.
“Because so many refugees were flooding into the train stations, Budapest did not know what to do. They were roping off areas for refugees and and not allowing people to leave. There were no facilities at first, no shelters…”
On one specific occasion, there was a girl we waved over to us. We opened the brown bag to show her what was inside and, immediately, she started weeping. She said, “Thank you so much for realizing that I’m a human.” She then asked if she could help, said she could translate for us, and she did. We continued to go from family to family, asking how we could help them. This work was a beautiful picture of the two-handed gospel, because the next question naturally was, “Who are you, and why are you doing this for us?”
Because so many refugees were flooding into the train stations, Budapest did not know what to do. They were roping off areas for refugees and and not allowing people to leave. There were no facilities at first, no shelters, and they all were merely relying on the help of the volunteers, to give them any aid or answers.
Because Hungary eventually closed their borders, Andrew would take short-term teams from Hungary, England and Scotland, down to the borders near Croatia, Austria and Serbia, and began serving people there. Sometimes that would include feeding people, giving directions, giving waters or making copies of the Bible available in there own languages. Many of these were families but there were also many single men who, desperation to move forward, would get off the train and literally start running toward the borders.
“We were in Budapest for an intense 15 months.”
We were in Budapest for an intense 15 months. We remember coming home at night, back to our children and our safe place of refuge, and just feeling so tired and worn. Even though the refugees were extremely hospitable and kind, there was still such a desperation there that we could not help but feel attached to. We would talk at night, thinking, That could be our family. If we put ourselves in their shoes — if our kids couldn’t go to school, if our house was destroyed, if we didn’t know which family members were alive, if our kids were being recruited to fight — what would we do? These families were coming from such a place of survival and despair to seek a better life. And it truly helped us to realize we are not untouchable.
Upon our return from Budapest, we intended to go straight to Sicily in 2016, but we were so run down, and we needed some time back in the states. That being said, the intense work we completed in Budapest has made our next term in Sicily a lot less intimidating.
We plan to be in Sicily until 2021. There are already team leaders on the ground, and they have been there establishing work for about six years. We are partnering with Waypoint Church in Omaha, and our work will be continued ministry with refugees.
Unlike the fast pace the refugees were moving in Hungary, families coming into Sicily are going though a somewhat lengthy process to seek asylum. They are not allowed to work while in this process, which means they are very open to conversation, engagement and activity with us. Many of our interactions will happen on the streets of Catania, and we will meet a lot of young North African men around the ages of 16 to 24 who are fleeing civil war and seeking a better life. They’re hoping to find work and send money to their families back home, but it’s a difficult process that we hope to help them navigate through it.
We had taken a short visit to Sicily once before, and it was during this time Andrew met James. James was a refugee originally from Liberia. He was a Muslim in his late 20s who spoke good English. When he was younger, he and a friend had moved to Libya for work painting houses. They learned quickly that sometimes they would get paid for their work, sometimes they wouldn’t. After they completed a particularly big job, they asked for payment, and the employer declined. James friend was upset by this, so the employer went inside, grabbed a gun, shot James’ friend and killed him.
James ran, encountering all kinds of violence on the streets, until he found what turned out to be a way to Italy. The opportunity promised him a ride on a nice merchant trip that would send James safely to Italy. They charged James 1,400 EURO for a 320-mile ride across the Mediterranean. In the end, they demanded payment a second time, and what was to be transportation to the boat landed him in the trunk of a car. They then kept him in a holding cell with many others and no bathrooms, frequently taking women out of the cell “for their safety.”
“Over time and months of conversation, James gave his life to Jesus! He started working with other refugees on the streets, translating for our team and leading discipleship groups.”
When they finally had enough people to fill the boat, they shipped them out on rubber rafts — not merchant ships — packing 500 people in each, and after one day, they had run out of food, gas and water. They found themselves floating in the middle of the sea, where James recalls holding men down who were hallucinating and trying to jump off the boat. A helicopter overhead eventually spotted them, and they were rescued by the Italian coast guard.
Upon James’ arrival to Italy, he met a short term team of people who were in the streets starting conversations with refugees. They began talking and eventually built a relationship with him. Over time and months of conversation, James gave his life to Jesus! He started working with other refugees on the streets, translating for our team and leading discipleship groups. James engages with people who were in the same situation he was once in himself, offering empathy, encouragement and hope. He is now married and has a child. It is James’ story that makes us ask ourselves, Why wouldn’t we want to give our lives to help people like him?
James is only one example of what we hope to do, which is equip others to minister in there areas of influence. We hope to train people to share and carry the message to as many people as they can. We see that in James so clearly, that he truly cares, he treats people like human beings and he can relate to others. It is beautiful and hopeful to see, and we pray to discover many others in Sicily just like James, who can be saved and equipped to serve others.