Our mission is to reach out to and support refugees coming to Europe both practically and with the life-changing message of Jesus in order to see a movement of disciples that spreads throughout Europe and back into their home countries. Many of these refugees are in very difficult situations and have come from Muslim countries where there is little access to the gospel and christians face persecution. In Sicily, we are able to freely engage and share the gospel with those same people. We then walk alongside those men and women; training, coaching and investing in them to do the same with others around them. Many of these people are moving to other areas of Europe where there is more work and we pray they will take the gospel message, and what they have learned, to those places and the immigrant communities they will be a part of, to see new communities of believers started and multiplied.
We are Andrew and Susan Bisson of Sioux Falls. We have four young children and a dog. We are missionaries currently living in Catania, Sicily, Italy. We were married in 2004 in Sioux Falls. We have felt a call to Europe since our first year of marriage. Though we had no plans of going overseas at that time, we knew God was doing something in us as our hearts were stirred for the nations in a way we couldn’t ignore. As we waited for God’s timing, Andrew joined Sioux Falls Fire Rescue and we settled into starting a family and life in Sioux Falls.
A few years later, God took missions off the shelf in a very clear way and we began to explore what that might look like. After a trip to visit a missions organization and church in Texas, we knew it was time to get started. Though it was a very hard decision, Andrew resigned from the fire department and we subsequently sold our house and moved to Texas in 2010 to begin training for life on the mission field.
Over the next few years we were trained, sent on several short-term mission trips, and learned how to disciple others so that they can do the same. We spent 15 months in Budapest, Hungary where we saw the beginning of the migration crisis in Europe. We were able to practically help and minister to many people from Syria and Afghanistan during that year and it opened our hearts to refugees who are displaced from the home they love.
When our time in Budapest was up, we heard about refugee work going on in Sicily. After a much needed year-long break in Sioux Falls, we were ready to return to Europe! We started to prepare for the move to Sicily where we would join up with a team that had been working there for 6 years. We landed in August of 2018 and have jumped in headfirst with the ministry, language, and culture.
Locally, here in Catania, we are partnering with Italian churches and other missionaries to see refugees in Catania are reached with the Gospel and to see a movement of disciples spread across Europe. There are several ways we try to engage this group of people, including helping in practical ways. Many of us are out on the streets several days a week meeting and talking with people. We ask their story and how they got here. We encourage them and offer prayer. We share the message of Jesus when given the opportunity and find out how we might be able to help them in practical ways.
Practical help can look like a number of things, but here are a few we offer. Our team has a ministry center in the city with a small soccer field, community garden, showers, and laundry. Since many of the refugees are young men, a place to play soccer is a welcome distraction from their situation. The community garden is a place where they can learn a skill, be in community with others, and hear more about Jesus. There is also a bike ministry where refugees who need transportation for work can receive a bicycle. These are all ways that not only to help on a practical level, but also places value on the refugees, letting them know someone cares about them.
We hope to see this ministry grow to other cities in Sicily, mainland Italy, and throughout Europe over the coming years as more migrants settle here.
This is a unique time in history full of sadness, hurt, and brokenness, but also one of hope, excitement, and opportunity to see God move in the lives of so many who have never had the chance to hear the message of Jesus Christ.
Before we moved to Sicily, we took a trip to learn about the ministry. During this time, Andrew was introduced to a young refugee named James. James took time to share his painful story with Andrew. He was originally a Muslim from Liberia. Because he and a friend needed work, they moved to Libya to paint houses. In Libya, they found that only sometimes they would be paid for their hard work and other times they walked away empty-handed. After completing a long job, they asked for payment, but the owner of the house refused. James’ friend had enough of this treatment and became upset, so the owner went inside, grabbed a gun, shot and killed James’ friend. James fled for his life. After this and many other dangerous situations in Libya, James knew he had to leave and flee for the safety found in Europe in hope of a better life.
James found an opportunity to pay for a ride on a merchant ship to Italy for 1,400 euro (about $1,600 US dollars). When the men picked him up the morning he was to depart he was forced into the trunk of a car where they then demanded another 1,400 euro claiming he still owed them. He was then driven to another location and kept in a holding cell with many others. The conditions were horrifying. With no bathrooms and where disease and sickness was inevitable. To make matters worse, there was a continuous flow of women being taken out of the cell one-by-one “for their own safety.”
When they had enough people to fill a boat, James quickly found it was not a merchant ship, but a large rubber raft. The raft was then packed with people to almost overflowing. Within one day at sea they were without food, water, and fuel, left floating in the middle of the Mediterranean. James recalls holding hallucinating men down who were trying to jump off the boat. Eventually the raft was spotted by a patrolling helicopter and they were soon rescued by the Italian Coast Guard.
Upon James’ arrival to Sicily, he met a short-term team of people who were in the streets starting conversations with refugees and hearing their stories of survival. They began talking and eventually built a relationship with James. Over time and months of conversation with the long-term missionaries, James gave his life to Jesus! He started working with other refugees on the streets, translating and leading discipleship groups. James engages with people who were in the same situation as he was, offering empathy, encouragement, and hope. He is now married and has a child of his own. 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 see God continue to do here in Sicily. God is the one who makes this possible. He is using people like James who are willing to make an impact. People like him will share the same hope of Jesus they have received and they will equip and spread the message of Jesus across Europe and beyond. We are here to love, serve, and train them along the way.