Drexel '16 Has a Heart of Compassion for Immigrantsby Catherine Elvy, Staff Writer
A former student leader with Christian Union's ministry at Yale University is pursuing plans to utilize his passion for the underprivileged to assist on the frontlines of the refugee crisis in Europe.
Bill Drexel '16, who has been aiding refugees in Connecticut since he arrived at Yale, is formalizing plans to spend the summer in Southern Europe to serve the wave of refugees arriving from Syria and other countries.
"God's people are meant to look out for the oppressed, those who are struggling and those who have been forced from their homes," said Drexel, who served as president of Christian Union's leadership development ministry at Yale from winter 2015 to winter 2016. "It's a pretty strong biblical mandate."
The native of Houston is targeting opportunities on the Greek island of Lesbos, west of Turkey and in the Aegean Sea, but may have to adjust his plans, depending on developments in the crisis.
Drexel served on a rescue crew for the Royal National Lifeboat Institute while attending a boarding school in Wales, and plans to help man a rescue boat in an effort to mitigate the frequent drownings that have come to characterize the crisis.
"There are smugglers who migrate refugees on unsafe vessels," he said.
This spring, news agencies reported that refugee boats continue to arrive on Greece's islands in the eastern Mediterranean, despite a recent deal between the European Union and Turkey.
The majority of the refugees are from Syria, fleeing years of bombardments and rocket attacks. The arrivals hope to make their way to mainland Europe to pursue a better life or reunite with family members who journeyed ahead. The second largest group of asylum seekers hails from war-torn Afghanistan.
Given the European Union-Turkey deal that took place on March 20 to halt the flow of migrants streaming from Turkey into the Greek islands, Drexel may shift his base of operation, possibly to sections of Romania along the Black Sea.
Since matriculating at Yale, Drexel has volunteered with the Yale Refugee Project and served as president of the student organization. As a family resettlement volunteer, he aided an Iraqi family of six during its adjustment to New Haven.
Such efforts are not surprising given the humanities major's plans to pursue a career in administration.
While at the helm of the Yale Refugee Project, Drexel restructured the organization to feature an enhanced collaboration with Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, particularly in providing language support for client medical and legal endeavors, as well as with refugee advocacy and awareness. The senior coordinated about 60 Yale volunteers who interfaced with about 45 refugee families and individuals in Connecticut.
Drexel credited the training he received from Christian Union as an asset during his administration of the Yale Refugee Project.
"The leadership training from Christian Union was quite formative in helping me restructure and revitalize the Yale Refugee Project," Drexel said.
Likewise, Christian Union Ministry Fellow Jon Yeager praised Drexel for his ability to foster authentic community and discipleship.
"Bill has been an integral part of shaping [Christian Union's ministry at Yale] into a community of disciples, rather than mere individuals who happen to study the Bible together," said Yeager. "Bill has the extraordinary ability to communicate the deep and hard implications of the Gospel, while simultaneously extending such warmth and generosity that draws others towards the cross of Christ."
The Yale Refugee Project, a volunteer organization, assists about 200 refugees, many who hail from Afghanistan, Congo, Cuba, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan.
Given the crisis in Europe, Drexel, who senses a calling overseas, is focused for now on pursuing grants and other funding to enable him to depart for Europe in late May and stay for the summer, minus a quick trip back to Texas to serve as best man in his brother's wedding.
While abroad, Drexel plans to work for Refugee Rescue, a United Kingdom-based initiative that formed in response to the crisis in Greece. It reports that about 4,000 people, including children, drowned as 1 million-plus refugees crossed the treacherous waters of the Aegean Sea in 2015.
As for his plans to join the rescue efforts in Southern Europe, Drexel said he felt compelled to journey overseas after hearing the accounts of refugees drowning in their quest for better conditions
"I thought to myself, 'This is something I've got to do.' I've got a specific set of skills; life hangs in the balance," Drexel said.
More importantly, from a biblical view, "we're all exiles on this earth," Drexel said. "Our ultimate home is in Heaven. As sojourners in a foreign land, we ought to look out for other sojourners."