By MICAH HENRY
Perhaps following in the path of the Apostle Paul, Bethlehem resident Stella Lail Perrin, 50, has traveled to a new land to help others and show the love of Jesus Christ.
Stella left Bethlehem October 17 and has moved to the Republic of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea. She is working with a group called Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), a Christian network of individuals and churches which support a wide range of missions and ministries.
An affiliate of CBF for years, Stella has traveled in the past to Guatemala, Belize, Moldova, and other locales for short visits. Those stays averaged about one week each.
Now, with her children (Luke, Abigail, and Tess) grown, Stella felt a calling to go help overseas.
“I couldn’t have done this years ago,” Stella said. “Finally, I’m at a point in my life when I can answer a call.”
The move to Cyprus is a long-term placement, not a mission trip of a couple weeks or months. She has secured an apartment in the city of Larnaca.
Stella has a MA degree in Counseling and Master of Divinity degree from Gardner-Webb University. She has worked in educational settings in Catawba and Alexander counties and served churches in Hickory, North Wilkesboro, and Emerald Isle.
With her background in counseling and ministry, Stella will be serving as a mental health educator for asylum seekers in Cyprus with an organization called All4Aid at Oasis Community Centre in Larnaca.
She explained the difference between an asylum seeker and a refugee: an asylum seeker is anyone who has had to flee from or was displaced from their homeland because of war, natural disaster, etc. Under United Nations agreements, anyone can seek asylum. For instance, people fleeing the Sudan or Palestine due to war can be asylum seekers. A refugee is someone who has come into a country as an asylum seeker and has been officially approved by the host country as having refugee status.
Stella indicated that the Republic of Cyprus is in the southern part of the island. It is a member of the European Union, is very peaceful, and has a low crime rate. It is distinct from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The island was a British colony from 1925 to 1960, when it gained independence. The natives speak mainly Greek and English.
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, Cyprus “lies about 40 miles south of Turkey, 60 miles west of Syria, and 480 miles southeast of mainland Greece. Its maximum length, from Cape Arnauti in the west to Cape Apostolos Andreas at the end of the northeastern peninsula, is 140 miles; the maximum north-south extent is 60 miles.”
Stella noted that, per capita, Cyprus receives more asylum seekers than any other European country due to its proximity to Africa and the Middle East. The Republic of Cyprus normally has about 22,000 asylum seekers per year and only has a population of about 1,200,000.
Now, with the conflict between Isreal and Hamas, Cyprus is likely to receive many Palestinian and Israeli asylum seekers, in addition to those from Africa, Stella noted. Between the start of the conflict on October 7 and October 16, an estimated 2,500 Jewish Israelis had entered Cyprus as asylum seekers.
Some go on to Europe, others, unfortunately, get sent back to their home country.
Stella was relearning French prior to her relocation to Cyprus, as most of the asylum seekers from the African nations speak French.
In her work, Stella will focus on unaccompanied minors, helping them navigate the asylum seeker status and cope with the transition to a new country.
“Last year, about 1,200 unaccompanied minors came to Cyprus,” Stella related. She will use her skills, developed by working with youth in the past, to help the minors.
“I also hope to be working with mothers and children in small group educational settings. The need is there. People have experienced incredible atrocities and trauma in their homelands. Each one has a different story. I will listen to their stories and decide how I can best help them,” Stella noted.
“One of the things I love about CBF is they create the beloved community, so these people who are coming have a place to belong. Within that community, they can come to know and experience the love and hope of Christ,” said Stella.
“There is a stereotype that refugees cause trouble. Most of these people have risked everything to come there and will not do anything to cause trouble and risk getting sent back,” Stella added. “They left everything behind and felt they had no other choice.”
She said she wished everyone would take the opportunity to see how the rest of the world lives — this could perhaps enlighten their views on issues facing America and the world.
The process for Stella to go to Cyprus began last August with CBF. “In the process of discernment, we worked together to decide Cyprus is the right place for me to go,” she said.
“The body of Christ, the church, is called to partner with persons who go to be the hands and feet of Christ,” Stella explained. “In the body of Christ, we all have our part. Right now, my part is to go.”
The daughter of Sarah and the late Gary Lail of Bethlehem, Stella grew up attending Bethlehem Baptist Church, with a strong faith base as a child.
“My dad was always involved in community service,” she noted. “Service is a way of life in the family. I grew up in a family an area that modeled serving and modeled the importance of community.”
Her brother, Josh, lives in Bethlehem, and their sister, Julie, lives in Mocksville.
CBF pays for Stella’s salary and benefits. The ministry itself is funded through churches and individuals who partner with Stella. Readers can donate at CBF.net/perrin.
Stella thanks her family, friends, and neighbors in Bethlehem for their support. She has also established relationships with churches across North Carolina and Virginia.
Stella plans on doing a regular newsletter to keep people on this side of the Atlantic informed on what God is doing through Stella’s presence in Cyprus. To sign up, send an email to sperrin@CBF.net.