Covid-19 protection: CIU alumnus distributing face masks made by refugees

CIU Dean of Students Rick Swift (left) receives face masks from CIU alumni Robbie McAlister and Michael Johnson.
June 19, 2020

Face masks sewn by refugees in the overcrowded Moria refugee camp on the Greek Island of Lesbos, are being made available to Columbia International University through CIU alumnus Robbie McAlister, the former pastor of Riverbend Community Church in Lexington, South Carolina.  

McAlister, who today ministers among the global diaspora of displaced people around the world, became acquainted with an NGO that is assisting 200 refugees on Lesbos. The refugees volunteer to make the masks for Western nations struggling to protect themselves from Covid-19. These are refugees who have fled desperate situations in Central Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and live in a camp of over 15,000 people designed to accommodate only 2,500 people.

McAlister says the refugees originally began making the masks for themselves, anticipating a coronavirus outbreak in the camp. That has not happened. So the refugees looked beyond themselves to helping others.

“A refugee who has nothing, is actually helping us in the West, who are typically viewed as having everything,” McAlister said. “They’re really trying to give back because they realize many of us have gone to help them.”    

Among those who have helped the refugees are about a half dozen churches in the greater Columbia area that have sent their members on short-term mission trips to Lesbos. As those churches return to having worship services again in their church buildings, McAlister has about 2,000 refugee-made masks available to distribute to the churches, including 750 to CIU.

CIU Dean of Student Rick Swift, who received the delivery of the masks, says they will be placed in offices around campus to be used as needed with a posted explanation of who made them.

“It’s great to partner with alumni who are out there around the world, and here we see some of the fruit.” Swift said. “It’s a neat connection with Robbie and his ministry.”      

McAlister, who earned a Master of Divinity degree from CIU in 1994, and a Doctor of Ministry in 2007, travels regionally as the voice of the Evangelical Immigration Table, a consortium of evangelical groups seeking a compassionate bi-partisan solution to the immigration and refugee crisis in the United States. Locally, he connects South Carolina Southern Baptist churches to ethnic community groups in their neighborhoods.

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