Another week has come and gone, and during this past week I have spent every day I have been in the camp working in the Family Compound level 3. I have worked some morning shifts, but mostly night shifts, and have started to build some really good relationships with the people who live on level 3. As I grow closer to my new friends, I already feel torn apart by the idea of leaving them at the end of the month. But at the same time, I am beyond grateful to even have had the opportunity to get to know them, and trust that God will bring more people to come and love and support the refugees too.
My first night shift started off a bit rough. I was feeling pretty sick, it was the hottest time of the afternoon, and everyone was feeling irritable. The kids were being rambunctious and insisted on hitting and pulling hair and screaming. For the first couple of hours I think I repeated Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” about 100 times. I am currently reading a book called ‘Ruthless Trust’ by Brennan Manning and I just finished a chapter on gratitude. Rather than complaining I have been trying to turn everything into something to be grateful for. Number one on my list is that I am honestly so grateful that the people who may be yelling at me or the children who may be hitting me are even here, that they made it to Lesvos alive, that they still have the capacity to speak and move and interact. Remembering that normally helps me get over my own self-centered frustrations pretty quickly. Though my first night shift started out rough, it was quickly redeemed, and now I think I actually prefer the night shifts to the morning shifts!
Once the sun set and the camp cooled down, it was like a totally different world. Suddenly, everyone sprung to life. So many of the adults who I had never seen in the day came out of their rooms. They brought cards and tea, and invited us to chat with them. It was so good to finally get to hear some stories and connect with people. Every story is totally heart breaking though. I haven’t spoken to a single person who hasn’t experienced at least one brutal death in their family and every story heavily features some sort of bombing. The majority of the people on level 3 are from Syria. So far I have spoken with people who used to be lawyers, bankers, businessmen, dentists, pharmacists, people who tell me they used to have very nice houses and very nice cars, people who tell me 5 years ago their children would have had an incredible education, and now they have no education at all. I can’t even fathom that amount of loss or how much grief must weigh heavy on their hearts. To be honest, it makes me think no wonder they want more milk, to just be able to have something when you’ve lost everything makes sense! It makes me want to just give them the whole milk tank and everything else they ask for! But I also know that the rules are there for a reason and routine is important too for the overall, long-term care of all the refugees. So even when we have to say no to some things, I try to be sure to later go and smile and chat with everyone so it is clear that we all do still love and care about them and their well being.
That really is one of the major goals of working in the camp. Showing respect, and honor, and love to everyone living there. When the women invite me to sit with them so we can chat or drink tea or play with hair, I try to think about how I can best show them that care, even if it is just through actually listening attentively. Of course I also want the men to feel cared for too, but that is something I just cannot consider my personal responsibility. That can seem harsh, but it is ultimately what will be most loving. Part of respecting the people we are serving is respecting their cultural norms. I might think eye contact and kind words are a way to show honor to a man, but for a lot of the people in the camp that actually implies something else and could end up being very confusing, leading even to heartbreak. There are some really great guys on our team who I know will be able to appropriately bond and lift up the men in the camp. That being said, there are more male refugees than female refugees, but way more female volunteers than male volunteers, so prayers for male volunteers would be very appreciated!
The night shift also opened up more opportunities to bond with the children. We were finally able to play some good active games like volleyball in the cooler weather! One of my teammates from England is a special needs teacher back at home, so it has been amazing getting to work with her. She is so good with all the kids and has so many great ideas for how to play with them, but also how to help them grow and learn during this time. We try to do a bit of math and English with the kids, and we even brought along a world map for them to get some geography lessons in too. I have found that as myself and some of my teammates continue to return to particular positions within the camp, we start to come up with better routines and more ideas of how to care for our area of responsibility. Yesterday we brought out the water blaster to help clean the level more thoroughly because there were some ants starting to creep around the gate. We have also been brainstorming possible ways we could help the older kids have more time and space to focus on the tasks we have been giving them without them getting disrupted by the little ones.
Life on the boat has continued to be amazing. Every Wednesday we have community night and this week we had some wonderful creative performances shared! One beautiful missionary family who were originally from Germany played their flutes for us and shared their powerful testimony of giving everything up to serve God with us, and then one of the Hong Kong team leaders on board is Samoan, so he had his group perform a traditional Samoan style dance for us all. It was amazing to see two such different cultural practices that both so beautifully worshipped God and brought so much joy to the night. I seriously love this community. On our day off, seven of us girls went and visited a thermal pools spa. That sounds super fancy, right? And yet it was only 5 Euros! That was such a treat and such a great time of being refreshed and bonding with my fellow teammates.
The situation here is really not good. It isn’t good for people to be fleeing war, it isn’t good for people to have so much trauma to process, it isn’t good for people to live in tiny, contained, cramped spaces, it isn’t good for children to have to be careful not to cut themselves on barbed wire as they play volleyball. And yet at the same time, there are days that seem very good. Sometimes I really don’t know how to make sense of that. A lot of the good comes from all the people here, and the relationships that are being built. Above all else though, my sense of there being good comes from the fact that I firmly trust God and believe Him when He says that He can bring good out of even the worst messes made on this planet. I feel very good about the beauty that is being brought out of the ashes and beyond blessed to be a part of that process. Please join with me in praying for even more transformation, healing, and growth.
Glory to God for this amazing opportunity! May He bless each one of you on each of your own journeys too! Thank you for reading!
“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” -Matthew 9:35-38