Serving in Lesvos, Greece – Part 4 of 6

I am now three weeks into my time of serving the refugees here in Lesvos and I feel like on any given single day here I experience every emotion I have ever felt since the day I was born. I know I am uttering an obvious hyperbole when I say such a thing, but this place and this situation does truly GRAB a hold of you and tug at all your heart strings. One minute you are weeping and full of heartache over the amount of loss your new friends have experienced, then you are faced with frustration at the demands and insults being hurled at you, the next minute you are angry that more isn’t being done and more people don’t care, then before you know it you are laughing and full of joy, just cherishing a game of cards with some amazing people who are somehow still able to smile despite the awful circumstances that they have been dealt. You go from wearing your ‘I mean business and these are the rules’ pants to suddenly, rapidly, rustling through your wardrobe because you need to pull on your ‘I am so, so sorry you are going through this and I just want to lavish you with compassion’ jumper in a matter of seconds. This emotional roller-coaster is only slowed down during my quiet times, when I come before the Lord and just be still, knowing He is God. Again I am met with that peace that surpasses all understanding. It makes absolutely no logical sense, and yet it permeates through all my flustered feelings, giving me the strength and stability to face each new day.
This week, once again, I spent every day I was in camp working in the family compound, level 3. The bond I have with some of the people there has grown even deeper, but even that inspires an emotional tug of war within me. I am so happy that they have grown to trust me and that they truly see how much I care about them, but I also know that once I leave, the feelings of loss will be greater because we have become close. Yesterday, some of the men told me and my friend who also always works on level 3 that they care about us more than their own daughters because we actually look after and look out for them. I am hoping that isn’t really true, but still, the sentiment behind it is incredibly moving. Some of the women and children who were so wary of us when we first arrived have now opened up and will come to talk to us, and after a particularly challenging incident that occurred this week, I had one man come and so greatly reassure me with the simple words ‘I respect you.’ To gain respect and trust is huge! It is so big that it makes me especially glad that I have a mighty God to bring everything to, because I just wouldn’t know what to do with that on my own.
Of course, this experience is most certainly not about me and my feelings. I don’t want you to think that I think it is for even a second! I am trying to paint a picture of what my personal participation and processing looks like as I serve a crisis so much bigger than any one person. My hope is that all you who have supported and partnered with me during this journey will be able to live vicariously through what I write, even if you are not able to step upon these shores yourself. That being said, I do think it is time for me to talk more about the people who God has called me to serve. After all, they really are the lead roles in this story I am simply trying to help narrate. I would like to share with you some specific stories about the people I have grown to know the best during these past three weeks. I am simply going to use the first letter of their names, but please, please, please do still lift them up in your prayers because God knows their true identities, even better than they do themselves!
A – The first person I want to talk about is a man who I will refer to as A. He is probably about 40. Our nickname for this man is Hero, because he always steps up and comes to the rescue when something dramatic is going on. He has fixed our staff door before and also completely pulled it apart because children keep jamming rocks in the lock. When someone has a concern and speaks no English he will come and translate. When someone is causing trouble or trying to get into level 3 when they shouldn’t be there, he will come and back us up. He has also taken the time to teach me a few words in Arabic and a few different card games. When EuroRelief passes out tea at night time, he always makes sure I get one, even if that means insisting that I take his. This is the man who told me that he respects me, he has also told many of the workers thank you and expressed great appreciation towards them. Just last night he told me that it makes him happy to simply see other people happy. The other day we had to move even more people into the house where he lives and he kept assuring me that this was no problem and he didn’t mind having even less space, but he just wanted to make sure everyone in his room still got enough food.
He has told me pieces of his past story. In Syria he was a successful businessman who traveled all over the world. His wife was a dentist, he had a nice car, nice house, and he also had a daughter. He has told me that he lost his wife, his mother, and all he had in a bomb attack. He has never told me specifically what happened to his daughter, who was 7, but since she is not with him I assume she died too. When he tells me about the bombing and his loss I always say ‘I am so, so sorry’ (what else can you say?) and he will respond with ‘that’s ok’ in a way that shows he doesn’t want you to worry or feel sad. Whenever he says this though I just want to cry out ‘NO, IT’S NOT OK!’ I have seen his face, his eyes when he talks about his wife or plays a song that reminds him of her, and there is such a deep sadness there, one I just can’t even begin to imagine. Currently he is with one sister and her children trapped in Moria, and another one of his sisters is in Dubai, where she just had a mastectomy. The other night he was wandering around the camp just trying to find a signal good enough so he could call her and check on her. It all absolutely breaks my heart. He has experienced so much tragedy, and yet he is still so kind, so helpful, so caring, so protective, and so humble.
F – The next person I want to talk about is a young girl we will call F who is 15 years old. She was married two years ago at the age of 13. She and her husband have been living in Moria for quite some time now, and their plan is to go back to Turkey and just wait to hopefully return to a peaceful Syria one day. That may sound unlikely and even unwise, but to them anything is better than staying in Moria. They tell me that they feel like dogs living in the refugee camp. F is very pretty and fun, and the majority of the time she is filled with giggles and sass. We do hair and nails together, listen to music, do silly little dance moves, and try to chat altogether with the other women, even though most the time this does end with me saying ‘wait, whaaat?’ because I just don’t understand and F mimics my confused expressions and cracks up laughing.
I have discovered despite the language barrier what she thinks is ‘no good’ or ‘good.’ She does not think marriage is good, especially getting married so young. She does not think babies are good. She does not think Moria is good, and she did really want to go live in Holland. Holland is very good. One of her family members has many children but her husband was shot. This is really no good, Syria right now is no good. The language barrier does make expressing deeper sympathy hard, and it feels so wrong to discuss such big issues so simply, but that is how things are unless someone comes around to translate. She isn’t sure if she thinks her hijab and the Quran are good anymore either. We did have a conversation about Jesus (or Esau as she calls Him) and who He is to Christians and who He is to Muslims. She was actually surprised when I explained that we have a very different view and that to me Jesus is everything. Like any teenage girl, she does think chocolate is good and she thinks hanging out with the female volunteers is good. There are so many things about her and the way she acts and thinks that are so typical teenage girl. Whenever I am with her I just get so overwhelmed. She is the same age as many of the high school girls I hang out with back in San Diego, and yet the conversations and experiences I have with the girls at home and with F are just so completely, shockingly different. I discovered last week that she has been cutting herself, and when we asked her why she just repeated that it is all no good, no good, no good.
E – The third person I want to talk about is a boy we will call E who is 11 years old. I absolutely adore E and just think he is the greatest kid. All the children are dear and precious, but they also have their moments of acting absolutely terrible too. While the rest of the kids have all stolen from, hit, screamed at, or lied to us, E has always been so good. He loves to help us, whether that is assisting with the dinner hand out, or grabbing a volunteer and telling them when some other kids have broken into a supply room and are stealing things. There are times when you can that he so desperately just wants a few minutes of one on one time with a volunteer, but after a second of actually receiving it he will feel bad and will be sure to share with and include the other children too. It is such a shame that he can’t receive more one on one time because he is so smart. He wants to learn new things and he picks them up very quickly. He is sweet to his baby sister, he helps his Mum, and he greets everyone with a big smile and a hug.
His mother has four children altogether and they are Kurdish/Syrian. E’s mother is currently all alone in Moria right now with her children, but her husband has been in Germany for two years now. I don’t know why a woman with four children, one who is only about 2, has not be reunited with her husband quicker, but I know that E has definitely not given up hope. He gets so excited when anyone talks about Germany and loves learning new words in German. In a place where things can look so bleak at times, E’s big smile, desire to help, and friendly chatter is such a needed spark of joy.
R – The last person I want to talk about right now is a girl we will refer to as R who is 23 years old. She was born in Syria, but she has also lived in many different places, including Lebanon. While she was living in Lebanon she started reading the Bible and going to church. She has told me that she loves the Bible because it is filled with love, and while she still respects Muslims, she doesn’t like the Quran because she says it is filled with hate. She is also such a pretty girl who is sweet but also strong and fun. She teaches us card games and brings us tea. She has grown particularly close with the other girl I work with on level 3 who I keep talking about. The two of them grew close enough for it to be appropriate for my volunteer friend to give R a Bible. They only just changed the protocol, and now under certain circumstances we are allowed to share Bibles with the refugees.
R is currently with her husband in Moria camp, but she wants to return to Lebanon. Like F and her husband, she thinks returning to a place where she will be facing more potential harm and danger is better than staying in the camps. She just wants to be able to continue her life. She has told me she just wants to get a job, that she just wants to be able to eat healthy and go to the gym again. She also really wants to see her mother again. These things mean so much to her, basic things that we so often take for granted or even grumble about. Last night we had a good conversation about God’s grace, God’s plan for Syria, and trust. It is obvious she has been very hurt in the past, so for now the idea that God just forgives and that actually doing good deeds isn’t what makes Him love us seems crazy to her. But she still wants to know Jesus more and wants Him to be a part of the new life she is seeking.
The stories I have shared provide only a glimpse into the lives of just four people. There are currently around 2400 people in Moria camp. Maybe right now after reading this you are feeling overwhelmed, maybe you are even feeling a bit upset that I suddenly bombarded you with some very heavy stuff and no clear solutions. I don’t want to depress anyone, but at the same time, as I said before, I am just trying to express how things really are here. I don’t want to hide the tragedy because then it is too easy for us to go back to our regular routine and forget that there are people on our planet who do need our help, love, and compassion. Also, I do want to still encourage hope. The truth about Moria camp and the people there may be daunting, but it is not the end. We don’t have to stay stuck in our thoughts about how sad it all is. God is working here, everywhere, in every life, right now. We can all partner with the good that can come out of even the worse situations. Please pray for these people, please consider donating to a cause that supports the refugees, please consider coming to volunteer yourself! Whatever part you play, you can play a part, and you can trust that change is possible, new life is possible, redemption and restoration is possible.
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!
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” – John 14:27


2 thoughts on “Serving in Lesvos, Greece – Part 4 of 6

  1. Jeanne Reuter says:

    Your descriptions of a few of the people crossing your path are much appreciated. They show how fully you all mingle and share love.
    God has blessed you with these experiences and inspired you to write so beautifully about them.
    Stay healthy and safe. XOXO from Grandma


  2. Marjolein says:

    Dear Rachelle, praying for hope and healing. Thank you for sharing you experiences with us and for sharing your new friends with us. There is ALWAYS a spiritual reality in ANY situation. Thank you for seeing this and for ministering to hurt souls. With love and prayers.


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