It has been two weeks since I left Lesvos, Greece, but it most certainly doesn’t feel like it has been that long. The memories and the people who made those memories are still very clear and present in my mind. Is there still a part of me that wants to go back and continue working in Moria? Yes. Do I still miss my friends who are taking refuge there? Yes. Do I still want to cry whenever I think about my friend’s stories, experiences, and current hardships? Yes. But I also feel a lot more peace about not being there, because I feel even more confident that God is with every person I encountered. That confidence has been built up because of the many glimpses of hope I have seen since returning. As my hope is renewed, my trust in God is also strengthened.
My hope is renewed when I hear about people getting their papers to leave the camp and go somewhere else. My hope is renewed when I hear about my other volunteer friends returning to serve in Moria. My hope is renewed when I hear about new volunteers signing up to serve in Moria. My hope is renewed when I read articles and responses that show people are being made aware of the urgent needs overseas. My hope is renewed when I read news stories with headlines like “The White House Wants to Bring 110,000 Refugees to the US.” My hope is renewed when I scroll through Facebook and see a trailer for Netflix’s new documentary called ‘The White Helmets’ which is about the civilian heroes working within Syria. My hope is renewed when I talk to people who have worked in camps in placement countries like Germany, and they tell me about the men and women they met who fled violence in their own countries but then received dreams of Jesus and started fighting to share His love with others. My hope is renewed when I spend quiet time alone with God in my own home, reading my Bible, reflecting upon my own life, and remembering how faithful He has been in the past and how faithful I know He will always be.
Yes, there is much hope. But there are also plenty of things that still need to be done.
As I spend time processing, I am so grateful for all the processing tools that were gifted to us volunteers before we left Lesvos. We had an amazing psychologist on board, and our leaders made sure that every person was debriefed at the end of their serving time. I think that debriefing and counseling is such a necessity for anyone who has experienced trauma first or second hand, so I greatly appreciated our counselor’s obvious and genuine care for each of the volunteers, and I did not take a single thing she had to say or share for granted. As I walked through some of the activities she gave us to do, it became very clear to me that my time in Lesvos has developed within me a few very deep desires. A desire to fight any lies surrounding the people we call refugees, a desire to get more people on board with helping the people we call refugees who are living within the camps, and a desire to see more of the people we call refugees moved to a new country where they can start a new life. For the rest of this post I am going to talk more about those desires, and the actions related to those desires that can be carried out by anyone.
I am most certainly not the only person who has these desires. Case and point, one of my friends, who is still volunteering in Lesvos, just wrote this awesome article: 10 Lies You’ve Been Told About Refugees. This lovely lady worked in the camps for a month, then went home and raised more support so she could go back. She has been there another three months now, and is trying to extend her visa. She has such a huge heart and works so insanely hard, spending hours upon hours trying to make the refugee camp a better, safer, more loving place for people to live. Please read her article and please pass it on. She speaks so much truth. I will talk more about the importance of knowing the truth later on in this post too.
I have already talked quite a lot in my previous posts about how you can help the people we call refugees who are living in the camps right now. I have talked about praying for people, volunteering yourself, or sending financial support to the camps and the organizations working within them. I know with huge issues like the civil war in Syria, unrest in the Middle East, and the European refugee crisis, it can feel like anything you do just isn’t going to be enough anyways, so what is the point? If we all became slaves to that train of thought though, nothing will ever get done. Small steps lead to bigger movement, and no amount of contribution is worthless.
One of the debriefing activities we were asked to do was write down something that would not have gotten done in the camps if we had not been there. Most days I was in the camp, I would try to do painting with the level three children. When I first started this activity, it was pure chaos. No one wanted to share, all the colors would quickly just get mixed together into a horrible brown gunk, and more than once the paint ended up being used to attack me as opposed to being used to, you know, actually paint. I noticed that this was really frustrating especially to the older kids who actually did want to create some artwork, so through trial and error I started trying to teach better painting etiquette. Teaching children to rinse their paintbrushes before using a different color is particularly hilarious when you don’t speak the same language. Even though all the kids would mimic me and say ‘rinse, rinse, rinse,’ I am not convinced they truly know what that word means. They did somehow learn though! On one of my last nights, I stood there with the supplies and each child took just one paint brush, they took turns coming to rinse their brushes, and then they would choose a new color and they would paint areas of level three with cute little pictures or fancy little scribbles. They actually brightened up the place quite a bit! I jokingly at first told another one of the volunteers ‘Well, if I have achieved nothing else here, I can leave knowing that I taught the children on level three how to rinse their paintbrushes.’
When I first said that I was joking, and yet, those little things really do mean so much. Behind the painting itself, what I was really displaying to the children and their parents is that I love and care about them enough to patiently try and give them something to do. Even if you do something that seems so small, it does show that you care. And when you are hurting, knowing that there are people who care does actually provide a great deal of comfort. I did let a number of the people in Moria know that I would be praying for them and that I had friends at home who would be praying for them too. If you feel a particular connection with one of the people I have spoken about, I would be happy to privately e-mail you their name so you have a name to be praying for. If you are someone who would rather help with physical needs, here is the e-mail for EuroRelief: email@example.com. I have heard of other people making donations so that new clothing and more supplies can be bought. With winter coming up, warm clothes and blankets will be greatly needed. Or maybe you suddenly do feel like you should drop everything and go serve there for three weeks, even three months. Respond to that! Say yes! Whatever you feel like you are being called to do, just do it.
My final desire is definitely far more complicated. The issue of border control and how many refugees a country will allow in is definitely a much bigger obstacle to tackle. How can an average, everyday Joe or Jane Doe help with that? I may not be super politically savvy, but I do have a few suggestions. First off, I want to very clearly repeat something that I have been trying to relay as much as possible in my previous posts: The camps are not an okay place for people to stay long term. The children want and need schooling, the adults want and need jobs, something to do, a purpose. These human beings need a place to settle, a place to call home. A place where they can prepare their own food as opposed to waiting in endless lines to receive the same potatoes or pasta they have had for months upon months. A place where they are actually safe from fights, riots, and human trafficking. A place where they can receive better, more consistent, physical and mental health care and support.
Another one of the debriefing activities we were asked to do was to write down something we experienced while volunteering on Lesvos that we hadn’t expected to experience. I wrote down that I hadn’t expected to become friends with the refugees. I had prepared myself for long hours of working hard in highly unsettling circumstances, but I hadn’t prepared myself for the moments of normality, and how through those moments of normality I would become friends with the people I thought I was there to just serve. I hadn’t expected to be invited for food and tea, invited to play card games, invited to be taught bits of a new language, invited to be a confidante, to cry together with these people, but also laugh together. If you are someone who is firmly against letting any refugees into your home country, first of all, if you haven’t already, read the article I posted above about the lies being told about refugees. Maybe your reasoning behind not wanting more refugees in your country is based on you believing one or all of those lies. Lay those lies aside, know that they are lies, and know that the truth is that the people we call refugees are people, human beings who you would become friends with, if you took the time to get to know them. Friends help friends. Friends extend hospitality to friends.
So, after all that, how can you help more people seeking refuge find a place of stability? I already mentioned one of them. Stop the lies. Don’t believe them yourself and encourage others to also know the truth. Right now I am going to speak specifically to any readers who are from the USA. Not one of the people seeking refuge in Moria who I had an in depth conversation with wanted to come to the USA. Not because they hate us, not because they hate our values, but because they are afraid of how they would be treated here. They see our country as one that does not welcome Muslims or people from the Middle East. That makes me tremendously sad, and it does not make me feel proud to be from the USA. Don’t buy into fear. Don’t live driven by fear and lies, please. Choose love. Imagine it was you and your family fleeing a war torn country that once was actually prosperous but now is only filled with death. How would you want people to treat you? Would you want to be welcomed with compassion or would you want to be rejected because you have been grouped together with a minority that has committed horrendous crimes you don’t agree with at all? Again, I am not the most politically savvy person and I am not one to normally get into politics, but we do have an election coming up. When you go to vote, please do not just consider what would be best for you personally. Consider what would be most loving for all other human beings.
Another way you can help is by reaching out to the people who have already made it to your country. Getting someone to a new location isn’t the end of the story, it is just the beginning of a new chapter. Google ‘working with refugees in [wherever you live]’ and I guarantee plenty of organizations and opportunities will come up. I am currently looking into ‘World Relief.’ Even if I am not called back to work in Lesvos, I want to know how I can still serve the people who have fled their own country while living life in San Diego. Some of the opportunities World Relief offer include: hosting newly arrived couples/families, greeting people at the airport, giving cultural orientations, or driving new arrivals to appointments so they can do things like sign up for a social security number or enroll their children in school. My hope is renewed by the fact that there are organizations working to serve all stages of this crisis.
It is a lot. All of it is a lot. It can all seem so daunting and overwhelming. I can very quickly just feel so overwhelmed by everything I experienced in Lesvos and everything that still needs to be done if the suffering and sorrow from just this one crisis is to stop. That is when I have to stop and hand it all back over to God. I truly don’t know what I would do without Him. Even with every other glimpse of hope, without His hope I personally don’t think I could properly process and find peace with any of this. However with Him and through Him, I receive the strength and the desire to keep fighting and keep loving no matter what.
Glory to God for this amazing opportunity! May He bless each one of you on each of your own journeys too! Thank you so much for reading and following along with this journey. My hope is renewed by the fact that you even care enough to read this. I will be praying though that you continue on to do so much more than just read.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” – Revelation 21:3-5