Serving in Lesvos Continued – Part One

It has been almost a whole year since I was last working in ‘Moria,’ one of the refugee camps here on Lesvos, Greece. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be back and to have the opportunity to serve here again. I am living on the Next Wave ship again, which excitingly is now a part of the newly pioneered YWAM Lesvos base. A lot has changed, however I think having the background information from what was going on here last year is still really helpful. So, if you are just starting to read my posts now, I encourage you to begin by clicking the older posts button at the bottom of this page and starting from the beginning at part one.

For this post, I am going to go over a little bit about what has gone on in the camp during the past year, what a ‘typical’ day looks like working in camp now, and then I will share more specifically what my time of serving here looks like so far. This will be a very long post because I am not sure how many more posts I will be able to write. I am very busy trying to serve with everything I have while I am here. I also want to warn you now that many things you read in this post will probably disturb you.

THEN AND NOW

A few months after I left there was a major fire in the camp that was started during a protest that turned into a riot. Most of the camp burned away. As winter came in full force, more tragedy struck with people dying from the cold and dying from another fire that was started by faulty heating equipment that people were using to keep warm in their tents. Yes, you read that right, tents. Despite the fact that it gets cold enough on the island to even snow sometimes, people were living in tents because that is just how limited resources are. Eventually, because of how dangerous the living conditions were, all the families were moved out of the camp, and for a long time it was just single men. Even the family unit where I worked almost every day last year turned into an area just for single men.

This lasted until about February. During the winter it is very challenging and perilous to cross the sea from Turkey to Greece, even more so than usual, so for a long time the camp continued to just stay single men who were trapped waiting for information about their request for asylum. Since it has warmed up recently though, more people have been crossing the sea again and we suddenly have families in the camp once more. We are unable to move them back onto the levels where families were housed previously, but there are other areas that are now gated and designated for families.

The atmosphere of camp is also very different. The sense of total shock and fresh trauma is no longer as strong as it was before. There are people who have been in the camp now for up to 15 months. There is nothing pleasant about Moria. The living conditions are dirty, unsafe, and crammed. We will sleep 35 people in a building the size of a small classroom. In what we would call a 4 person, 1 family tent back home, we will try to sleep around 15 people, 4 families. The food is bland and basically rotates between a handful of different meals that consist of mostly rice. The majority of people living in camp have some sort of stomach pain or problem. There are also many people who are very sick or at the very least have some sort of skin rash. The medical services are extremely limited in the camp. Even more limited are the mental health services, which are so desperately needed. There are frequently fights because of racial or religious tension or persecution. Any single women are at risk of being lured or forced into sex trafficking. There are riots and fires frequently enough that the other night around fifty children were running around the camp pretending to have their own riot. Children emulate what they see, so rather than playing doctor or house, rather than actually going to school and learning new knowledge and skills, here the kids learn to riot. I don’t know why anyone would put himself or herself through this life unless they were genuinely and truly terrified to return to their home country.

Now the atmosphere of camp feels tenser, more frustrated, and even more hopeless. One morning we were unable to go into camp because they were doing another big round of deportations. This is often a cause for riots. Every day you hear of another case where someone has been denied their final appeal and will now be deported to a prison in Turkey where human rights are pretty much not a thing. Or, maybe the person is being deported back to their home country, and this is pretty much a death sentence. Even those who are deemed as having a strong case for asylum wait around for months before they finally get their papers to move away to another country. Something in the system is absolutely failing.

It is still illegal to take pictures inside the camp, so you will not be seeing any photos or videos from me personally. However, for those of you who appreciate visuals, here is a short BBC video about the present state of things. You can even get a glimpse of the camp and what it currently looks like.

Since I was away, the organization I work with, EuroRelief, did start up some really good new things. They also had to take on even more responsibilities after a few NGOs pulled out of the camp due to lack of funding. EuroRelief even had a type of clothing store set up for people where they could actually choose their own clothing as opposed to just being given random things. Sadly however, a few days before I arrived another riot broke out and the EuroRelief buildings were burnt down. They lost a lot in the fire, however workers just got straight back up and continued to do their best to love and serve the camp. It is incredibly inspirational. I get a lot of people asking me how they can practically help from afar, and currently there is an opportunity to do that through donating to EuroRelief so they can try to replace what they just lost in the fire. You can donate and read more about that here: You Caring Link to Donate to EuroRelief

THE CURRENT DAILY EURORELIEF CAMP ROUTINE

There are currently four different daily shifts for working in Moria. Teams rotate through these shifts and short-term volunteers are asked to work six days a week. The shifts are 8am to 4:30pm, Noon to 9pm, 4pm to 12:30am, and Midnight to 9:30am.

When teams first arrive to camp, they will meet up with their shift co-coordinator and have a time of briefing. This is a time when we go over the usual rules, discuss anything important that might have happened during the last shift, and then get assigned positions for the shift. We currently have people who guard gates on Levels 1, 2, and 3 (which are all single men) and Sections A, B, and C (which are the sections for families, unaccompanied minors, and single women), as well as one person who guards another gate that leads to the three sections. People who live in these areas have ID cards that grant them access to get through the gates. Guarding the gates can get quite tedious, however it is an important job and there are some opportunities to talk to people and to get to know them.

Another position you can be assigned to is working new arrivals. The new arrivals area is a small, gated section guarded by the police. Here you are in charge of getting people who have just come to Moria the basic things they need such as water, blankets, a toothbrush, or diapers for babies while they wait to be processed. Once people have their papers and have been processed, it is time to house them somewhere else in the camp.

The last typical position you can be assigned to is working at the information tent, where the housing happens, as well as many other different jobs. When you work info tent you will normally end up helping with food distribution, cleaning, or any other grunt work. This is where people living in the camp also come with their many questions and complaints, and when you are working info tent you try your best to answer the questions and solve the problems, although it feels like most the time you are just telling people sorry but you can’t do anything to help them. Housing is very difficult because of course no one wants anyone new in their space, so it first of all requires a lot of negotiations with the people already living in the space you want to move new people into. Once you have convinced them, you then have to normally negotiate with the people moving into the space too. This is often the time when it finally hits people how bad the conditions in Moria really are. It is heartbreaking seeing that realization and denial start spreading across their faces.

Even one of the easy jobs you can have when you are assigned to the information tent, helping people print and make copies, is devastating. Most the time when people need this work done, it is because they are trying to build a case for their asylum interview. I spent a couple of hours helping some Coptic Christians from Egypt who were putting together photos to prove their faith and also prove how persecuted they had been. The persecution photos featured people that were either severely injured or dead, as well as churches and homes on fire. While I was helping them I couldn’t help but wonder how well people back from home would be able to prove their faith through photographs and whether they would actually even keep their faith if they had faced the type of trauma these people had faced. You also continuously read doctor’s notes saying things such as ‘man has multiple stab wounds, only one kidney, and severe PTSD’ or ‘this woman miscarried at 5 months pregnant while traveling here and the bleeding has continued for several weeks’ and all the while you know that 90% of the people you see and try to help will have their asylum requests denied. Very often working in camp leaves you feeling numb, totally heartbroken, or extremely angry because more isn’t being done for these people who are hurting so badly.

And yet, last week, as I was scooping up human feces while cleaning the new arrivals bathrooms, I found myself laughing and filled with joy. That may sound shocking, insensitive, and even upsetting, but I couldn’t help it because I was suddenly so aware of how much my life does not make sense. I am not the only one who thinks it makes no sense either. The EuroRelief volunteers frequently get people in the camp asking us why we do what we do or how we are able to keep loving people even when they show us no love in return. As a ‘good Christian’ who is familiar with 1 Peter 3:15, I am always ready with a response about experiencing the love of Jesus and subsequently being empowered and filled with the desire to love others. But on this day I myself truly started to realize how bizarre my life really must appear.

It makes no sense that a person would pay a bunch of money to come and volunteer for free in order to do such exhausting, thankless, and grueling work. It makes no sense for a person to choose to leave their loved ones who live in beautiful, thriving, picturesque places to come back to a broken and depressing refugee camp. It makes no sense that a person who was once filled with so much bitterness that they would frequently say 85% of people should just die would suddenly truly believe that 100% of people are precious and worth dying for. It makes no sense for a person to continuously witness and hear about such heartbreaking situations and somehow still have peace and hope. It makes no sense that a person could go from so much weeping to so much rejoicing. It does not make sense and it cannot merely be explained by human logic. When I think about how much my life does not make sense, I am suddenly so aware of how real, alive, and active the Holy Spirit is, and this is what brings me joy. If I can clearly see the Holy Spirit moving in and through my life, I can know that He is moving in and through the lives of others too, and good things can be brought out of even the worst situations. In these moments, when I think about how much my life does not make sense, I know that God is real. When my faith is confirmed, my hope is confirmed because I can trust that I serve a good, mighty, powerful, and faithful God who says that one day He will wipe away every tear, and that His love and light will prevail over the current darkness we see and experience.

MY TIME OF SERVING

I wrote a totally different blog post last week, but I felt like God told me to wait before publishing it. That makes sense now, because a lot has changed since then. The wonderful woman who was in charge of worship for the Next Wave ship/YWAM Lesvos base left after she received an amazing opportunity to serve elsewhere. So now, I am leading worship at least once a week, and I am also in charge of making sure that there is someone organized to lead worship every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday when we come together to praise the Lord through song.

I also got a phone call last Friday from one of the EuroRelief shift coordinators asking if I would be willing to take on a leadership position focusing specifically on Section A, which is the family unit in the camp right now. I accepted that offer, and now I only work in Section A, six days a week from 4pm to Midnight. However, more often than not those hours get extended because too much stuff is going on. The section is currently run by the Greek government and another NGO, and it is my job to partner with them and to figure out how everything is being run in this section now, in order to brainstorm how things could be improved so that in the future we will hopefully be able to take over and run it better.

Right now it is myself and one other woman from EuroRelief in charge of all housing, making ID cards, keeping track of the occupants, and keeping all the files and paperwork updated. The goal is that we will really get to know everyone living in this area so that we can understand what the needs and potential of the section really are, and how we can manage the family unit as effectively as possible. The more I learn about the section and the people living there, the more I realize that there are a lot of complicated problems currently. The more problems I encounter, the more I realize that I need to continue to rely on God to guide me, because there aren’t many easy or obvious solutions.

There are people from many African and Middle Eastern nations living in this section, which is made up of 9 small classroom sized buildings and 4 large tents. There are 292 people living there now, and this number is only going to increase as more and more boats arrive in Lesvos each day. As well as being the place where families live, there are also cases of vulnerable people, such as those with serious medical conditions or Christians who would be killed for their faith if they were not in this protected part of the camp. In one night alone we had 5 medical emergencies to call in from Section A. I am really enjoying getting to know the people more though. The other night a man from Congo and another man from Iraq started to get in a fight, but they quickly worked it out with an agreement that “all section A is family.” I am praying that this sentiment becomes totally true and ends up inspiring the rest of the camp.

Please continue to pray for the people living in Moria and for the refugee crisis as a whole. Please pray that people as well as governments would act out of love, not fear or greed. Please pray that I would have the strength and energy to keep following the Holy Spirit each day and to keep loving and serving no matter how worn I may feel. 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!

“‘Run, say to that young man, ‘Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock in it. And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst… Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord. And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.” – Zechariah 2:4,5,+10,11