Lessons Learned While Living In Lesvos

My six weeks of serving in Lesvos have officially come to an end. I spent my time working as a lead over the family section of Moria refugee camp; six days a week of high pressure, stress, and tragedy, seeing very little progress, and making the hard calls that nobody wanted to hear. I also lead musical worship on the YWAM Next Wave ship for an hour twice a week. I have been dealing with my own personal struggles and have been sick for the majority of the time I have been here. While I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to serve here, I am also very much ready to leave for now. This time has been exceptionally challenging, stretching, heart-breaking, and exhausting. I know it was only by the grace of God that I was able to get through it.

That being said, for my final post I do not want to focus on the hardships, and I most certainly do not want to focus on me. I want to focus on the good things I have seen, heard, and learned. In previous posts I have written a lot about why everyone should feel bad about people being trapped in refugee camps, living in such horrible conditions. For this post though, I want to share why you should want to welcome these people who are seeking refuge as your neighbors. Even more than that, I want to share why I believe it is God’s heart for these people to be welcomed by us too.

Our God is a God of all nations. His heart is for all peoples. Every human being is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Every person you see, meet, or hear about, no matter how much you like them or not, is a precious man or woman who was made in the image of the Almighty Creator of the Universe! It has always been God’s plan for all the nations to be blessed through Jesus (Genesis 12:3), it has always been God’s plan that all the nations should hear the Gospel (Matthew 28:19), He wants different people to work together with their different strengths and weaknesses to make a complete body (1 Corinthians 12:12) and ultimately He says that people from every tribe and nation will come together in harmony to worship Him (Revelation 7:9-10).

We should want to share the Gospel with everyone, we should want to show the love of Jesus to everyone, we should want to worship with all different kinds of people in different languages, and we should be open to learning different lessons from different people. Because every person is made in the image of God we can learn from and see God moving in all people, even if they follow a totally different religion. We should want everyone to know the Truth of Jesus, and yet that doesn’t mean that we should throw away the truth that each culture has something unique and beautiful to offer. While in camp, even on the hardest days, I would learn things from the people there. I was very grateful to have my eyes opened to those lessons. Here are just three of them:

CHIVALRY

“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel…” – 1 Peter 3:7

There was a time when the above verse made me so mad that I went as far to say that I could never believe in the Christian God because of it. The feminist side of me cried out ‘How dare anyone say that women are weak?’ After some further study and a better understanding of God’s heart, I do not believe that He thinks women are any less valuable than men, and I also think that the word vessel in this verse is merely referring to the physical body. And for the most part men are physically stronger than women. Yes, there are certainly exceptions to that, but God clearly made men and women different in order to each serve different and wonderful purposes, and that is something we should acknowledge and honor.

For the most part, there is a preconception in the West that the view and treatment of women in Middle East is degrading and awful. But after getting to know more people from the Middle East and hearing different perspectives on the role of women in that culture, I would say that this is not entirely true. There are certain aspects of the culture that I believe are actually more honoring to women. My view of hijab (the head covering many women wear) was challenged when one of the men explained to me that men aren’t allowed to see women without this until they are engaged, and how when his sister was being courted this brought comfort because she could ensure that the courter wasn’t just after her because of her physical appearance, but rather that he had come to cherish more important things like her personality and family. I had never thought about it that way before, and it made me realize how much I can still learn from other cultures, and how I shouldn’t be so quick to assume that I understand why a certain culture does something or that it is wrong just because it is different from my own culture.

I have seen other examples in camp of men really valuing, respecting, and caring for women too. For instance, one day another female volunteer and I were walking up from one part of the camp to another. The camp sits on a pretty large hill, and the other volunteer was carrying a ladder. Suddenly one of the men living in the camp came running up beside us and took the ladder out of the other volunteer’s arms. He then looked over to another man who had been walking beside us and said “Are you stupid? This is a girl! What are you doing?” I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself. I don’t agree with all the ways women are treated in the East, but I also don’t agree with all the ways they are treated in the West either, and I definitely think that we could learn a thing or two from each other!

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” – James 1:27

Even apart from gender specified chivalry I also witnessed this sense of extra respect and care passed over to the elderly and children too. There were quite a few instances of younger men accompanying their elderly grandmothers or aunts in the family section. As I have mentioned before, living in Moria is challenging enough, and taking care of yourself is a big enough of a task. Adding in taking care of someone who is physically weak, sick, needs lots of extra attention and specific needs seems very daunting, and I have a great amount of respect for those men. I also had times where we needed to move someone new into a room, and even though originally everyone insisted that there was no more space in their room, as soon as they saw that it was someone elderly, they would drop everyone and rush to set up a suitable more comfortable space for them. This sacrificial behavior definitely challenged me to be better about practicing what I preach!

COMMUNITY

“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” – 1 Corinthians 12:26

The sense of community I saw in camp was amazingly beautiful. One example of this was any time someone received their asylum papers to leave Moria. Section C, which is the section for single women, could be heard from the whole rest of the camp anytime someone got that blessed news. There would suddenly be crying, shouts of joy, laughing, singing, and dancing for the whole entire day just to celebrate that one person. There was no bitterness, no grumbles of ‘I wish it was me’ and similarly it wasn’t just a ‘oh, that’s nice for you’ before moving on to the next thing. If one person was ready to party, the whole community was ready to party with them.

Another awesome example of community that I saw in the camp was the shared responsibility of caring for children. The children spent so much time playing together, running around outside their rooms, and I rarely saw the parents stressed about their children being ok because it is just so accepted that when you are a part of the community you are going to look out for the children in it. It isn’t just the role of the parents to raise, care for, love, and discipline the children, it is the role of the whole community together. I think this part of Middle Eastern and African culture is essential when it comes to living in Moria. When the parents are already going through so much stress in their own lives, having to care for children without any help or support would be practically impossible. Fortunately, parents can at least rest easy when it comes to the whereabouts and safety of their children because they can trust that everyone else living in the camp around them and all the volunteers are looking out for their little ones too.

HOSPITALITY

“Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” – Mark 12:43

There is something so touching about someone willing to give even when they have nothing. I was shown and learned so much about hospitality from the people living in Moria. One of my daily activities was room mapping. I would go into a room and shuffle through the make-shift blanket walls to try and figure out how much space was in the room, and who was sleeping where. As I would come to an opening in the blankets and ask the people sleeping there for their ID cards, I would so often be invited to come in and sit down. I would then be offered some kind of food or drink, whatever it was that they had. These little blanket forts have barely any space, and the people living in them have literally lost everything, and yet they wanted to show me hospitality. Even though I was rustling through their personal space doing a job that is ultimately going to cause them more strife because I am trying to jam even more people into their room, these people wanted to show me hospitality.

On multiple occasions as I was working in the office, I would be brought tea or food that had been made by the people living in the camp. If someone was making tea, it was only natural that they would come and offer it around to other people too. If someone observed that I wasn’t eating or that the camp food was especially bad that night, of course they were going to make something to bring to me. It is just a part of their culture. It seems to be totally natural and not showing good hospitality is just unheard of. Each one of these instances blew my mind. How could these people have the mental capacity to think about me and to want to give when they are going through so much? I may not be able to totally understand different cultures, but I can certainly recognize when they are doing something that I should try to emulate!

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I hope that even from these few little stories you see how much the people living in Moria refugee camp have to offer. It isn’t about bashing or rejecting Western culture. It is about recognizing how much stronger society can be when we come together and choose to open up and learn from one another. Not only are the people living in Moria in desperate need of our care and attention, but they also have so much to share with us too! It is time to no longer turn a blind eye to these people, to no longer act out of greed or fear, but instead to act out of love and let that exchange occur.

To finish this post, I want to share some pictures and a little story that goes with them. The below pictures are from the lifejacket graveyard here on Lesvos. This is the dumping ground for thousands of lifejackets and rubber boats, the remains of the perilous journey from Turkey to Greece that so many have taken. One of my friends who is a full-time staff member here at the YWAM Lesvos base shared with me a beautiful image that God had shared with her when she visited this place for the first time. Normally, this spot is known as a place of absolute sorrow, and yet God gave her a picture of total hope. Rather than viewing each of the lifejackets as a representation of the amount of people who had suffered, He showed her how to see it as a place where so many people had come to shed away their past, to shed away the weight that had previously burdened them. She told me how God guided her to envision each person removing a lifejacket as someone symbolically leaving behind their past life in order to step forward into a new life. It is my ultimate hope and prayer that each of us would do our part in making that new life possible for each person who wore one of those life jackets.

I wouldn’t trade the time I had here for anything in the world, even though it was not easy. I actually think it was the perfect place to do my School of Worship outreach because it was so difficult. If I can continue to worship God even when suffering is right before my eyes, I know I can continue to worship Him no matter what, always and forever. I know that my hardships are nothing compared to what other people face, but more importantly than that, I know that each of us, no matter how hard or easy our lives appear, can find the purest and greatest joy when we come to understand the salvation and love that Jesus Christ offers! I know it is all only because of Him and all for Him. 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 he said, ‘Naked I ¬†came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.'” – Job 1:21

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