I am living in the midst of a community that has fled war over mountains and across oceans on the small little inflatable boats you’ve seen all over the news. My new friends have family in Belguim, Finland and Sweden. The “lucky” ones are assigned apartments (flats donated to the Greek Orthodox church and then handed over to the UN) where they share toilets and kitchens sometimes with 3 other families. The rest sit in over-crowded camps (managed by the UN) or in squats (managed by anarchists) sharing rooms, yes, ROOMS with another family or two. Each of these families are on a 2-6 month time line to be assigned to a random country of the top 3 choices on the checklist IF they are registered – more than half of the refugees here are not yet registered. Our sweet little church, every Tuesday and Thursday, is filled with a random, eclectic mix of families each in a different place in this process, each in a different living situation. Just this past Saturday, one of our families got their call. Even though we know that this stop is temporary, it is still hard to say goodbye…. There were a lot of tears.
Eleni Melirrytou is the pastor’s wife of the Church of Christ: Omonia Square. She is who I want to be when I grow up. She welcomes every single person into their little church building 3 days a week, cooks for 60+ each of those 3 days, cries when she hears stories, organizes and juggles 3 different ministries working to assist her, falls in love with every new person she meets: Syrians, Iraqis, Afghanis, Ukrainians, Romanians, Nigerians and even us silly Americans. She doesn’t have the luxury of having and caring for these souls for YEARS. She mostly gets those months. And heavens, she loves fiercely and falls hard for every single person through those doors. Through her tears, she hugs and sends folks on their way praying and gifts of fine meals.
I think this is the bigger part of the lesson the Lord has for me in all of this: The hardest part of being Matthew Koerber’s wife is being placed in an academic setting in the city. Urban centers see loads of change – people moving in, people moving out. I have often lamented my church family is so much more transient than many other churches in our Presbytery. I’ve been a somersault of emotions throughout our 11 years in Pittsburgh: celebrating the fact that I am an ENFP who loves to meet new people; cynically raising my hand to agree to come alongside parents helping them raise their children when baptized,until they leave ME. I meet each summer with both loads of grief having to say goodbye to folks that have meant so much to me and my family and also with joyful expectations of what beautiful families/people the Lord is looking forward to bringing into our community. It’s such a strange tension! THIS summer in particular not being there has made me feel heart-achy. We started our sabbatical with conversations with some our best friends thinking about leaving, hearing a week into of our dear Chappell’s moving on and now, wow, the Sawyer family. These folks have been an intimate part of our lives the past 10 years.
This sabbatical is encouraging me to view this summer of transition with new lenses. Eleni and the transience of place of my sweet refugee friends put things in to perspective for me. They help me feel grateful for the opportunity that I have to share years with people instead of months. And yes, I am teary writing this – but as I say goodbye to very dear friends this summer (from afar) I praise God that our season together wasn’t just months, but life-forming years. Years of having children together and parenting alongside. Years of conversations that lifted my heart towards our Savior. Church, I love that we have the opportunity to settle into very transformative years with one another and be shaped by one another. Nothing is guaranteed to last on this side of eternity. Isn’t that what makes us long for the other side? I thank you Lord, that you have used this piece of my summer experience to shape and help me see joy in every summer of transition. I am tearfully joyful …..