MK: This is a reposting from a good friend who is working at a refugee camp on a Greek island in the Mediterranean. I got to know Lizzie last summer when we worked together with refugees in Athens. She is a recent college graduate who has devoted her life to serving on the frontlines of the refugee crisis. As I got to know her I was deeply impressed by her courage and sacrifice. This past winter she returned to Greece, but instead of working with refugees that were in the process of moving towards asylum, she is now working with the refugees who are not yet in the system. On the whole, this group of refugees is in a far more difficult place. I asked Lizzie if I could publish two of her most recent updates because they offer a rare window into the frontlines of refugee ministry.
Dear Family and Friends,
Some days I have grace-filled stories, and many other days I sit empty handed and heavy hearted. This past week has been especially difficult. From hearing more details of friends’ stories to a deeper realization of the hardships of living in this camp: I am burdened. When I was in Athens, I saw many difficult situations, but this camp has a hopelessness unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Many of these men have been here for over a year. They have no information on the status of their asylum claims, they sleep most of the day because there is nothing to do with their time, and the food is limited in portion and nutrition. They are crammed in their living spaces, have limited electricity, and often are treated as criminals by the Greek military and police. Minors are forced to sign papers saying that they are 18 so that the government does not have to protect them or provide additional resources. A man I knew drowned the other week and the police didn’t show up until an hour after the emergency call.
Everything in me wants to find them a bright, clean space to live in. With windows and fresh air and real beds. I want to give them access to education and training programs so that they don’t waste months of their life sitting in this camp. I want them to feel respected and to be treated as equal and worthy. I want to feel confident that their current suffering will be worthwhile in the end.
But for now, I can keep showing up for my shifts. Cleaning rooms, opening gates, welcoming new arrivals, and sitting and listening. While I cannot make any substantial changes, I can be faithful in my small part.
Even when the news stops reporting, these men remain. Even when you have to go out of your way to hear about these camps, thousands sit with their lives on hold. My desire is that a part of my purpose here is to tell their stories, to relay the situation to others back home.
The situation is difficult in every way you could imagine. There are no quick fixes or easy answers - but it demands a response, a deep compassion. Whether you feel convicted to show up in person, to donate money or resources, or to advocate back home – I encourage you to not forget these people.
Could you keep me in your thoughts and prayers? For strength to keep showing up when my heart feels like it breaks a little more each day? And much more so for my friends who live with intense anxiety and fear of the future - that they could keep going, that they could hold onto hope even when everything seems to suffocate it?
Also, I am struggling to figure out my future steps after my time here is finished. Could you pray that doors would be opened for me to stay if that is what is needed, or for new opportunities to present themselves?
Dear Family and Friends,
When you’re constantly surrounded by pain, flashes of joy burn bright. I’ve been honest in my updates, resisting the pressure to include a ‘silver lining’ or to sugarcoat the reality in this camp. But I also want to be honest in the tastes of hope I’ve experienced.
In the past few weeks more families have moved into M – and my organization regained access to their section of the camp. After weeks of only being able to shake hands and being constantly guarded, getting to scoop up babies and sit with my arm around my new friends is heaven. There are two Syrian families with several teenage daughters that are my new shadows in camp. We giggle and talk about boys and make up and what they want to be when they get older. There are a few toddlers that run straight into my arms and I’ve gained several new ‘mamas.’
The other night I got invited to an engagement party in the compound. I sat with the girls, Arabic music blaring as we fixed each other’s hair and they caked about 10 pounds of eyeliner on me. Paper flowers and streamers decorated the small room filled with gray UNHCR blankets and metal bunkbeds. I was the lone Westerner laughing my way through dabka lessons and pretending like I knew the words to the songs.
And as I sat on a cot on the edge of the room, a friend’s little baby asleep in my arms, I watched my beautiful new friends spin and stamp their feet, faces lit up with joy. Here it was – the glimpse of hope, stubborn and resilient in the face of injustice. I felt it in my bones, in my heart – these beautiful people will thrive. And I felt that swell of intense conviction, an understanding that my place is beside them, for them.
While there have been situations that have broken my heart all over again the past few days, and that flash of hope seems a little dimmer – it was there. And it is precious and worth sharing.