In early February of this year (right before everyone’s world turned upside down as a result of the pandemic), I traveled to the island of Lesvos, Greece to serve at the Moria refugee camp. God put it on my heart to go, and I am so thankful that, after two previous unsuccessful scheduling attempts, He led me there.
Moria Camp is a place where everyone’s life already has been turned upside down – by war, violence, and persecution. It is the destination of thousands upon thousands of men, women and children who cross the Aegean Sea in overcrowded rafts at the mercy of Turkish smugglers. Many (but not all) wear counterfeit, worthless life vests that are collected in a “lifejacket graveyard” that provides a powerful visual of the magnitude of the refugee crisis.
Arriving at camp cold, wet and frightened, they are fed a meal of hard boiled egg, bread, a tomato and spinach pastry and given a bundle of clean, dry clothes and a blanket. Some arrive pregnant and with young children and babies. Some, like one little 8 year old boy when I was there, arrive alone. Sometimes relatives who have made the journey before them eagerly wait outside the fenced “new arrival area.” Sometimes, there is no one waiting.
For me, the Moria camp was an almost surreal study in contradictions. Situated on a picturesque island with quaint fishing villages, Roman ruins and a chapel commemorating the visit of the apostle Paul during his third missionary journey (Acts 20:14), the Moria camp is muddy, littered with garbage and unimaginably overcrowded.
Twenty thousand (20,000) people live in a space built for about 3,000. New arrivals must find a space in the olive groves surrounding the camp, often cutting down the ancient olive trees for warmth on the cold and damp winter nights. The loss is palpable. An Afghani teenager opened up about his difficult journey and the people who died along the way. An Iranian girl told me about the food and the friends she longed for while never mentioning the father who did not arrive with them.
The uncertainty weighs heavily, as the back-logged asylum process drags on. For those people in the Moria camp, their only hope is to receive asylum to live in Greece – or be sent back to the country they fled. But for now, they must wait.
And yet, there is hospitality when an Afghan family invites me into their tent for tea as I deliver a transfer ticket that is welcome news for the family. There is dignified patience as a father, holding his infant son, waits for the tent, tarp and six feet of rope that will house his family. “My beautiful baby,” he says, smiling at me. There is laughter and dancing as a group of beautiful Somali women celebrate the birth of a baby in the unaccompanied women’s section. They wear brightly colored dresses and turbans, their strikingly beautiful eyes highlighted with makeup. Music fills the cold night. There are welcoming shouts of “hello, my friend!” as a group of children runs toward me, wanting to be hugged.
Moria camp is a hard place, facing problems bigger than any one person can solve. But it also is filled with many beautiful, gentle and kind people. Like the women we serve at Re:new, these people have fled situations I cannot imagine in the hope of finding a safe place to thrive and care for their families. Although the refugee crisis is overwhelming, I am committed to do all I can for those I can, being mindful of Jesus’ words: “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
-Karen Poulos, Re:new Board President