June 28, 2017

Lifejackets and Refugees

Here is a first hand report from some friends who recently traveled overseas to work with refugees. I didn't truly understand what was happening there. It's worth a read if not for the individual stories told towards the end of it.

In the past few years nearly a million refugees have risked the sea between Turkey and the Greece, most to the island of Lesvos.  We hate to think of how many didn't make it.

As we walked around the rank mounds of lifejackets and shredded dinghies, the air hung heavy with desperation, loss and hope.

Empty of the bodies they once buoyed: shouting victory “They made it!” and haunting whispers of thousands of other lifejackets at the bottom of the strait.

Crushed one atop the other: a picture of the refugees’ immediate future - cramped, squalid conditions of the camp to which they’d be assigned.

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Not their photo. From an official website.

Each jacket telling a story of a life precious to our God; individuals some for whom we now have names.  Halima, Aminen, Vicki, Pepe, Shefy, Hamed, Immanuel, Mustafa, Hamid, Moshun, Mariam… their lifejackets were somewhere in the debris.


It took 9 months for her to make her way from Eritrea in NW Africa to Greece - the door she dreamed would lead to a safe life.  Her journey included a 5-month stay in a Syrian prison, because she was undocumented. 


When the group of refugees protested that the dinghy was too small for their size group, the smugglers pulled out knives and a gun and started beating Moshun. He and his wife, Mariam, had no choice but to climb in the boat with their 2 boys.  The engine failed, but thank God, they’d already made it into Greek waters and were discovered by a rescue boat.


He’d fled from Burma nearly a year ago. “I’m here alone. My mother, father, brothers, sisters, alive? dead?  I don’t know.  I have not heard from them.”  Then he showed me pictures of horrific violence against his Rohingyan people. I forced myself to glance. These people have lived through these atrocities, though my stomach turned, I could not look away from their pain.


As a special tactics officer in Mosul, Ari was captured and tortured by ISIS until the Kurdish militia rescued him. He often wakes up crying thinking he is still in captivity, yet goes to the shores to help translate for new arrivals whenever he can.  During our last weekend in camp, several boats arrived from Turkey.  One of the dinghies with 8 passengers capsized in the middle of the night and after hours in the cold water, only 2 survived by the time a rescue crew showed up.  Ari was asked to come translate.  In so doing he missed one of his asylum interviews.  It will be rescheduled... but that could take weeks or months. Ari wants to give back. 

And then it caught my eye – daisies growing in this desolate life-jacket graveyard.   LIFE. Such a sweet picture of the Gospel – of Jesus bringing beauty out of ashes and hope in the desperation.

Working in the camp in Lesvos was emotionally and physically exhausting. None of us were able to have any deeply spiritual conversations with anyone – but the roles we and the others on our team played picking up trash, fixing broken doors, cleaning bathrooms, manning gates, distributing food and clothes, playing with children… those acts on a day-to-day day basis help keep the tinder-box nature of the camp from erupting into chaos, help honor their dignity, reflect the love of Jesus (Euro-Relief, with whom we partnered, is known as a Christian group) AND create space for those volunteers who are there longer to have deep conversations about Jesus that lead to resurrection stories like this from a group who we overlapped with.

Mohammed, from Iraq, invited his new friends to go fishing.  These guys from Texas had been encouraging him in his young faith in Christ and speaking outside of the camp was safer. While they were fishing, an older Syrian man from another nearby camp joined them. “I’m considering changing my religion,”  he said rather abruptly. After much gentle question answering, the Iraqi young man sharing his story of following Jesus, more questions and sharing, the older Syrian said, “I want to do this now.”  God obviously had been preparing him for this divine appointment and he chose to put his trust in Jesus there along the beach.

Please pray for the believers who are in the camps – for their protection and for opportunities for them to share their faith.   Pray for peace to reign in the camp.  Pray for a constant flow of volunteers to fill these critical positions.  Pray that those seeking refuge would experience the truth of Psalm 62:8 Trust in him at all times, you people, pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”
Thank you to my sweet, Jesus loving friends, for allowing me to share their story and photos. 


Len Yokoyama said...

Amazing, heart felt, sad story...thank you for sharing!

Mark Taft said...

Very humbling...