Moria no good. It’s one of the first things that refugees learn to say…and they are right.
Volunteering in a refugee camp in Greece is hands down the hardest thing I have ever done. There is so much pain, sorrow, turmoil, and frustration shoved into a space the size of a Super Walmart. Somewhere between 5 and 7 thousand refugees breathe these emotions in on a daily basis. The darkness is crippling. Why is this happening? How did it come to this?
There are so many questions to ask when you stare into the face of Moria, a camp of chaos and heartbreak. I can remember my first day there as I looked into the eyes of these displaced people: men, women, and children, and wondered what their stories were. What had they fled? How long had they been in Moria? Were they there alone? What happens when they leave? Will they get to leave? Will they be sent back? Story is such a powerful thing. They are not static characters. They are constantly developing and proving their desperation to be dynamic. Their fearful journey in a lifeboat across waters that have marked themselves as a liquid grave yard is a testament to their determination.
The watery passage from Turkey to the island of Lesvos is less than 10 miles. Most of the refugees in camp told me that it took them four hours to cross. The rafts they come in have a capacity of 18. Yet, most boats hold over 30-40 refugees coming from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, the Republic of Congo, etc. This journey is not easy, but those who make it to Greece have a new monster to face once they arrive. It is out of the frying pan and into the fire so to speak.
Was the decision to flee their countries the right one? Are the conditions in Moria any better than the wars and oppression that pushed them out? It is a devastating question, but I am not sure it can be answered, nor do I think it is the right one. Getting caught up in the hopelessness of Moria is easy to do. The crisis continues and there is no way I can fix it. It will continue because the war in the Middle East continues as ISIS, Asad, Turks, and many others continue to fuel the beast of despair that ravages their world. Yet, I did not go to Moria to work with refugees to simply become listless under its heaviness.
The NGO I worked under in camp is called EuroRelief. So many things amaze me about the work this organization does. As I partnered with them during a span of a little more than a week, I quickly realized how needed they are. EuroRelief provides for the needs of refugees during their stay in Moria. They house, clothe, take census, guard, provide heat, distribute blankets and diapers, answer questions, and overall attempt to bring order to a camp characterized by disorder. While we worked, we wore bright orange EuroRelief vests. I quickly realized that this marker signified something throughout all of camp. There were so many times that refugees stopped me and said things like: “Moria no good, but EuroRelief good”. And I think that’s why they do it. Even though these full time workers and volunteers know that the work they do in camp is simply a bandaid, it is better than leaving an open wound.
EuroRelief is run by a bunch of 20 year olds from different countries and different denominations. It is a clear picture of the Kingdom coming together and putting aside differences for the sake of injustice. Going on this trip is very different from other mission trips. It’s not about bringing the gospel to people, but BEING the gospel. A major theme both in the Old and New Testament surrounds caring for the poor and the outcasts, and that is what EuroRelief lives into. It is also some of the most physically, emotionally, and spiritually taxing work that I have ever experienced. Volunteering in Moria is hard.
I’ve been back in the U.S. for a little more than 7 weeks now and it is still hard. I see the images of children in rain-soaked flip flops. I remember the feel of the cold that creeps its way into the very essence of camp as wind and rain sting the faces of these displaced people. The rain symbolizes tears as these displaced people bravely continue the life of flight that they have embarked on. I still see the families smushed together in make-shift tents, and devastated faces of new arrivals haunted by their past. Yet, I also remember the kindness of these people who brought me hot tea to drink when I was out in the cold. They invited me into their tents and attempted to get to know me through broken English and non-verbal hand gestures. In a camp that tries to break you, love is still found. Kindness is still found. The volunteers and the refugees contribute to this restless culture of hope and hopelessness, but they somehow choose to give hope the upper hand. Through all of this, I see Jesus spreading light in the most unlikely of places. As John 1:5 says: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” I choose to believe this.