All posts by Madison Buchanan

Madison is an English Major at Johnson University who loves to read and write.


Volunteering in a refugee camp


The life jacket grave yard found on the island of Lesvos in Greece.

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.


First tennis matches show veteran leadership and rising freshmen


The JU Royal’s men’s and women’s teams launched their season Sept. 14th and 15th in a pair of challenging matches against Oakland City University and Brescia University.

Even though both matches resulted in losses, there were still constructive points to pull from them. The veteran players showed up to play, led the team, and pulled some wins.

The women’s team lost a close match to Oakland City, slipping 4-5. The lone doubles win came from doubles pair Hannah Ham (Jr.) and Annalise McDonald (So.) winning 8-6. Freshman, Iris Loveday, and Madison Buchanan (Jr.) dropped a close match 7-9. 

Returning players Buchanan, Danielle Keehner (Sr.), and McDonald pulled wins at the one, two, and three spots of the singles line up. However, the team overall was left just short of a victory.

The men’s team dropped 3-7 but had strong wins from Carson Byington (So.) and Michael Rhodenbaugh (Sr.) at the one and two spots. 

Freshman, Steven Damon closed out the match with his first win as a JU Royal. Damon was the only Freshman to pull a win, on his 18th birthday no less.

Saturday’s matches against Brescia proved more difficult, but there were still some highlights.

Doubles pair Ham and McDonald scraped another victory leaving them undefeated at the start of this season. Beyond that, McDonald went 4-0 during the course of the weekend, winning both singles and doubles matches.

The Royals are set to play Emory and Henry Sept. 29th.


Back to back basketball proves advantageous for Royals


Royals’ team prayer with Welch College after Saturday’s game.

Knoxville — Johnson University’s men’s basketball team won back-to-back home games this past weekend against Boyce and Welch.

Friday’s game proved to be close with JUTN beating Boyce College 85-79.

“An advantage of playing back to back games is that it is not hard to turn around again,” Trenton Flemming, a junior on the team, said. “It gives us another chance.

“It helps us look at what we did well, but also what we can do better,” he added.

The disadvantages, according to Flemming, involve the lack of practice time and getting worn out.

“Losing at home is also bad for our rankings,” Flemming said.

However, these possible setbacks did not effect the team in Saturday’s game. The Royals kept at least a steady 10-point lead over Welch college throughout, ending it 93-83.

Flemming said he sees playing back to back games at home as a positive thing.

He said the team shoots better at home and there are more fans in the stands.

“Winning these games back to back gives the team momentum moving forward,” Flemming said. “These home games are the best part of basketball season.”

After defeating Crown College Tuesday night, the Royals are set to play three more home games.




Breaking the limit according to Sho Gray

KNOXVILLE —The Royals’ cross-country coach challenges his team to become better runners, but also better individuals.

Sho Gray said he believes that running teaches people how to overcome adversity physically, mentally and emotionally. He said it bleeds into their daily lives.

As a 6th grader in Japan, Gray grew up playing soccer, but found he needed further conditioning. Eventually, he joined the cross-country team.

He ran his first half marathon during his Senior year of high school. From there, he continued to challenge himself.

“I set rules and followed them,” he said.

When it came to college, he said that he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. However, his father had ties to Johnson University.

“I knew I would be taken care of,” Gray said. He graduated JU with a Bachelor’s in Children’s Ministry and Non-Profit in 2010 and 2011.

From there, Gray became a teacher at an elementary school in Knoxville, but he said he did not feel fulfilled.

During an administrative change, his school received a new principal. This new principal mistakenly sent him a text which led to feelings of failure and heartbreak.

According to Gray, the text said, “we are probably going to fire that Sho Gray kid.”

“God used that failure and heartbreak,” said Gray.

When visiting with Dave Legg, dean of students, soon after, he was offered the coaching position for the Royals’ cross-country team. Gray was excited to start coaching at Johnson in 2013.

“Coaching allows me to help people achieve their dreams,” Gray said. “I want my team to succeed and overcome challenges.”

For Gray, the hardest part of coaching is teaching people how to say no.

“I hate giving up,” Gray said. “But, there are times to say yes and times to say no.”

He especially finds it difficult with new runners. However, he said he wants to be the best example for his team. Gray tries to encourage them to be excited and not fear failure. He tells them to “be a little crazy.”

As a coach, runner and individual, Gray sets the bar high.

“I like to go for the impossible,” he said.

He said he would like to see a track team implemented as well as more trails paved on campus to better the cross-country program.

With the addition of a track team and running trails, he said he hopes to keep his runners in better shape and benefit the Johnson community.



Royals’ cross-country coach. (Photo provided by Sho Gray)



Royals’ Tennis to play opener at UT


Seth Hale, the Royals’ tennis co

KNOXVILLE — Johnson University’s men’s and women’s tennis teams are scheduled to play the University of Pikeville at the indoor Goodfriend Tennis Complex, on the campus of the University of Tennessee, Feb. 10. The time for the match has not been set.

Because of construction on the JUTN campus, resulting in a lack of courts, the Royals are playing at alternative locations as close to campus as possible.

JUTN’s tennis coach said the opener will be an indicator of how the team is progressing.

“In addition to the venue, the first match always brings the excitement and hope of a new season,” Seth Hale, the Royals’ tennis coach, said.

He said the team members have put in time and effort in practice and he is excited to see how they perform under pressure.

JUTN and the University of Pikeville, in Kentucky, are statistically well-matched teams. Pikeville plays in the NAIA conference, while JUTN plays in the NCCAA conference.

“The UPike match will serve as a good field test to how our players react to playing on a bigger stage with home fans, and against a really quality opponent,” Hale said.

Even though the JUTN tennis program is fairly new, launching in 2013, the Royals’ coach is encouraged by the team’s development.

“I feel like our program has been improving every year,” says Hale. “We have a very talented and exciting group of players this season, and I am excited to get it underway.”

Hale said he hopes the close proximity of the match will draw Royals’ fans.