My Visit to a Refugee Camp

A few people have asked about my recent trip to Greece working with refugees. I had the privilege to meet people from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. I spent the week in refugee tents and on street corners hearing stories and seeing the results of horrible acts against humanity. It’s been a little hard to process because I came home to my own country in the midst of more division than I ever remember seeing on a national scale in my 32 years.

It’s enough to make us feel like we always have to choose sides. Worse, it’s enough to make us numb.

I have spent the last 5 years really trying to follow Jesus…not religion, but the person of Jesus. I want to be where He is and do what He does and be with the people He would be with. He is why I ended up in Greece. I knew Jesus would be right in the middle of the whole refugee crisis.

It can be a scary thing to step into. Thousands and thousands of people from multiple countries are fleeing for their lives. Where should they go? How do we help them without hurting our own economy and all while keeping our country safe? I don’t have answers for those questions. The problem is so big with so many layers. I can only speak about what I saw.

Here are a few things that might not be on the news…

Never in my lifetime has there been such a mass exodus of people. No one knows what to do with this many people all at once. As the countries surrounding Greece started to close their borders and the people began piling up, many were moved to refugee camps outside Athens. They are essentially stuck in a holding place turned into an eerily permanent solution where everyone sits around all day and no kids go to school. People are not being lazy, they literally have NOTHING to do. They can’t work, can’t cook, can’t clean. Electricity is minimal and it is so stinkin’ hot.

I was able to visit 2 official camps. One was almost completely cut off from the outside world with barbed wire fences and armed guards. The people were so desperate for any news of when the borders might open. Many families were separated from older children, sisters, brothers, and mothers that journeyed through Greece previously and were now waiting for them in another country.

I’ve done a fair amount of off the beaten path traveling and have seen some extreme poverty in Africa, India, and South America so I can’t say I am easily shocked. I am ashamed to admit when I initially think of a refugee, I picture someone who was already poor and most likely not very educated. Someone who probably already lives in a tent. The people I spoke with were teachers, engineers, social/aid workers, MBA students, artists, builders, business men.

They were you and me.

One man said, ” I don’t need money. I have money. I just need to get out of here.”

It became unsafe for them to go to work and send their children to school. And yes, despite news reports, there were children. So. many. children. So many families…lots of daddies, pregnant mommas, and tiny babies.

My purpose was to show up in the midst of their tragedy and love them. I smiled, hugged, picked up trash, and mostly just listened to their stories. I know it sounds naive and silly, but it’s not to me. During some of the hardest times in my own life, I’m most grateful for the people who showed up in a hospital room or at my house and just sat with me. It made me feel almost human again and somewhat normal for those few moments. They didn’t try to tell me things or give me stuff to make it better. They laughed with me, cried with me, and prayed over me.

I want to be someone who doesn’t automatically take a side based on my religious background, skin color, or country of birth.

Jesus wasn’t defined by the things He was against. He was ‘for’ all people. If anything, the religious leaders of his day were accusing him of hanging out with the ‘wrong people’ too much.

Most of us won’t ever hold a political office or be the one to get an important law to pass, but we have our part to play.

We show up when people are hurting. Not just our friends, but all people. We listen to our brothers and sisters. We don’t just wait for them to finish talking so we can tell them what we think. We really hear them. We try to understand their position and pain.

A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions. Proverbs 18:2

 He who answers before listening–that is his folly and shame. Proverbs 18:13

I’m so very grateful to everyone who helped me get to Greece and for those praying for me while I was away. If you have any specific questions or want to hear more stories, I’d love to hear from you! If you’d rather have a real conversation over a cappuccino, even better!!

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Painting by a Yazidi artist on the wall of an old building at one camp
Painting by a Yazidi artist on the wall of an old building at one camp