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Releasing Our Burdens to God - A Greek Refugee Initiative Perspective

March 16, 2020

Releasing Our Burdens to God - A Greek Refugee Initiative Perspective

March 16, 2020

Children at the Moria Refugee Camp on Lesbos Island, GreeceFor the past year, Reach Beyond has been sending teams to the Greek island of Lesbos to serve unreached people living in Moria refugee camp. The teams have helped with food distribution, construction projects, and work in our partner’s community center that supports women and children. Reach Beyond staff member L* has been serving as a teacher in the community center since January. 

Built for 3,100 refugees, Moria has expanded to more than 23,000. Two weeks ago, tensions between the refugees and the locals living on Lesbos hit a boiling point. Protests shut down much of the island, and NGOs began being targeted. As a result, most of the mission and volunteer workers had to be evacuated from the island to Athens. After Coronavirus was diagnosed in the camp last week, the team not only found themselves evacuated, but also unable to continue ministry – Greek schools are closed and ministries are not currently able to engage. L reflects on this experience and the way she sees God at work: 

As I have been in Athens processing all that has happened in the past week, there is a single moment from my last day with the class that has been playing over and over in my mind. I was carrying a fighting, wriggling M* to the door, his heart pounding in my chest and my heart beating in pace with his. A fight had broken out between M and S* as we were doing our morning routine of the Hokey Pokey.

I was the only adult in the room - an extremely rare occurrence as we ensure that there are always at least two adults in the room. In fact, that day we were supposed to have four adults as we had two extra volunteers. But the timing and circumstances were such that I was the only adult when this fight broke out.

On instinct, I rushed over, grabbed M, picked him up with his legs still kicking and carried him to the door. I flung open the door and screamed, “Help!” Another teacher came rushing over, I passed M into her arms, then turned around to see the remaining 21 students. I just had to stop and take several big breaths to calm myself down before moving on with the class. 

That scene in the class is such a good illustration for what is happening on Lesbos right now. 

As NGO volunteers, we are here to help, provide resources and a space of safety and security outside the camp. We are going about our normal routine when a fight breaks out. Yet this time, it is so much bigger than we are equipped to handle. We have no option really other than to run and carry the situation to God, crying out “Help!” We have to pass it into His hands, let go, and trust Him to take care of it. And we have to take some time to take a deep breath before we can move forward. 

This past week has been that time to take a deep breath for our team. We had a counselor come and help us process what happened. We have also had some time just to be together as a team, to cry, to pray, to laugh, to eat together as well as to celebrate one of our team member’s birthday. We had hoped that we would back on the island by Tuesday and back to work on Wednesday. But several events over the weekend indicate that it is not yet safe to go back.

Being evacuated and having to up and leave suddenly with no notice or ability to let my students and refugee friends know or to say goodbye has given me another small taste of the refugee experience. Many of them, too, had to leave quickly and without warning. They had to leave because they were targeted and it was not safe for them to stay. And then, there is the uncertainty of knowing when or if ever they will be back. God knows all this and He holds all things in His hands and this is what I cling to at this time. 

"He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bows and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire. He says, "Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations." Psalm 46: 9, 10


*only first initials are used to protect the team and students