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Lesvos Mission Team Reflections

Mission-Minded

 

Below are a collection of reflections from our Mission Team on the Lesvos Island of Greece. This team provided aid to refugees on the island.

 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

We started our day with all but one team member (Diana who joined us in Athens) at the church and parted there with prayer. All legs of the flight went well. No turbulence, no crazy passengers, very pleasant people, lots and lots of babies and children, and the team in good health. At the Athens Airport we had great Greek food (my first real Greek Gyro) before embarking on our plane to Lesvos. We arrived very late to Lesvos. We waited very patiently for our luggage but only Silvia and Diana got their bags. We met with Rich and Carrol and were still in great spirits knowing that we had comfortable and safe rooms to go to lay down and refresh ourselves for the upcoming week’s activities. This is a minor glitch in what is to be journey of showing patience, kindness, love, and meekness.

Michelle Afenya

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Today Kim Garrity equipped us for the things that we will experience in these weeks that we are here. We spent time talking about Mathew 25:31-46, Jesus’ Great Command. He pointed out that this was a prophesy of what was to come when Jesus takes his throne. The passage speaks of the sorting of sheep and goats. Kim pointed out that we do not do things to become sheep and we do not do things to become goats, we are sheep and goats and do things that sheep and goats do. The sheep and the goats know Christ and have the same opportunity to be who Christ wants them to be. Ephesians 2:10 indicates that God created us to do good work that was prepared for us. The work we do here is what God made for us to do at this time. It is no mistake that we are all here. The work that we do here are for the least of these. We are not doing this work for refugees but we are doing this work for Christ. We, ourselves are refugees, seeking God for our refuge. This must be a constant thought for us. We are as those in the camp, seeking refuge. We are not better than anyone or smarter than anyone. Our jobs, money, position, cars, houses, etc. are fleeting and can be taken away tomorrow as so many of the POCs (Persons of Concern=Refugees) in the camp know. At one time, they were the same as we are now. Remember, Christ sent us out with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and to teach them to obey everything that Jesus has commanded. The Great commission is nothing without the Great Commandment. Not that we are to do work to be saved, but, because we have been saved and transformed by the Holy spirit, we obey the Great Commandment. Take these thoughts with you tomorrow as you begin your first shifts.

Michelle Afenya

Monday, July 16, 2018

Today was the first full day that all our teams worked at least one shift. We have teams spread across the three shifts. 8-5 [Diana & Matt, Colleen & Gunard, Silvia & Elena, 4–12 [Carol & Rich, Beth & Dan, Michelle & Renee, Bryan], and 12–8 [Dustin & Royse]. We were given a tour of the camp the day before. But this was our first day and we did not know what to expect. Things do not go as planned in Moria. You must be ready to lend a hand when called even if it was not your assigned task. There are so many people and so many different ages and so many ethnic groups. A family with a 2-week baby, landed in a boat on the shores of Lesvos. They were being checked in and sent to the New Arrival area. This area is designed for 100-150 people and there were 410 people. The new people that had just arrived had no place to lay down after they had just arrived on the shores of Lesvos. Our teams worked to build tents, guarded areas for protected women, guarded the area for unaccompanied minors. These were the jobs experienced by the 4-12am shift. We saw some people show their frustrations in not having a place that is safe for their family. We do not have any answers for these people. We can only do what we are able and show compassion. We must go with a servants heart even when the people are treating us poorly. We must restrain ourselves from lashing out at attitudes. It is difficult but we remind each other of the conditions that the POCs are in. We must maintain our servants hearts in spite of how angry and annoyed they are with us; we must show love in our response. See Ephesians 6:5-7.

Michelle Afenya

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Today I felt joyful. This was my second day going to the camp. I had an idea of what to expect or at least where things were located in the camp and what the day will look like since we were given a tour the day before. I started working with the housing team. This consisted of taking people from the New Arrivals area (where they are first checked in and given blankets, sleeping pads, hygiene essentials, and one set of clothing), helping them to carry their few belongings and placing them in the info area. The info area is there to provide answers to the POCs questions and to help find a location for them to be housed for their stay in Moria. We would tell the family that they will be there for a long time but that hopefully a place/tent will be found for them to live. I was surprised to see an Iraqi family at the New Arrivals area that I had helped the day before as they were not able to settle in the spot we put them in. (Many times the families and people who live in a neighboring tent does not want the new family to come because the space is too small or due to ethnic differences). I realized that I needed to take them ASAP to the info center, so they did not have to wait that long. I was happy to see that by noon they had a new home.

Then, we had to house single Afghan women. We could only house 13 women. Most of them had been living in this New Arrivals area (a small caged in area that is designed for 150 but accommodates up to 500 at the busiest time) for 2 months. As the girls were getting ready, we helped them carry their belongings and walked with them to their new location. We were so happy to hear them giggle and to see smiles on their faces. They were so happy to finally have a new home!

When we got to the new area, it happened to be in a place where there were Kurds living. They did not welcome the women and were very hostile towards them. We, the volunteers, did not understand what was happening. We tried to communicate but it got worse and the men were very upset, looking as if they might attack us.

We left apologizing and carrying the women’s belongings with us. We were heartbroken that we could not settle them into a new place, especially after seeing how excited they were to leave New Arrivals. It was very sad to see how quickly people become insensitive towards others and are not willing to welcome others that are in the same situation as them. It was a humbling situation; on one hand we all wanted to help, but on the other hand we could not resolve the problem and the girls had to go back to the New Arrivals area, praying that they would find a home soon.

I also had happy memories of children running to me to be hugged, an old man singing and us cheering and one of us dancing. Many smiles reflecting thankfulness in the people’s hearts. Above all, when I see them I remember how much my Father loves them.

Silvia Karolyi

Wednesday, July 18 and Thursday, July 19, 2018

A week before our team arrived there was fighting in the olive grove. The olive grove is an area outside the walls of the camp and is home to many Afghan and Iranian refugees because there was no more space in the camp. And because the olive grove is not inside the camp walls, the camp police will unfortunately not patrol it.

Apparently, despite the Arab community leader trying to dissuade it, the Arab youth rioted against the Afghans when the families were asleep in their tents. (This is my understanding from an Afghan man.) Many Afghans had injuries. Tents and belongings were stolen. As a result, many Afghan families evacuated the olive grove and were temporarily relocated inside the camp in tents along the main road just inside the main gate. There is a safety issue with the tents on this road since vehicles, including buses, come through and space is tight, plus the children play in the road. Our team members have pulled them to the side for protection many times. The Greek authorities are requesting that the tents all be moved. EuroRelief ( who we serve here under) was tasked with convincing the Afghans to move.

On Wednesday and Thursday(7/18-19) I was part of a group given this difficult task. What made the task so challenging is that there were no good options to offer them….they either move back to the olive grove, which they refer to as the “jungle” or they were offered space on the road across from the food line, which would be a terrible spot due to the public space, noise, smells of the garbage containers. But this is where there is space in camp.

We were sent out in pairs of threes by Reuben, another EuroRelief volunteer, who is serving here six months. Colleen Polite from Calvary was teamed with me, and we walked by the tents, calling out the greeting “salama likum” and smiling. We discovered who could speak English and had these difficult conversations with them, but also got to know them and their stories. We spent time playing with their children. Some families invited us to join them for a meal.

We looked at the face of a man with stitches by his eye from the fighting; and a man with burns on his body from the fire set to his tent; and a man whose three year old son had stitches on his face; and told them that the camp authorities are requiring you to move off this road and EuroRelief will help you, and here are your options which we know are not good. But this road is not safe for you and your family, and the camp authorities say you must move.

Everyone said “No. The food line road is not good and the olive grove is not safe.”

Rueben, our point person and a Dutch man who truly spreads joy wherever he goes, tried to get the Afghan community leaders to talk to the Arab community leaders from the olive grove. Both were willing to talk but neither wanted to move toward the other to have the discussion. Reuben also got a translator to better explain and also to listen to their concerns. He is a great negotiator, but still there was no budging.

In the afternoon, while many families were eating lunch, I walked up and down the road praying for the hearts of the people to soften to moving back to the olive grove. Later on Wednesday afternoon 21 people moved. On Thursday, more families moved. And I heard from Colleen that on Friday, still more families moved.

Reuben had started this work of convincing the Afghans to move on Tuesday. Everyone said no, but EuroRelief’s daily presence, persistence, and especially prayer have produced some results. Slowly people are moving. Pray the spaces on the road are used to convince the others that it is time for them to move too. Pray for the police to be willing to serve in the olive grove. Pray for the Arabs and Afghans to live in peace with one another. Pray for mercy and compassion on these POCs, who want to find a safe place to live and raise their families. They are just like us. It breaks your heart. One man who I had an extensive conversation with asked me, “what do you think will happen to my family?” I paused and said, “there will be a lot of waiting….and making the the best of each day.”

When helping an Afghan family move on Thursday, I was given the assignment to guard the pallets at the new camp site. While waiting for the tent and family belongings to get moved to the site, the family’s 12 year old daughter sat with me. I had a notebook and pen out which I used to take notes on POC names or information. The girl motioned to ask if she could write something. Gladly I offered the paper and pen to her. She drew a heart bordered by little circles and wrote a few letters which looked close to love….and then she spoke and said “I love you”. My heart melted.

In a conversation with one of the Afghan men, he asked me where I was from. I replied “Chicago”. He said, “People from Chicago are kind.” Pray the POCs would ask questions that would enable us to share how Jesus has given us the love to serve them.

Diana Friederich

Friday, July 20, 2018

Our crew had garbage duty at the beach on Panagiouda. I never thought God would be teaching me anything by picking up garbage for a day, but boy was I wrong!

A POC from the camp came out to help us with garbage duty today. His name is Mutaleb, and was immediately befriended by our group. Diana shared that Mutaleb is from Iran and has been in the camp for seven months. He is a Christian. Mutaleb was in the camp by himself, and all of his family was left behind. I thought about him during our workday and my heart went out to him for trying to stay positive and kind with others after going through such hardship without family support.

In the evening, I was informed that my Uncle Bill had passed away. I have been experiencing hardship in ways I did not expect. I understand my loss is not the same as what the POCs have endured, but after experiencing a loss, you can relate to others (especially the POCs) in ways you may not have expected.

In relating to others, Calvary’s former Pastor, Ray Pritchard, said something profound about the persecuted church. He said that Christians in the West have more in common with persecuted Christians than with anyone else in the world in that they have Jesus as does the persecuted church.

I think you would agree that we have been greatly blessed by God for our families, friends, and the opportunities and blessings that God has bestowed on us and our country. But we also know that these blessings given to us by God can be taken away too easily. We have to tell our families and friends how much we love them, and spend time with them whenever we can.

With these blessings, we have to remind ourselves, just like the persecuted church, of what we really do have. We stand on solid ground in our faith in Jesus. He loves us, He is with us, and will bring us peace during every trial. We have the promises of His Word, which are always true and never fail. Because of the promises of His Word, we know any horrible trials on this earth are not in vain. By our faith in Jesus and His Word, we, along with the persecuted church, have everything.

I would like to thank the members of our group. The love of our Lord and your prayers, love and support have brought me through the last few days and will continue to help me. May God continue to shower his blessings and love on each one of you, and your families.

Renee Reyes

Sunday, July 22, 2018

We have had a special day in Lesvos again today. God is Good and has shown his hand in the land, the people, and in His spirit. This morning many of us awoke fairly early to walk (while Elena was running) the harbor area where there are colorful fishing boats, restaurants, shops, and a Greek orthodox church, the church of the Holy virgin or Panyia in Greek from which the town gets its name.

We have by now discovered where to get great pastries (the 2 sisters shop) and Café Freddo or iced mochas. Some have Mueseli and yogurt on their balconies, which are about 5 ft from each other; this makes it easy to share and erases all semblance of privacy, resulting in good European cozy interactions. In the morning we all went together to the “The Oasis,” a warehouse used by ministry groups as a Tea house or gathering place away from the camp to sit and talk with the POCs, and today was our place of worship. There were people from various volunteer groups and some people from the camp who showed interest in learning more about Jesus or who have already professed faith. We sang together many songs from our younger days as believers such as Shout to the North and the South, and God is so good. It was a wonderful time of believers from many cultures, certainly many places, and journeys in life, raising their voices and hands and singing out in many languages. We all were sitting on the floor shoulder to shoulder, and knee to knee, without shoes on small cushions in a carpeted room and it was probably around 100 F in the room but joy filled that place. 20-30 people had to stand outside the door due to the large crowd.

After our time of singing as a group, a man from I58 ministries preached on 1 Cor 9:24 where Paul is admonishing each of us to run our race and strive with self control, following Christ wherever he leads us, trusting, striving to attain an imperishable prize even as we look back to how the athletes strove for a perishable crown. He had some interesting culturally odd slide references such as Curling in the Olympics. As the man preached, 3 other men simultaneously translated what he was saying into Farsi (for Afghans), French (for Africans) and Arabic for others. At the end of the time a couple women sang a song in Farsi and English. It was a good time together with our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

After this, our group went a short distance to Mytilene, the city Paul visited on a trip to Ephesus as noted in Acts 20. We shared another huge meal at a local Italian Restaurant including Dustino doing his best on his 32nd birthday to eat a literally Gigantic Calzone about 16” long. The sheer volume of food was extraordinary. After lunch we explored Mytilini. A few of us went up a dirt road to an old castle/fortification overlooking the harbor but it was not a tourist site. As this was a day off for rest, many napped or sat in the courtyard and did quiet activities. Later in the day many in our group jumped back into the cars and went to a hot springs spa at the north end of large bay called Kopos Geras.

There were indoor and outdoor pools and a small beach on the bay. All enjoyed fellowship together and a few opportunities to meet others enjoying the Hot water. Our weekend was over but we feel refreshed and recharged for another busy week ahead. Pray for renewed commitment to our ministry, the interactions with POCs, and patience while waiting for our assignments.

Dan Spisiak

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

We were all thankful that there was cloud cover all day, so it didn’t seem as hot. We all worked the mid day shift (10am to 6pm). Sleeping in was so helpful after such a long and extremely hot day on Monday. Tuesday was the most memorable day for me so far. After helping on a few small jobs at the information center in the morning, I was asked to help with the transition of some people from tents near the new arrivals. They were moving out the people from three tents and relocating a fourth family from half of a tent to another half of a smaller tent. This is when things got very difficult. It was a family from Iraq that consisted of a mother and her 4 children. The oldest boy was 18 and had a hard time balancing being the man of the family and respecting his mother.

All morning long an Arabic speaker from Euro Relief was trying to explain to the family that they had to move. We were going to be settling in a group of single women from Somalia. They would not allow one half of the tent to be used by single women and the other half of the tent being used by a family with an 18 year old boy. The women refused to leave saying they have been there for four months and it was their home. Two policemen were called and they gave the woman four chances to move. Another eight policemen showed up and after one final warning they started to remove them. The 18 year old son became extremely upset and started to react violently. In the flaying of his body she hit her mother in the face and her lip started to bleed. We were all praying during this whole time.

Immediately some Arabic men intervened and started to hold the boy which allowed the policemen to back off. I was impressed how these men were seeking to restore the peace and help the family to understand that they have no choice. The Euro Relief Arabic translator broke down in crying as she felt terrible that she couldn't resolve the situation without it coming to forcibly removing them. The others around us saw her deep desire to care for this family in a difficult situation. The mother finally agreed to move out and started taking all of her belongings and putting them in the street in front of the tent. She refused to do anything with them. In talking with the shift coordinator, she said that the family had gone through a bad shaming experience and needed time to cool off and negotiate to regain some of her honor. I was guarding the door to their tent with Dan and had an opportunity to introduce myself to the boy and exchanged greetings. He seemed to understand that this was a no-win situation, and they just needed time to cool off. It gave me a small insight into an honor/shame worldview.

After about an hour, the mother was calm enough to talk to the shift coordinator and received a new foam mattress to compensate for moving into the smaller tent. It was a joy at the end of the day to see 24 Somalia single women move into the three tents that were vacated. They seemed to be very happy as they were coming out of the new arrivals area where they had little privacy. God was so good in allowing me to see the full scenario happen from anger to peace, from frustration to happiness. This is all temporary in Moria as new frustrations come up every day, but it was a small picture of what the Kingdom of God looks like when you show the love of God to those that are resistant and to those that have so little hope. This also helped me to see how I need to value all of God’s gifts to me and not take them for granted. Having a place to sleep, a community of friends, an assurance that God loves me...so many things that the POCs need. Demonstrating the love of God for those that have little hope is a great way to start! Let’s continue to pray for those that have little hope to seek Jesus who can give them everlasting hope. I was pleased to see when I came back in on Wednesday morning that the area was all calm.

Rich Bonham

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Today was a very good day. We made friends and had conversations. We sat in people’s tents and drank tea. I spent the day with Dustin and Silvia; we were given the tasks of mapping the three Rub Halls (big tents with four columns of pods separated by blankets) and then correcting/verifying a map of the tents in one of the sections of the Olive Grove. Because these tasks consisted of us walking around and looking at tents, conversations started organically.

We first got invited into a Syrian family’s pod for tea in Rub Hall 3. There were many people coming and going, but a few we talked to were Kifa, Fadiyah, Mahmoud and his wife Basmah. They gave us sweet hot tea and fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, flatbread and yogurt, we ate and drank and talked (with Silvia translating, since she speaks Arabic), and laughed at a video of Mahmoud holding a donkey and dancing with it!

Once we moved into the olive groves, we sat with an Afghani family that Dustin had helped move. It was a husband (Dawud) and wife (Fatima) and a four year old boy (Ali) and a one and a half year old baby (Samira). Dawud spoke English well. Ali was mischievous and silly, and he played with Dustin, and I played with Samira—the CUTEST baby ever, with eyes the color of sea glass (think famous “Afghan girl” picture) and a bubbly giggle and sassy personality.

Our last tent of the day was perhaps our most interesting. It was the last tent we mapped, and as we approached, a man saw us and said, “EuroRelief go away, no good, leave!” and other things of that nature. He kept talking to us, and was pretty upset because he hadn’t been given a fan that morning (apparently EuroRelief had to stop fan distribution due to getting mobbed). His friends said to ignore him, he’s crazy, he’d been in jail, and asked us to sit down and have tea. There were five of them: Mohammed, Marwan, Ali, Mohammed, and another Mohammed. They were all from Syria.

Ali, the man who was upset about the fans, told us about his frustrations with the whole refugee crisis. He spoke Arabic and Silvia translated. Hospitality is very important in middle eastern culture (as evidenced by all the invitations to join in tea and meals), and Ali said that if the tables were turned and there was a war in Europe and the United States, the people of the Middle East would welcome us with open arms. But instead, “They hate us,” he said, referring to Americans and Europeans. Silvia explained that that’s not necessarily true—many Westerners want to welcome refugees, but politics and red tape can make it tricky sometimes. As we continued to talk with him drink tea with him, he began to soften. By the end of our time together, he said he was going to take us all back to Syria with him and invited us to drink coffee with him tomorrow.

The guys asked us about Bashar Al Assad and what we thought of him. They thought he was not a good man. Then Silvia shared how years ago in a prayer meeting, God had put in several people’s heart to pray for Syria. Then Marwan said, “Wait, how did God tell you to pray for Syria before the war started?” And she said it was the Holy Spirit. Then, Marwan asked questions about the Holy Spirit. He said that he had heard about the the Holy Spirit and the Trinity through another EuroRelief worker named Brandon. He was having a hard time understanding the concept of the Trinity and Jesus being fully God and Man, but wanted to understand. Dustin and I continued to talk to him and listen to his questions. He said, “I want to understand. I pray every day and I want to understand.” We encouraged him to keep praying and to ask God to reveal himself to him, knowing that only the Holy Spirit can change hearts and minds.

We said goodbye to our new friends and thanked them for their hospitality, thanking God for putting our paths together.

Elena Buis