A few weeks ago, our team of six from Village Church arrived on the island of Lesvos, Greece at the Moria Refugee Camp. Lesvos is a small island located only 10km from the Turkish border, making it one of the shortest distances available for refugees to enter the ‘Western’ world. The Moria Camp is controlled by the Greek military, but volunteers from various Christian organizations provide most services within the camp.
For ten days, our team worked alongside volunteers, helping with food and clothing distribution, housing placement and security. Whenever we could, we took the time to get to know many of the men personally. A few evenings, we were able to hang out in a small dorm room that housed 20-25 Syrian men. We played cards on the floor and listened to the men tell their stories in broken English.
The stories are heartbreaking. Many of the men have wives and children stuck in other countries while they attempt to go before them and find safety for their family. Others had lost their entire families in bombings or violence. They were open and honest. Often, we don’t know how to provide a solution but we can make a difference by listening and showing compassion.
One night, one of the men mentioned he had heard us praying to Jesus before the start of our shift. He was confused by what we were saying and said, “Jesus isn’t God, just a prophet.” We were able to have a conversation about Islam and Christianity, asking questions to one another with respect. When we finished talking, he said, “I want to read more of the Jesus story.”
The men said the openness of the Western world to refugees (“Christian nations”) made them think. When neighbouring Muslim countries had closed their borders in time of need, “Christian nations” were welcoming them.
In the past two years, one million refugees have come through Lesvos. However, in March 2016, the European Union closed their borders to refugees. The camp used to be a one-month stop for refugees before being granted asylum and travelling on to new countries, but now thousands of refugees are in limbo, with nowhere to go. Some have lived in the camp for over one year now.
The influx of refugees destroyed the tourism industry on Lesvos and many of the local people have lost work. But despite all of this, when we asked the Greek people about the refugee crisis, they replied, “We have space and safety.” There was no bitterness. Their hospitality was inspiring and challenging.
We want to continue to send volunteers to Camp Moria to be a source of joy, compassion, and practical service for refugees stuck in this terrible crisis. If you would be interested in joining a team to serve in this way, stay updated on our impact trips page here.
-Randy Watson, Director of Global and Local Initiatives at Village Church