My Mission Trip to Greece
With everything going on in our world right now, I’m reflecting on my mission trip to Greece this past year and how it opened my eyes to how we all need to show God’s love to one another and help each other out. I decided to share my experience and hopefully it can inspire you to be God’s light in today’s dark world.
As I think through the first few days of serving, I wanted to thank those who made it possible for me to help those who are in dire need; where hope seems to be bleak at best. First off, the camp was much different than what you’d see if you googled “Refugee Camp.” The camp itself was built for 2,200 people, but it’s wildly over capacity at 19,600 people looking for asylum. It was not only very chaotic, but very disorganized. We called the refugees in the camp “people of concern,” or POC for short, and they were from all over the world. Mostly from Afghanistan, but also from Iran, Somalia, and Congo among many others. With that being said, communication was extremely difficult as many of the POC’s didn’t speak a lick of English. This complicated things immensely as we were trying to help them see Dr. App, get food, clothing and into housing. It’s important to note that the new housing is either a tent or an isobox, which looks like a mini storage unit.
The first few nights, me and a few other men spent 4 P.M.-midnight as bouncers because they changed an area that was once open to everyone to only being open for new arrivals, including unaccompanied minors; there were already 870 minors at the camp without parents or siblings. The reason for this change was to keep the minors protected and to easily transition the new arrivals into the camp. These people have been through alot! Most have travelled across the Aegean Sea at night, due to the waters being more calm, and arrive in the morning. Since most are being smuggled into the country, this is the safest option. What they’ve used to get across the sea is not what most people think. It’s an inflatable boat that is meant to hold 10-12 people, but smugglers shove 35-50 people on it. Due to this, many people don’t make it through the dangerous trip. Actually, the morning we arrived, they discovered a family of four who had just died 100 yards off of the shore. It’s heartbreaking to realize how close they were to safety. Anyway, these shifts were mentally and emotionally exhausting as we weren’t allowed to physically persuade people in any way. We had to be confident and use reason and a sense of command to keep people that weren’t supposed to be in this area out. Keep in mind that this used to be an open area; people who were once allowed in were confused why they couldn’t be let in and they didn’t understand why. Also, people wanted to use the restrooms in this area because they were the “cleanest,” and when I say cleanest I mean as clean as a porta potty at a sporting event. This area is also surrounded by buildings on three sides, which make it warmer than other parts of the camp. And, meals are served three times a day here while the other areas have less. Many of the refugees come from warmer climates, so when the temperature gets into the thirties at night, warmth is extremely important to them, as it is for people all over the world.
The first night standing guard was an experience to say the least. There were many obnoxious men, some drunk and some simply angry that they couldn’t get into the area with many trying to shove their way in. Alcohol abuse is rampant here, so many were trying to drunkenly fight us. A mother even threw her baby on concrete ground and rushed the guard gate attempting to get in. I’ve never seen such disregard for an infant before! Many were trying to climb the barbed-wire fences and someone even set trash cans on fire and pushed them over by the entryway to block people. We shooed off the disturbances and put the fire out, but it truly was taxing. This experience was new, enlightening, interesting and difficult, but someone needed to do it. It’s so hard to put into words what eight hours here looks like. I wish I could show pictures, but since the camp was run by Greek government, pictures were prohibited as it was the quickest way to end up in prison. Greece, rightly so, doesn’t want to ruin their reputation of being a beautiful vacation destination so they don’t want to highlight a disastrous situation.
From then on, my roommate and I had been on the overnight shift for the past few nights. One of the nights, the riot police were coming in at the same time we were for our overnight shift because a stabbing between a young Afghan man and a Somali man had occurred. We then made a patrol around the camp and then spoke with the Greek police officer on guard at the front gate. That’s when we learned that the Somali man had died and they arrested the perpetrator quickly. In a camp like this, it’s imperative to keep the peace. After that, we were talking with our new friend Lambros, the Greek police officer, and we learned so much about the Greek culture and history, as well as how this refugee camp has impacted not only this community, but a bankrupt country. Also, during that time a woman and her husband came up to us and said that she was in labor. Talk about the circle of life; one person died and another was born all in the same night.
I was on the night shift again on Saturday, and things were relatively quiet compared to what has happened the past 24 hours. I was very blessed to stay safe in certain situations, I know it was because of the many prayers sent our way. Earlier that day, I read and meditated to Psalm 17 as it spoke to exactly what we’ve been through the past couple of days. If you get a chance to read it, it shows us how God continues to protect us through very difficult times. We then had the rest of Saturday off, so we slept in a bit and then went to dinner with the rest of the group to discuss everyone’s first week. It was nice to get a break and catch up with everyone and hear their experiences. By the time Sunday rolled around, I started feeling under the weather and had full-on flu symptoms: body aches, fever, etc. I stayed in as I could afford to get anyone else sick. Thankfully, one of the team members was a nurse and gave me some antibiotics, so when Monday came around I was all good to go and got back to work.
Over the next few days, we did a variety of tasks for Euro Relief. One in specific was doing a census of the camp, which meant going around and determining who was living in which structure, tent or isobox. Many of the POC’s were really welcoming to us when we were taking the census because it’s critical that they are able to be found when they get their “ticket,” or asylum approval, to the mainland. This approval is the ultimate gift of them as they have traveled for months and spent large amounts of money to get there. One couple in specific let us into their dwelling and fed us fresh, homemade naan and cappuccinos, which was extremely kind as they had next to nothing. We were so humbled and even with the language barrier, we enjoyed each other's company. However, some weren’t as welcoming. Some have been in the camp for much longer than they thought and still hadn’t gotten asylum approval, so they were frustrated. They would have horrible attitudes and yell profanities at us. Because of the language barrier, it was hard to reason with them and let them know that I understood how they were feeling. I wish I could do more to change their situation, but it was out of my control.
There are so many more stories I haven’t even touched on that I wish I could share. From working the night shifts and the experiences that came with it, to handing out blankets, coats, shoes and tents to new arrivals, I am so humbled by this trip. While difficult at times, this opportunity was one thoroughly enjoyed. The opportunity to go and be at God’s hands and feet in another country was a blessing in itself. I learned that the smallest act of kindness can bring someone hope. The saying “witness at all times and if necessary use words” is at the forefront of my mind; I witnessed what I witnessed and now I am using my words to relay this back to all of you in hopes that my experience can shed light on how we can help change our world for the better.