It’s hard for anyone to describe an experience to someone who wasn’t there. One always misses out on the sights, sounds, and smells that evoke such vivid memories. The emotion of the moments felt, the excitement, laughter, the sadness, tears. Many times a story just seems to disappoint the reality of the experience.
Before we left, we were well-versed with the media coverage of the refugee crisis, seeing story after story about the mass migration through Europe. Were we simply going to find that the media has sensationalized another story? And is this “refugee highway” just a veil for the movement of terrorist from the Middle East to enter the Western world? The problem we have with a true understanding of the stories that appear in the media is the same as the problem we have as we return. A story told is just that, a story. A faint facsimile of a lived experience. As we return back from Greece we find ourselves grappling with the difficulty of how to tell our story in a way that gives justice to the experience.
At the end of the day, we can only share our story. And our stories are simply the stories of others.
The people we met challenged many of our preconceived notions of refugees. They were engineers, accountants, teachers, doctors, students, musicians, and even a chef and interior decorator. Men, women, and children who, up until just recently, had everything they needed to live fulfilling lives with jobs to support themselves, homes they owned, and family and friends nearby to enjoy life.
Now we saw them as theytraveled through a country they did not know heading into another unknown country with all of their earthly possessions fitting in to one or two bags that they could carry in their arms or on their backs. Two young men still had salt stains on their pants from the time they spent in the Aegean Sea after their raft capsized on its way to the island of Lesvos from Turkey. They only survived because of the arrival of a fishing boat that saved them. One young couple traveled with four girls, all under the age of 6. One 16 year old boy traveled by himself, sent by his family who did not have enough money to go on the journey themselves, but determined to give him a chance to be educated and start a new life. Countless young men who left their country because they didn’t want to be conscripted into an army to fight a war that they don’t even understand. We met a mom with a two month old baby and young couple celebrating a two month old marriage (they joked they were honeymooning in Greece). We even met a mother who was 8 months pregnant.
Every story was different, but everyone’s hopes were similar – a life free of violence and war. One that offers the promise of peace and the opportunity to start afresh.
Each night as the temperatures plunged and hundreds and thousands of refugees passed by cold and hungry, we were reminded that the physical needs are endless. And to each one of us, and all of our fellow workers at the camp, it was overwhelming at times. Christ’s words in Matthew 25 are clear, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” These verses can easily feel warm and fuzzy to those who have excess resources to share – I’ve been blessed so it’s easy to serve Christ by giving out of the abundance I’ve been given. But when facing those who have experienced such devastating and overwhelming loss to be in such need, it’s clear that Christ is leading us to not only serve them, but to understand that the simple act of providing physical help to those in need is dwarfed by the reality of the underlying issues that lead to the need.
Our world is broken. It doesn’t take an endless line of people who have lost everything due to war marching through a refugee transit camp to show us this. That there are people all along this refugee highway who are looking for ways to take advantage of these already vulnerable people only compounds this fact. In these moments the brokenness of our world seems so vividly on display. However, man’s brokenness that leads to so much destruction, was never God’s plan.
While the camp was so often chaotic as hundreds of refugees poured in at the same time, trying to quickly cross the border, there were times where the pace slowed due to the temporary closing of the border and we had the opportunity to spend some extended time getting to know the refugees. As we listened to their stories our hearts were broken for them.
We longed for them to have a new story, one of peace, hope, love, and redemption from the brokenness of the world around them. A story where Christ takes the fragmented pieces of a life that has been destroyed by sin and evil and brings them together into a beautiful mosaic that shines light and beauty to the world for His sake.
As is turns out, in the midst of a sea of stories of heartache, our story is not simply the story of others. And our story does not pale in comparison to reality. For our story is that of Christ, the Lamb, who came to take away the sins of the sins of the world, who came to bring life and light to those who were dead and in darkness. Our story is of the one who brings peace beyond all comprehension and love with no boundaries. Our story is that God has already put His plan into motion that will redeem this seemingly unredeemable world. And this is the story we shared.
After countless conversations and interactions with the refugees passing through Idomeni, our prayer is that one day, as His children, they will experience God’s promise and be part of His glorious, redemptive story. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29:11-13)