Our first morning in Lesvos greeted us with incredible views in every direction. We could see Turkey from the hotel… just across a small stretch of sea. The sound of old bells bounced off building and tree as sheep grazed their way across pastures.
It was our first day and it was gorgeous. My Southern-California heart grinned BIG as the warm wind swept across the hilly countryside and the ocean waves crashed in the distance.
We all met for breakfast, our morning team devotion, and orientation with our Euro Relief contact.
THIS is when we received the schedule of our time:
And don’t you love my map for getting us around? (The squiggles at the bottom) HA!
We were split into two halves, one half with me, and the other with my co-leaders, the Linders. Do you remember the prayer I prayed about 12-hour shifts seeming better than 24? Well, God heard me!
AND He went ahead and put me on the one and only 20 hour shift the whole week.
In addition to that, when I’d agreed to try the 20 hour shift, it was with the hopeful condition that I keep to day shifts so I could stay on the same life-during-the-day, sleep-during-the-night schedule as my family.
As you’ll see… our 20 hour shift was through a night… followed by another night shift. AND, as God’s humor would have it, one of our two day shifts turned into a night shift.
SOOOOOO, basically, I got the 20-hour shift AND all but one shift at night. He’s so funny, right?
You see… even though you’re a grown up, God doesn’t stop looking for opportunities to stretch you… to pull you out of your comfort zone and show His glory by filling in ALL the gaps between your inadequacy and insufficiency.
My close friends know that I need A LOT of sleep. And lately, I’ve needed even more than that. So going into this trip, I already expected God’s provision. But man was He really making room for it!
After orientation, we were taken to “The Graveyard.”
You see, the hundreds of thousands of people who’ve come to Lesvos by raft or boat have come with a life vest. You’ve probably seen images of how these once lined the shores of the island. They have now been dumped into “The Graveyard” less than a mile from our hotel. Along with the vests are deflated rafts and many boats. Some of the boats are in pretty good-looking condition. “Yeah, maybe it’s a $100,000 boat… but cram enough people on it, charge them enough, and you make $400,000 – $500,000… who cares if you lose the boat?” our host pointed out.
It’s a sobering sight.
Nearly 450,000 vests heaped in piles… holding a silent piece of a grand story for each person they’ve carried. The boats, once rocked by waves and full of hope and terror, now rest in moderate peace in this little crevice in a mountain.
Aside from the clanging bells of nearby sheep, seagulls fighting over the dumpster, and our hushed voices… the place is still and quiet. In fact, it’s illegal to walk down into the vests or take any… it’s government property.
There is, however, a few great ways that people are trying to up-cycle the life vests. Our hotel host, for example, makes them into bracelets and sells them, using the money to help his local Greek neighborhood (including rebuilding the school), among other things. They are called Zoë bands and you should definitely check them out HERE. I also saw a recent video of a woman who is turning vests and boats into back packs for refugees. Brilliant! I pray more of these ideas transform that Graveyard into New Life.
From “The Graveyard” we were taken to the heart of Molyvos, the little town where we stayed. Our host took us to get gyros (a piece of heaven on earth). They are DELICIOUS. I mean, we already knew that, but to have them in Greece, the right way? There are no words.
Now remember, some of us were starting a twenty hour shift at 11pm that night… and we’d already been up half the day. We took a chance to nap and got about 2-3 hours in before dinner, which was once again an incredible three-course meal.
After dinner we were taken to a local English-speaking Greek church. It had popped up along with the many volunteers who flooded in and out of the island, sometimes daily. The majority of refugee aid on the island is from people staying anywhere from a week to a few weeks. That’s the help. It’s always changing. Currently, one can only stay 90 days in Greece… and can only do this once every 6 months.
So while the island is constantly facing an influx and outflux of refugees… it also receives and sends volunteers every day. We were able to meet one week of that need on an island that never sleeps, vigilant for the next boat, the next need, the next freezing, frantic person.
This church is where many of the volunteers can come, and for a moment, be filled up and poured into. They can reflect and debrief with other aid workers. They can quiet their hearts in musical praise and prayer. They can find connection to others of faith. Because not all of the volunteers coming are believers. In fact, Euro Relief (to my understanding) is the only organization that actively seeks Christian volunteers. Some of the other organizations happen upon Christian volunteers… but they aren’t necessarily working alongside people who can relate to them with spiritual encouragement.
But in this church, they can find that.
We had the opportunity of leading musical worship for this church service. Our friend gave the message. And each person introduced themselves and where they’re from… which is basically from all over. Greece, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the U.S., Germany, the U.K… and of course, all of our students and their variety of places.
What an encouragement to see how many people God is bringing from around the world to join His cause of loving people. Of Matthew 25-ing in literal and tangible ways.
From here, my half of the team left to begin our 20-hour shift at Skala-Sikaminia. Naturally, it was dark when we arrived. It was only a 28 minute drive but I prayed the whole time that the Lord would equip me for everything He’d have us do at this refugee center, knowing already that the hours alone were beyond my ability.
Upon arrival, we learned that we had 70 refugees sleeping in the camp. Two boats of them had arrived that afternoon. They’d been given dry clothes and a hot meal, then helped to bed. (Click on the images below to see them larger).
Now, this center in particular is meant only to get them dry, fed, and warm before putting them on a bus for Moria, a registration camp. However, our arrival on the island found things quite backed up. In fact, when we arrived at Skala-Sikaminia refugee center, we were informed that Moria may even send refugees BACK because they were too full. This was unprecedented. Not only would these refugees be staying indefinitely (which the camp isn’t designed to handle) but others may be returning! This is the situation we stepped into for our first shift.
It was dark, cold, but the air was full of excitement. We were finally here! We were finally doing what we’d been planning on for months. We decided to sleep in shifts… but who wants to sleep? Getting my “kids” to rest was hard… they were tireless. They cleaned the dinner dishes. They made tea (thankfully we had an English-woman among us). They kept watch.
Part of our role was to guard the gate from anyone trying to enter unauthorized. Many of the refugees were exhausted, huddled together on mats (like this one pictured) with their blanket from Samaritan’s Purse, with a loud generator trying to fill the large tent with warm air. Some of the families were allowed to sleep in the smaller plastic containers, with curtains and sheets as dividers to allow for some privacy. All in all, not ideal sleeping conditions in the least. But given the last chunk of their journey, this was much welcomed rest and safety.
And this, my friends, is where days began to bleed into nights, and nights into days, and the week took on a one very long day kind of feel. If I choose to share posts by day… then I end halfway through a shift, as I’m doing now. Or if I choose to share by shift… then the days blur into evening skies and dawn’s dew again. For now, I will leave you with this: Our arrival and the start of something new…
Which suddenly cued some High School Musical love in my head. Why not join in? (With our night in Skala in mind, of course) 🙂 See you tomorrow!