Okay, they didn’t come naked but they came wet. Dirty. Freezing. Frightened.
One even came covered in Scabies. No joke.
One of the opportunities God gave us was to see the whole process of clothing, from donation, to sorting and organizing, to clothing tents, to actually clothing people.
If you have donated items to the refugee cause and wonder if it made any difference… it did.
Some of us brought things to donate. Others of us donate through Red Cross bins in Germany fairly frequently. Or we take our clothes to the local refugee centers nearby our homes. This was personally my first time seeing where donated clothes end up.
And I’ll be honest, some of the fun was laughing at the kinds of things people donate!
Part of our task in the Clothing Warehouse (where we were met with terrible, snarling dogs who, thank Jesus, did NOT eat me) was deciding what was appropriate for the modesty of Muslim women. Part of what I loved about this shift in particular was that we’d already had TWO other shifts where we had actually clothed people. So we had a good sense of what they liked and what they didn’t.
Liked: long dresses, longs skirts, long shirts, long coats, sweat pants (for pajamas), jeans, socks, shoes.
Disliked: holes in the pants (even tiny ones), tank tops, short-lengthed shirts or skirts or dresses or coats, low-cut shirts, XXL of anything, stains.
As we sifted out the “dislikes” from the Clothing Warehouse (and donated them to Greek Charities where the people apparently love all of those things) we found ourselves commenting on a nice pair of pants, “OH! The men will love that!” or “This is exactly the kind of dress the ladies kept asking for.” It was with such great joy that we received these on behalf of the donators and celebrated knowing first-hand how much these things would bless individual people deeply.
We pulled clothing out of bags, sorted them by size, gender, and type, built cardboard boxes, taped closed full-of-clothes cardboard boxes, and prepared them for a trip to each of the various refugee centers on the island who would pass these out to the refugees. It was dusty work. It was tedious work. But we laughed long and hard.
In fact, as we left, four Swedish women who had worked alongside us commented on how much better the work day felt with the laughter and joy of our team. How our lively conversation, oohs and awws over baby clothes, laughter after super out-dated adult jumpers, and general joyful spirits warmed the whole atmosphere and brought smiles to their faces. What a gift these women gave us with their words (and their guidance as we asked many questions along the way!)
Our first work day with clothing was in Skala, the same day as the Greek villagers shared a Lent meal with the refugees. While some of us played with the children or handed out tea, others of us worked in the clothing tent. At this point, both halves of our team reunited for the last 12-hours of our 20-hour shift.
The day was rainy and cold. The refugees had come in the afternoon before by raft and been dressed in dry clothes. All of their wet clothes from the raft-ride had been hanging on the fences the night before… now more wet from the rain than they’d been in the sea crossing. Now many returned to the tent in hopes of finding the rest of what they needed. Standing in the rainy line of the clothing tent did nothing to keep them dry.
We tried hard to understand what they needed, but few spoke English and we didn’t speak enough (any?) Arabic to communicate with words. So we used a lot of sign language. At one point, one of the Syrian women offered to translate for us. We invited her into the clothing tent and she was certainly a God-send. She helped speed up the line. Hours into her helping us, she mentioned that she was still in wet shoes! I spent the next half hour trying to get her to find some dry shoes in our collection. But every time someone needed help, she’d turn from her shoe search and help. Her two little girls eventually came in and sat quietly while their mother served. She managed to find them sweaters and rain smocks, and finally a pair of dry shoes. (When refugees leave behind clothes that are wet or that they no longer want, Dirty Girlz takes them, washes and dries them, and redistributes them. This prevents land fills from overflowing with unwanted but still good clothing!)
Later that evening, my new Syrian friend asked if she could get a coat. In all of her hours of serving, while she’d finally managed to put on some dry shoes… she’d never found clothes for herself! I took her to the clothing shed and she found the perfect coat for her. Even our host noticed her huge smile as she ran past him to take her little girl to the potty.
There was also a moment where a mother came in with her baby. His feet were naked and cold and slightly wet from the rain. We couldn’t understand each other’s words but I could recognize the need. My heart nearly burst finding the right pair of socks and wrapping them up and around his bare feet. Who knew putting socks on someone would be so fulfilling?
On a different overnight shift, we worked in the main processing refugee center. While it was meant to hold 400 Greek federal prisoners, it now holds around 4000 refugees. Only the most vulnerable are sheltered inside the building… everyone else are in tents popped up on any inch of ground. The living conditions are more difficult. It’s against the law to take photos of this camp (but you can Google “Moria” and see what you find).
Once again, we were assigned to the clothing tent. We folded and sorted and laughed some more (especially as a few of us put on a fashion show, hee hee). Around 2:00 am, just when a few of us laid down to sleep for a bit, we got word that a boat of refugees had just come in. By 3:30am, we had two boatloads of wet, cold, tired people show up at our tent. I was assigned to be the greeter and to help them find their places in line. Lord have mercy!!! Another of us managed the other end of the line, letting them in the clothing tent when there was room. The rest of us literally clothed one hundred fresh-off-the-ride refugees. My crew said only about five of the hundred were single men. The majority were families with multiple children.
What more could I do when they arrived but to say, “Welcome, you made it!” and rub a shivering shoulder. I said this, over and over. In their lack of English-speaking skills, they often repeated “welcome” back to me. It made me smile. They were probably going to walk around welcoming people, thinking it an english greeting. 🙂 I played little games with kids to get them to smile. When another volunteer found our line with hot soup or rice or warm tea, I helped find the people who most needed it. When the woman was shivering so badly I feared she might fall down, I helped find a warm blanket until she could get dry clothes. When the frail elderly woman stood in line with wet shoes and pants, I was able to get her to the front of the line.
When the mama stood in line with her baby swaddled up against her chest, and I said, “Welcome; you made it!” and she began to weep, and I wrapped her in a hug with few words… no words, just the overwhelming desire for her to feel safe and warm.
“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
But really, their journey is still long from over. Living in Germany, we know what it looks like when you get that far. If you get that far. These refugees still have a LONG walk ahead of them… that’s if they can even get through the closed borders.
In fact, my friend from Skala, the one who interpreted for us and put her own clothing needs last, has made it to a camp on the border of Macedonia and Greece. The border is closed and she and her two girls are sick. Please pray for them.
But I believe in a God who opens borders. I believe in a God who allows people to be scattered for His glory and their hope. I believe in a God who opens closed hearts, heals fresh wounds, counsels through the trauma, and redeems any and all. We may not understand all of the evil was face in the world… but we know that was Satan intends for evil, God intends for good.
“You intended to harm me [Joseph to his brothers], but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.”
On a separate note, our trip was not fully funded.
If you would like to contribute to the work our team did on Lesvos, you can do so by clicking HERE.
Type my name in the “Insert Student Name” box (Marcy Pusey)
Click on “Greece” from the drop down menu.
I personally need to raise €350 for my portion to be complete. It will be among the best money I’ve ever spent, but I want to invite you to participate in the work that was done (and continues to be done) in Greece.