This is a report on how some Christian volunteers on the small Greek island are ministering to tens of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees which are crossing the sea and arriving on Lesbos Island at an average daily rate of 3,508. So far nearly 900,000 have arrived…and they are leaving for Europe slower than they are arriving. Some die enroute, some die after they arrive.
AN ANCIENT CHRISTIAN ISLAND BECOMES A REFUGE FOR REFUGEES. Lesbos (also spelled Lesvos, & aka Mytilini after its capital) is a Greek island located in the northeastern Aegean Sea near Turkey. It has a long history of being controlled by Athens, Persia, Rome, the Byzantine Empire (eastern Roman Empire), Venice, & the Ottoman Empire, & others. It’s churches date at least to the eastern Roman empire’s time period. The Katholikon of Moni Perivolis (an early Christian church building) may date to the 1200’s, but was definitely already in existence in 1590 when it was written about. The Moni Kreokopau is a similar church/monastery dating to before 1331. In recent years, the island has been overrun by refugees from the Middle East…most from Syria, some from Afghanistan, but really from all over the Middle East. (Before Christianity came to the island, of course the island’s people worshipped the gods of the ancients, and the island was itself was named after Lesbos, the patron pagan god of the island.) Now refugees are pouring in by the tens of thousands, due to its close proximity to the Turkish mainland. And most of them are Moslems, many of whom are disillusioned with Islam. And Christian volunteers are there to help.
THE DIFFICULT SITUATION FOR THE REFUGEES. The refugees flee the mainland in makeshift boats & rafts. What they arrive to is chaos. Tent cities have sprung up without bathrooms or water. Some of the Christian volunteers are foaming the tents of the refugees so they can survive the snow & winter better. The foam keeps them better insulated. They also, when they can, give out sleeping bags. A number of the volunteers have repeatedly complained that there is little organization to anything, and the refugees are basically on their own. The Christian volunteers can work in the camps, first by listening to people’s stories, next by distributing supplies, and guarding places. The church services that the volunteers are allowed to hold have to be held outside the camps, and are attended by Moslems who find the Christian message of love refreshing after living around so much Islamic hate. On the other hand, inside the refugee camps there is violence, theft & human trafficking going on in the midst of the chaos & suffering. The refugees are frequently protesting for help…marching in the streets & getting violent…they feel like their camps are prisons. It seems the Greek govt. is reluctant to do much. The refugees must register with the Greek govt. to get permission to leave on special ferries to exit the island for Athens, and then to travel on to other European destinations. A typical ferry may hold 2,500 registered refugees.
i-58 & THE VOLUNTEERS. The main organization of volunteers is i-58 (which has a web site & facebook presence if you want more info.) There are various kinds of volunteers, I got many of the details for this report first hand from a long-time friend & Christian brother, whose family is over there volunteering. The Christian volunteers are only allowed 90-day visas, after which they must leave for at least 90 more days before they are eligible to return. So fresh shifts of volunteers keep coming. The director of these volunteers is a European not under the 90-day restriction. One young Christian man, who I know, wanted to work with the orphan refugees–but these minors have been made wards of the Greek govt., & he has been forbidden to visit with them. Meanwhile, many of these minors say they feel like they are in prison as wards of the state. Those children who can talk with the Christian volunteers will draw pictures of their horrible experiences–such as pictures with crayons of the wars. Obviously, it helps for a volunteer to speak Arabic, but the Christians coming from America don’t. Some of the refugees speak broken English. Every so often the island gets in the news, & the Pope visited the island to see the situation which made the news. The volunteers are seeing some of the refugees give their lives to Christ and be baptized. I felt this kind of news would encourage people, because some of these new converts would have been killed in their original Moslem communities in their native lands, so the war has given them a chance for genuine hope.
FINAL THOUGHTS. One volunteer described how these people on Lesbos have had lives like the rest of us and that being a refugee is not their identity–but an experience. Christ said that what you do to the least of these, you are doing to him. Have a blessed day my friend, and let us not forget that others are suffering even more than us. Even here in Portland, OR we have had homeless people living in tents in 20 degree weather with a wind chill factor that made it below zero; and we have recently had a few homeless people freeze to death. Let us not forget those less fortunate than us.