July 18, 2016
This is the first time since I have arrived that I have had the opportunity to sit down at my favorite café from last January. Today is a day off of work, partially as a birthday gift, partially because the two coordinators took a 4-day holiday and I doubled my work load, but mostly because I’m hitting the exhausted-sick level. That is more my fault since I still have not learned to say "no," or to take a break when I have responsibilities.
Yesterday was my 30th birthday. I had thought all last year I was 30 until last month, so I feel no change at all. I had the opportunity to greet the 22 new arrivals and hand them out blankets, tents, and food. It was a blessing to know that I was the first smile that they had possibly seen in months. For most cases, the first volunteer or aid worker that the displaced people will see in Europe will be the most remembered one of all the volunteers and aid-workers they will encounter along their migration.
I spent the afternoon with several volunteers at the beach near the warehouse. Most of us just relaxed on the beach and took a nap, trying to recharge after another long week. We all met at Pizza di Piazza for my birthday dinner. It’s been since my teenage years since I’ve had a proper birthday celebration. The waiter Manolis, one of my closest friends took extra care of us. I even had a birthday cake! It must have been at least a decade and a half since I have seen one of those.
The number of birthday wishes from volunteers, refugees, and locals was more than I have ever received. My phone was non-stop with notifications of friends and family wishing me the best. It was a total inspiration to have that much love outpouring to me. I really needed all the encouragement that came with the birthday wishes. So many people encouraged me to continue on, that they looked up to me, and thanks for doing my best to change the world. Thank you all. I may have only a drawer full of belongings, and a bank account with nothing but donations, but I have more than most ever will. Peace of mind, love, joy, and a purpose of life. Money can never buy what I have, you have all made my birthday the most memorable of my life.
Two days in a row we have received new arrivals from Turkey. After a two week lull in new arrivals we are the most prepared as we can ever be. The first day was a Syrian family who had been helped by churches along the route. After meeting the family to help them access their needs, the first question asked by the father was about my faith. I explained to him my confusion with the church and with religion, how American Christianity largely focuses on building churches of grandeur, pastors with budgets larger than many in their flock, and how Christianity focuses more on works to decide if you are a morally good Christian or not. We talked for some time, how most Christians talk-the-talk, and forget to walk-the-walk.
From my experiences this last year I have learned much about Christianity and religion. I am still trying to find my way, but had I not began this chapter in my life I would still be pushing away from religion. I have seen Christianity at its best, reaching out to those of different faiths. They show that by their actions, others can see what is in their heart. I have also seen the worst of Christianity, the part that confused me and almost made me turn away. This is the side that will not help those of different faiths, forgetting the story of the Good Samaritan. They have forgotten what Jesus said in Matthew 25:37-40 “Then the righteous answered him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave the drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothe thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
I have learned much spiritually these past several months, but so have many of those that I try to help. For the man I was talking to a few days ago, he was perplexed how the Christians have turned their backs on both the Christians in the Middle-East, as well as those of different faiths. He referenced Matthew 5 to me, to love your enemies, do good to them that hate you. I went back to my flat and read the chapter, it was a powerful read to me. Some verses that stuck out the most were Matthew 5:46 and 47: “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?"
For many years I thought I had lost my faith, unable to discern from faith and the institution. I have now seen true Christians both at home and here. There have been so many that have let their light shine these past few months on my journey, and helped me discern the differences. Meeting this man the other day, and having him tell me that faith is what is in the heart, not the church you attend, is what matters. I have learned much from this man, and count it a blessing to have spoken to him. I also feel for him, since he will be largely persecuted for his faith in the upcoming months.
The past weekend there was a failed military coup in Turkey. President Erdogan has gone against the constitution, and a minority group in the military tried to take control. It was a 12 hour coup, which left Erdogan in more power and popular support. Many of us believe that this was just a power play. He was both able to gain popular support in Turkey and internationally, wipe out his opposition, and gain more power. Coming from a military background, high treason is not a trivial act. For this coup to last 12 hours, it seems either it was poorly acted out, or that there was an organizer behind that had many actors pretend to be in support of the coup until the actual action.
We for-see the fallout of the EU/Turkey deal coming. After two weeks of no arrivals, and then 2 days of new arrivals following the coup, we stand ready. With the military confusion in Turkey, this has allowed for more freedom of movement along the coasts for more refugees to cross.
The warehouse is looking better and better each day. For those who have worked in the warehouse, there is less than a day’s work left of unsorted donations. It is both a relief to me, but also raises some concern. When the deal falls apart, we will not have enough to help everyone. We have already been purchasing needs, winter is coming, and I personally do not think we have enough.
This past week several of my friends left. A few were refugees, going to mostly to Athens, some to Thessanoliki. Those going to Athens I am scared for. There is no room in the camps, so the port and Victoria’s Square are lined with refugees and Greeks alike, sleeping in the streets, begging for money. Families lie under boxes, unsure as to their next meal. Many do not want to leave the camp because they know that their plight will become worse. This is one of the things that causes the volunteers here to think that every step we go forward; we go two steps back.
Several volunteers have left and I miss them dearly. There are some that I have worked closely with and will miss them as people, but also the voids in work here. Yes, others will fill their position, but we have worked so closely together. Paul and Melanie of France and Belgium, were the sweetest couple and humans I have met. Their calmness and love of everything living made them a vital aspect in the camp. Ion, my brother from Amsterdam, whom I hope to see soon, helped me find my strength when I was weak. We learned and grew so much from each other’s company.
For those at home, I thank you once again for following what is happening. I mourn for my America as it is falling apart. It’s painful to watch one hate create a new hate, and that another hate. Be strong, and do your best to show those at home the goodness in life. Hug those that need it most, embrace those of different creeds, colors, and religions. We must unify as people, instead of separating into different factions. “A stranger is just a friend you have never met.”