Tonight a pregnant woman and her husband fell asleep alongside friends and family under the stars in Idomeni, Greece. They are not camping, per se; in fact, they do not even have a tent so the crisp night air brushes over them as they finally fade into sleep. By any normal standards their present reality is somewhat of a nightmare. It is hard to believe that this is better than what they left behind in Syria, but it is. The sounds of children crying and people stoking small fires with clothes, scraps and small twigs is more soothing than those of the warplanes and explosions they are used to.
"As soon as I saw their faces I began to weep."
"I was approached by a man who spoke enough English to introduce himself and his friend to me and ask if I had any tents left for them and his pregnant wife to sleep in," said Karen Davis, a missionary volunteer serving the refugees for the week. "I told him I'd try my best to find one but when I couldn't I came back and gave him the same answer I had been giving so many today regarding food, water and blankets. 'No more.' As soon as I saw their faces I began to weep."
Karen and the other volunteers learned before arriving at the camp today that the Macedonian border on which their camp was situated would be closed today as officials attempted to figure out what to do with the influx in refugees, especially those coming from war-ravaged nations like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Karen said, "We had been passing out blankets, water, snacks and some random bags of food and water but as the busses kept coming, suddenly all we had was bad news. 'No, we don't have water. No, we don't have food. No, there aren't any blankets left.'" This news was bad enough but the lack of tents really hurt. The weather in Idomeni is cold this time of year, with lows dipping into the low 40s.
"As the tears streamed down my face, the man I had just delivered the bad news about the tent to, I don't even know his name, put his hand on my face and wiped my tears and said, 'Don't cry ma'am, it will be okay.' I prayed with them right there in the darkness and asked God to protect them and bring them safely to their destination. They were so excited to hear me pray and thanked me repeatedly. They smiled, hugged me, said goodbye and walked out into the darkness. While I came here to encourage them, I found encouragement and compassion in their eyes. I will never forget them, these two strangers."
"I was sitting on the floor talking to people when the lights went out."
"As terrible as the situation is; families with young children sleeping outside in small tents or in the fields on empty stomachs, the people remain peaceful and calm. They are so appreciative it's unreal. We had so many great conversations, learning their stories and hearing about their lives at home and journey thus far," said Kari McGhee, another member of the missionary team.
"We opened an entirely new area to the camp today as buses filled with these people who are seeking safety and security. Over 5,000 arrived today and joined the 1,500 who remained from yesterday as the border remains closed. We were the bearers of bad news and no news, having to tell them, 'We do not know when they will open again.'" The volunteers were at the camp working into the early morning hours when at one point all of the lights in the camp went off at once. "I was sitting on the floor talking to people when they went out," Kari said. "I thought they may panic but they just laughed it off, many of them have been experiencing regular power outages at home for years so they were used to it." Kari said tomorrow they will pass out over 8,000 meals with Save the Children, a Connecticut based non-profit that has focused its efforts on the child crisis this war is causing. Their people on the ground at the Macedonian border crossing estimate that 1 in 8 women passing through are pregnant. (Watch their recent field update)
Not everyone who attempts to flee to Europe makes it this far. Lindsey Mayberry, the third member of the team, met two 19-year-old men who made it as they watched others fall short. Adnan (pictured above) decided to leave his home in Damascus, Syria one week ago. They made it to Turkey and boarded a raft, as most do, in the Aegean Sea bound for Greece.
"He showed me a video he took on his phone in the raft as Turkish police screamed for them to come back. They were able to pull away but the raft directly behind them was apprehended by officials who arrested everyone on board," Lindsey said. Adnan, who was gentle, soft spoken and very good at English left Damascus with hopes to study electronic music in Germany. Lindsey told me, "When his father heard he was leaving he decided to go with him and try to travel on to Sweden where he may be able to get a job and afford to bring his wife, Adnan's mom, and two daughters (ages 12 and 9) over to Europe as well." Adnan and his family were directly affected by the civil war that has ravaged Syria for the last four years when his older brother decided to help suffering people alongside the Red Cross and was captured by the Syrian government. They have not seen or heard from him since.
He asked if I could adopt him and take him back to America with me.
Anas is an Iraqi refugee and is also 19. He hung out with Lindsey all night, nicknaming her "Rose," and giving his blankets away to mothers and children around the campsite. Lindsey said, "He was so compassionate. I showed him pictures of my three boys and told him all about my family. He asked if I could adopt him and take him back to America with me. I also heard stories from other young men; one who said the smuggler who helped him and his friend secure spots on a raft put a gun to his friend's head and told everyone on the boat not to come back. He shot his friend in the head and he fell into the water as they pushed out from the shore."
By the time you read this Karen's new friends will have woken up from a long, cold night outside. It really is hard to believe that things like this are happening but it is important for us to remember that just because it is not happening to us does not mean it is not real. Pray for these men, women and children. Pray for their protection, safety and security. Pray for justice, pray for their salvation and for their flourishing. If you are not really sure what to say, try this (adapted from Isaiah 25:4-9):
LORD, you are the defender of the helpless, a strength to the needy in distress, a refuge from the storm, a blanket in the cold. The ruthless have rained on these people like a mighty storm over the ocean but just as you have calmed the seas by the hand of Jesus, subdue and bring justice to the armies, rebel groups, governments and authorities who have oppressed and murdered these people. Silence the song of the unjust. Prepare a lavish banquet for these people; a banquet of aged wine, choice meat and all that is good. You are their God for whom they have waited that you might save them. This is the LORD for whom they have waited; Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.