“By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Compassion is built when you look into another person's eyes, listen to what they are saying and care for them. Listening and caring are difficult when the person is not in front of you and that is one reason it is so hard to have genuine compassion for the refugees you are hearing about on the news. Take a moment to look into their eyes, listen to their stories and care. As you do, you may find the compassion that has eluded you thus far.
Three women representing Connection Church in Astoria, Queens traveled to Thessaloniki, Greece to serve refugees at a camp in Idomeni, a small village situated at the Southern border of Macedonia. After a relatively smooth journey of over 5,000 miles across a vast ocean, Karen Davis, Kari McGhee and Lindsey Mayberry encountered hundreds of people today who are in the middle of a trying expedition. These refugees have been forced from their homes and communities and are traveling across deserts and seas in search of a place to sleep without gunfire ringing outside their windows. Upon arrival at this camp they wait in long lines to receive supplies such as food and clothing for the remainder of their journey.
"They were shooting us in the streets and nobody cared."
Two families they met today have already journeyed over 3,000 miles from war-torn Afghanistan over the past two weeks. Although their journey to Germany in search of asylum is three-quarters of the way complete, there is plenty of difficulty ahead. While the team from NYC was at the camp today, Macedonian officials announced that the border is now closed to all people from Northern Africa, including Moroccans, Latvians and Egyptians. The families, who are part of a group of about 50 traveling together, crossed the border into Macedonia today where they will rest for a short time before catching a train to Serbia and continue on toward Germany. When asked why they left one said, "They were shooting us in the streets and nobody cared." These families are running for their lives, leaving their wounded and dead friends, family members and fellow Afghans behind.
Kari McGhee recalled, "The people are very peaceful. They are traveling together as family and friends and are warm and loving toward each other and thankful to us for serving." Many families are making this journey with small children and, while spotting a mom on the sidewalk with an infant in a baby carrier is commonplace on a short walk to the grocery store here at home, most refugee moms and dads are holding small children and babies in their arms for the thousands of miles of this journey. Despite the trials and pains, many people were smiling and the children were desperate for some play time.
Lindsey Mayberry only speaks English but "play" is a universal language. She has three young boys at home so she knew just what to do. "Today I spent so much time picking up rocks, holding them in my clinched hand and having the children guess which one it was in. At one point a crowd of adults gathered, laughing at the children trying to figure out how I was being so sneaky," she said. "Pray for their continued joyful spirits, they have so far to go."
The third member of the team, Karen Davis, noticed how open the English speakers were to sharing their stories. "They tell us the how terrifying the boat ride to Greece was and how thankful they are to be back on dry land," she said. The camp is boring, with not much to do except wait in lines that progress ever so slowly, providing some hope with each step forward.
From 5,000 miles away it may be too easy to act like all people are created in the image of God, and like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor, spy and martyr who fought against the injustices of the Third Reich said, are entitled to the same grace we have been given. This "entitlement" is not based on our merit, but on Christ's. Jesus Christ loves all people, regardless of their response to his message. He also commands anyone who claims to be his follower to do the same. Sometimes that is especially hard when we do not understand what they are saying.
If only we could all look them in the eyes.