Sammamish Presbyterian recently teamed up with Greater Europe Mission to send a mission team to volunteer at the Moria Refugee Camp/Detainment Center on the Island of Lesvos in Greece. With only four miles of water to cross between the island and Turkey, Lesvos has become ground zero for refugees trying to reach the EU. The NGO we worked under at the camp is called EuroRelief and they are the NGO with the contract to run the camp on behalf of the UN and the Greek government. While it is technically a military run detainment center guarded by Greek police, EuroRelief does the all work of distributing the food, blankets, clothing, and manages the living arrangements within the camp. While about half the asylum seekers are Syrians fleeing the war, everyone who gets caught trying to get into Europe gets detained and processed at this facility so over 40 different nationalities were present within the camp.
For the manpower to staff the camp of 2200 asylum seekers on a 24 hour, 7 days a week schedule, EuroRelief relies on a constant rotation of volunteers from a wide array Christian ministries such as YWAM, Greater Europe Mission, and I58. These organizations send teams of church members and college students as well as solo individuals from all three North American countries and Western Europe. The core job description of the volunteer work at the camp comes straight out of Matthew 25. “I was hungry and you fed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was in prison and you visited me.” While on shift at the camp, our team did many routine tasks such as monitoring the entrances of the various the housing units, distributing meals, making hot tea on a cold night, and escorting those that needed medical attention to the volunteer doctors on site.
Probably the most important ministry we provided beyond meeting the basic physical necessities was to be a sympathetic ear and an open heart as the refugees shared their incredible stories of survival and loss. Most of them have experienced a great deal of tragedy and hardship by the time they arrive at this camp and are often deeply traumatized by those experiences. It was critically important that we volunteers made sure theses survivors realized that they are cared for not forgotten by the rest of the world. While no proselytizing is allowed in camp, volunteers are able to have meaningful conversations about whatever topic the individual refugee desires to bring up.
One of the great surprises for our team was the incredible hospitality and care the refugees showed us in return. Even though most of these individuals had lost so much and had so little in the form of resources, our team was constantly treated as guests of honor and offered the best seat by the fire or a portion of whatever food was being passed out. Our female team members were often escorted by male refugees from place to place to make sure we stayed safe. Our entire team would most likely agree that while this mission trip was one of the most heartbreaking experiences they had ever felt, it was also one of the most rewarding mission trips they have ever taken. Our church plans to send another team to Moria next spring and to search out opportunities to help with the refugee crisis here at home as well.