The Christmas story is one that we know well. Mary, a young, pregnant woman, and her fiance Joseph travel a long distance to take part in a census. When they arrive to Bethlehem, they find no place to stay and are forced to seek shelter in a stable, typically reserved for animals. It is on this very night that Mary delivers a baby into the world. And, it is from this little town of Bethlehem that her family will soon have to flee as they fear for the life of their newborn son Jesus.
Today, on the island of Lesvos, surrounded by volunteers from around the world, I met dozens of refugees whose stories share so many similarities to the Christmas story so near and dear to many. This morning, as Craig and I were receiving a tour of the camp where we would be volunteering on Lesvos and wrapping up our orientation, we got word that a boat of refugees would soon arrive. Just minutes after we began folding blankets in a makeshift building where a boatful of refugees had slept after arriving to the island in middle of the previous night, we saw our fellow volunteers spring into action.
“They’re here!” someone shouted. We jumped to the drink table where I began filling cups with hot tea as fast as my hands could pour them. As Craig passed the cups around, we welcomed those who had just made it safely to the shores of Lesvos from nearby Turkey. As I checked to make sure everyone had tea, I was called to the women and children’s clothing tent, which was in need of assistance. I walked into a scene of (controlled) chaos. Dozens of wet and cold women and children were waiting for dry clothes. Volunteers were doing their best to assist everyone. Most of the new arrivals were soaking wet and needed dry everything — underwear, pants, shirts, sweaters, jackets, socks, shoes, scarves, gloves, etc. Finding a family of three, I began to try to help. Despite that I couldn’t communicate at all with the mother or her three children (approximately ages 3, 6, and 9) and had difficulty finding clothes and shoes to fit all of them, we eventually found dry clothes for each of them to wear (using lots of hand signals!). Some new, some used, these clothes made a huge difference in helping the refugees to stay warm as they continued on their journey during the cold December days and nights.
From the beachside camp where I was volunteering, the asylum seekers then had to head up a steep and winding road to a transit center where they awaited a shuttle to take them an hour across the island where they could be registered (which can take days) and then continue on to wherever their final destination is.
At the tea table and in the clothing tent, I met children as young as 3 traveling with their families, elderly women who needed assistance to get out of their wet clothes and into something comfortable and dry, young men sent on the dangerous trip alone in hopes that they can pave the path for their parents and siblings to come too, teenage boys making phone calls to let their families know that they had survived the trip, and others who had fled fighting and persecution in country after country that they escaped to. Today, I met a people who are far from their homes. People who I’m worried will find no room at the inn. They have dreams of a better life for themselves in Europe, America, Canada, and so on. But, are we people who will give them a place to stay? Will we welcome them as aliens in a foreign land? Or, will our fear cause us to keep them out? Will our fear cause us to forget what we stand for and what we have come to learn from our Christmas story? On Christmas, God came to be with us — as a vulnerable baby. His family found
Today, I met a people who are far from their homes. People who I’m worried will find no room at the inn. They have dreams of a better life for themselves in Europe, America, Canada, and so on. But, are we people who will give them a place to stay? Will we welcome them as aliens in a foreign land? Or, will our fear cause us to keep them out? Will our fear cause us to forget what we stand for and what we have come to learn from our Christmas story?
On Christmas, God came to be with us — as a vulnerable baby. His family found little welcome in the town where he was born. And, not long after his birth, they had to flee to Egypt as his parents feared for his life. This Christmas, I hope that you will think of the 4 million Syrians displaced by war and the millions more displaced in places like Afghanistan and Iraq as a result of fighting, persecution, and more.
Today, we celebrate the birth of our Savior. But, what does that mean to you? How does this call you to act?
My Christmas hope is that the people arriving to Lesvos will be on your heart this day and that their struggle will not be pushed aside in place of fear and hate.
Merry Christmas from Lesvos,
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