I am working in a Refugee Camp in Lesvos, Greece.
Flashback a few months: I was sitting in my room reading articles about the global refugee crisis and silent tears fell down my face. God said “Michelina, you need to step into that mess.” In JULY, I stepped in.
When I participated in a World Relief refugee simulation, I learned that the average stay in a camp is 20 years and more than 11 million have been forced to leave their home in Syria alone. A mere 7,000 refugees from around the world now live in the Refugee Camp in Greece. (Search any UN Refugee Agency videos/articles for more information).
Though traveling alone, I am part of an international organization called EURO RELIEF. We distribute supplies, resolve racial conflict, manage housing, build shelters, distributing food, advocate for the extra-vulnerable, teach English, and of course, find ways to work with teenagers (my favorite ministry). A rad Spokane non-profit called “This Mission” has graciously partnered with me for finances. A couple of Spokane guys started it to empower others to do mission work! I have sweated and sacrificed and saved and sold (remember those awesome maroon t shirts?!) to head out on this adventure. Thank you does not begin to cover it, but thank you thank you THANK YOU for being a part of my life and helping me live out a life of love!
I told myself before starting this update that I would not write a piece knowing it would make my people back home cry. I would write something encouraging from the refugee camp, not horrific. But that would be deceiving, as most of the things that happen here are horrific.
Working in this refugee camp on the island of Lesvos, Greece is brutally tough & deeply disturbing, yet there is a flicker inside me that draws me back. & each day, I want to stay longer than my body will allow me & show up earlier than my shift starts just to exist here a little longer. That can only be God doing His thing, because otherwise I would already be on a plane home.
I grew up listening to my mom’s Jars of Clay albums. Alternative/worship/rock music from the ‘90’s/2000’s is where it’s at! I have been playing “Oh My God” on repeat since being here. I never understood the depth of these lyrics until now.
“If the world was how it should be Maybe I could get some sleep Oh, my God Oh, my God We all have a chance to murder We all have the need for wonder We still want to be reminded That the pain is worth the plunder Oh, my God” -Jars of Clay “Oh My God”
Maybe I would sleep through the night & not dream about my refugee friends & not wake up to anxious streams of thoughts if I ignored it all. Maybe I would actually sleep well if I ignored the pain here. But that’s not what I’m wired to do, it’s not what God asks me to do, it’s not the right thing to do. We are meant to carry each others burdens with the Lord.
C A M P: The refugee camp is an intricate system of broken systems. There are many Non-government organizations, Non- profits, & Greek Government employees & volunteers there with very little communication between them all. Generally, no one knows what is going on. I have been working at the information point for Euro Relief, where refugees come to ask for supplies such as tarps, tents, baby clothes, diapers, rope, shoes, fans, baby carriers, feminine hygiene products, water, or new clothing for people infected with scabies (bugs under the skin). The answer is almost always “I’m sorry, but we don’t have any more.” I have mostly been leading the housing team though. We talk with each refugee waiting to be housed (about 50 new people per day) and find a place with people of their nationality wherever we can. There are about 3 times as many people as there should be in any given living space.
This is a lot more logistical than any other humanitarian work I have done. It sounds heartless, but sometimes there is no time to just sit & be with refugees because there is so much work to do in finding other refugees housing, or emergency goods, or carrying a woman who passed out over to the emergency clinic (happened twice already). We as volunteers MUST se the bigger picture and accept that as difficult as it is, saying “no” to this single woman asking for placement in the “vulnerable people” section of camp means we WILL have a place there for a women with severe autism (even more vulnerable than the first woman). It’s quite horrible to be forced to rate humans’ hurt & vulnerability— and quite ironic. No one leaves there own country for this horrendous camp unless they have to. Everyone here is extremely vulnerable, but Euro Relief has so little supplies that they only get to go to the MOST vulnerable.
One day after work, I walked down to the ocean trying to get away from the sensory-overload of thoughts piercing my brain. It didn’t work. However, I wrote this down: Everywhere, grief. Everywhere, quiet desperation. & Louder desperation. Fierce love & desperation. Fierce, fighting love that is stuck in a system, locked & can’t break free because of laws & regulations & sheer masses of people & hopelessness & absence of any life-saving supplies. I will be intensely scarred by my time here, but nowhere near as scarred as my friends who are living in this camp are.
I want to be sorry for such a depressing update, but I’m not. This is a depressing situation. I will end on a light note, however.
There was a young woman & her husband who had just arrived off the boat from Turkey, where everyone who comes to this refugee camp comes through. They were from the Congo, Africa. They spoke french. So with great struggle, I whipped out my high school french & got to talk with them. The woman, Bonnie (yeah Mimi, isn’t that funny?!) has asthma & was crying because all the men around the tent where she lived smoked cigarettes constantly (I’m sure she was crying about a lot more as well). We talked, we showed pictures, we reads some of her Bible in french. Right before I said goodbye for the day, she let me know she was pregnant. She told me she would name her baby after me! Baby Lina (I go by that here. It’s much easier than Michelina, also Lina is an Arabic name so that’s fun). Every time I talk with Bonnie now, she reminds me of “baby lina”— I still can’t quite figure out if it’s a joke or not, so there may be a french speaking Congolese baby running around the world soon, named after yours truly!!
Post written by Michelina Cozzetto
This Mission had the honor of partnering with Michelina on this powerful trip! We believe at This Mission that we don't need to only partner with people going on Mission trips with Christian organizations, because we know that God shows up through Christians everywhere!