Greece – The Gravity of a Graveyard

To be honest, I am not even sure how to write about this adventure. I know I have to share about it, as it was one of the most impactful things I have ever experienced, not just on this trip but also in life but where do I even begin…

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I guess it starts with the fact that for a while I didn’t think I was actually going to make it up to Molyvos to see the life jacket graveyard. From the moment I heard it existed it was something that I knew I wanted to go see but at an hour drive from Moria/Panagiouda where I was staying and a bit off the beaten path it wasn’t super convenient and I was here with a mission to serve not as a tourist.

Here is the google map pin if you ever want to check it for yourself. Even the satellite view I screen shot gives some pretty crazy perspective on just how big the graveyard is.

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As I was saying though, I didn’t think I was going to make it up there as I was nearing the end of my stay and hadn’t yet made the trek. I also had told Marianne from EuroRelief that I would work right till the end of my time on Lesvos so there was no foreseeing the opportunity to go. To my surprise though when I got the schedule for the next week I had been given Monday off even though I would leave Wednesday. My first thought was this is my opportunity to run up north to Molyvos to see the Graveyard and Sykaminea Camp After a brief conflict in my heart between going and spending an extra day in Moria (the thought of leaving was already grieving me) I decided that this was a door God had opened and I needed to take it. As I write this I cant actually believe that I almost didn’t go. Two months later as I sit here and write and look through these photos my eyes well with tears at how overwhelming the whole experience was.

After deciding to go, I discovered that there were other volunteers who had the same day off and hadn’t been up there yet, so now I not only had an adventure but I also had a crew to join on it. (LIFE HACK – Adventures are better with a crew) Six of us in total myself, two of my female compadres from the Mytilene Apartment and the Mennonite contingent of the Panagiouda Crew were set to go!

I got up early Monday and headed in to Mytilene to rent a car, picked up the crew and off we went down the winding mountain roads of Lesvos to see what we could see. The car ride itself was a bit of a joy in that even though you spend 8 to 10 hours a day with these people, it is always during work so there aren’t always great chances to hear peoples story and who they really are, so this gave great opportunity to hear about and get to know some of the people had spent so much time with over the past month. Not surprising that in itself was a total privilege. Hearing stories of how God had provided for their trip in unusual ways and hearing their hearts for the people we were working with, that in itself would have made the trip worth while.

And then we pull up to this…

As foretold it was a ways off the beaten path, but not super hard to find even though the  GPS map on my phone is wonky. But after ten or fifteen minutes of bouncing down a goat trail of a path we caught the faint view of orange in the distance.

I don’t really know how to describe my feelings in this moment, other than there were a lot of them. You look at the piles of life jackets understanding that each and everyone of them was worn by someone desperate to change the direction of their life and you begin to gain a realization of how fully broken our world is.

You step out of your vehicle and stare at three huge mountains of orange and black nylon and your mind is blown away when your companion informs you that these are not just piles of jackets but rather these are actually pits that have been filled to overflow.

In the depth of your mind you begin to see the faces of the men you have spent your last month serving and working alongside.  Your heart sinks as you realize that each one of these faces, each one of  your new friends is represented by one of these jackets.

The grief in my spirit was overwhelming and I remember choking back tears, even now as I write this my heart just aches. How do we let this happen? Thousands upon thousands of people in desperation crossing a cold dangerous sea all for a glimmer of hope that rests on the other side.

I had my camera and so under the guise of getting a good shot I left my group to try and make some sort of sense out of all that was happening in my heart. Walking through the piles upon piles of jackets. The winds were also crazy that day adding a poetic touch to the experience as a storm of emotion raged inside me.

There really isn’t much you can do to make sense of it all. I think thats the most frustrating thing for me. There is no apparent solution. Just do what you can to counteract the negative by pouring out yourself in love where you can.

Eventually we loaded up and carried on our way. Silent for the first while as each of us was impacted by the sheer volume of what we had jsut seen. But soon the silence was broken and we were back to chatting. Before heading onward to Sykaminea Camp we wanted to explore the town a bit and find ourselves some lunch.

Molyvos is a beautiful little town and because it was a local holiday we got to take in some sort of a celebration happening in the town square. If anyone can explain to me what is going on here I would appreciate it. There were also people in costumes and such. There are often people in costumes in Greece it seems and I never understand why. Haha

Molyvos also has unreal pita. Definitely a highlight.

After our lunch and tour of the town,  including a super sweet little church we continued onward to our next destination, Sykaminea Camp. Sykaminea Camp is the first place a refugee goes after making the sea voyage from Turkey. At the height of the migrant crisis this place was packed with people and continual activity. When we were there it was still winter in Greece so not many boats were tempting the trek across the sea so it was pretty quiet when we arrived. Located a few hundred yards from the beach you can look out over the ocean from here and see Turkey in the distance. It seems so close but in a dingy overfilled past capacity it must feel like a million miles to cross.

From there we went down to the beach. For me this is where reality of what the refugees face really set in again. This beach is the closest point between Greece and Turkey. Something like 2.5 miles of water is all that separates the two countries and so it is here that the refugees will make the attempt to cross the sea that separates. Two and a half miles doesn’t sound like a lot and really as you look across there is a part of you that says I could make it across.  At the same time with the wind howling and waves crashing, the feel of the cold mist on your skin there is something almost sinister about it at the same time, an underlying understanding that you would not willingly choose to make this trip unless there was no other option. I remember a quote I heard that said “no woman would ever put her child on a boat unless there were no there option” and as I stared across the straight, the gravity of that truth genuinely set in.

Knowing how dangerous it is to cross and hearing the stories of bodies washing ashore from those who did not make it fuelled that same surreal experience. Walking along the beach and coming across the remnant of a boat that hadn’t been cleaned up yet. I say boat but really it was just a fibreglass shell set out across the sea well over capacity. My mind wanders and wonders was this a successful trip or did this shell of a vessel abandon its precious cargo somewhere along the journey. Again my mind wanders, this time to one of the translators description of his journey across. Forced at gunpoint by smugglers onto a dingy with far too many people aboard, supplied with just enough gas to almost get you across, praying that you make it through the freezing cold waters.

Its overwhelming. I am not even sure what I can add.

It was life changing.

 

Greece – The Panagiouda Crew

I had to do this post if only to give some honour to the people who made my time in Greece an incredible adventure. I met a tonne of new friends while I was there but this crew and I seemed to have a unique bond, it was like having an instant family. You guys were a blast and totally have a special place in my heart!

From Left to Right: Brit, Steph, Me, Dustin, Sam, Chad

The Wise’s

Dustin Wise – The tall, blonde, surfer dude with a heart of gold. The guy just loves on people, you watch him interact with people you know that he just loves them. Caring, genuine and comfortable he’s one of those guys that you meet for 5 minutes and feel like you have always known. He’s also super talented and creative so if you need a wedding videographer in Cali, look buddy up!

Steph Wise – Dustin’s lovely wife, Steph has a curiosity for adventure. She knows the right questions to ask and is always asking locals and researching what to see and where to eat. She’s responsible for and receives photo cred for the incredible shot of me on the roman aqueduct below. Like myself, she’s an ideas person blessed with vision to use her skills and abilities to help others and has the mind/spirit to make those visions a reality. God has already done some pretty cool things through her and I can not wait to hear what world changing adventure she goes on next.

The Roman Aqueduct we visited, seriously worth the hike!

The Mennonites

Sam, Brittany, and Chad – This trio would be an incomplete package if any one of them were missing. The comic genius that spouts from their mouths, playing off each other, cracking one liners at every opportunity guaranteed a smile on my face every time they were around. I also learned more about Mennonite culture than I ever even knew existed. Three absolute gems.

Sam – Potentially one of the funniest guys I have ever met. Loves God, music, Freeda espressos (did I say that right) and people and probably in that order. He has a strength of character that is impressive for a guy so young. His eye for adventure and willingness to serve are going take him to amazing places. He also loves to tell a good story, which he will have a good one when he tells his fgriends back home about walking miles in bare foot to see a roman aqueduct and not wanting to muddy his shoes. ūüôā

Brittany – My favourite line from Brittany “Sam, I just repeat what you say” and being that she does so at the most opportune moments made her hilarious. Sam’s randomness¬†+ Brit’s timing = PURE GOLD I’ll just leave it like that. She also totally has a servant heart and was quick to volunteer on camp no matter what the task at hand was.

Chad – Sam’s best friend and proverbial straight man, (also Brittany’s brother)¬†¬†Sam would be far less funny without Chad, these two are a package deal. Far more subdued than Sam, Chad is more about impact than volume but his value to this crew as a whole was unmistakable.

And more!

Hack – Probably the most laid back guy I have ever met. His sense of peace makes even me look high strung, I didn’t think that was possible Ha! A hard worker and a born leader he accepted responsibility to take leadership with humility and attentive care. While I saw other Compound Supervisors spend a lot of time at the office, on his shifts Hack stayed out with the crew making sure everyone was covered and even the smallest of hiccups attended to. Truly it was an honour to serve alongside this man of God.

Vahid – Dude, you were only there for part of it but I love your heart, man! Keep letting Jesus take you on adventures.

Hallah – Unfortunately Hallah ended up on the opposite shift of the rest of us when the most exciting stuff was happening. Which is sad because she’s this amazing woman who always made it clear she was there with us in spirit even though not often in person.

I could go on and on. The people at EuroRelief were awesome, the girls at the Mytilene Apartment made my mornings so bright as I had the honour of picking up their joyful smiley faces each morning. ¬†The EuroRelief staff are such a solid group too. (Elton I honour you for the hours you put in that go above and beyond your job description. You may not think people notice it but they definitely do, you’re doing great things man). The shift leaders – SO IMPRESSED! Young women and men getting things done in some intense situations. WOW. I don’t think you understand how rare you are. All the YWAMers and i58 crew, brief moments crossing paths but great conversations all over the place.

The Translators – These guys are refugees who are giving their time to help EuroRelief do our job. They get limited perks and put up with a lot of flack, but really its my interactions with these dudes that complete changed the word “refugee” in my heart and mind. It was an honour to work along side of them.

I probably missed someone important. I usually do, so if you are like hey what about me, know it was awesome to meet you, and thank you all for being part of my journey.

David

 

 

Greece – Life at Moria

Hey, thanks so much for checking out my blog! 2017 has already been amazing for me, I spent a month in Greece and another month traveling my way back to Canada. I blogged my way through it but they were on my other site, in an effort to keep everything in one spot, I have moved all my posts here! Hope you enjoy!

4 shifts left!!!! **tear**

I am finally taking a second to write and I cannot believe that I only have 4 shifts left! ūüė© That seems so unbelievably crazy to me. It has been a full few weeks and has gotten to the point where in many ways I feel like this place is a part of me. The work is exhausting both physically and emotionally but the people and the community that comes with it are equally beautiful and fulfilling.

2017-02-15 14.36.08¬†In most of my travels it’s the dichotomy of the situations I get myself into that often impacts me the most and Greece has been no exception. Here we have this beautiful country with thrilling landscapes around every corner and in the middle of it all is the Moria Refugee Camp, a military base and very prisonesque, which currently¬†houses 2,000 or so men from around the world as they anxiously await their decision on asylum. A place many understood¬†would be a few day stop on their journey¬†to a promised land but has become their home for months, gradually and continually deteriorating the hope they once held.

I haven’t posted a lot unfortunately mostly because I come home exhausted and get up with just enough time to hit the pavement for another day. But partially because being here has required a lot of processing and I want to be careful not to unintentionally paint a darker picture of the experience than it deserves. Like most things in life it is often easier to lose sight of the great things that2017-02-06 17.03.48 are occurring as they fade behind the issues we face.
My role at EuroRelief is different everyday it seems which is a bit of an adventure in itself but lets me see if I can list a few of the more dominant roles I have played.
  1. Security – My first days and a couple times this last week I spent watching gates, this is just a security tool for the residents making sure that people who aren’t housed on the level aren’t getting on, it also means distributing food to the different rooms, but mostly it is just hanging out with the guys, speaking broken English/Farsi/Arabic/French etc and laughing at their antics. I also find this a great opportunity to set spiritual atmosphere and in my heart I pray hope over each of them as they come in and out of the gate. It is also often super quiet so I get a lot of reflection here too. It can also be a bit crazy as people are being¬†moved around the camp constantly in an effort to manage the housing at the camp.
  2. Driver – For a time I was the only volunteer with an international license so that kind of solidified my role as a driver for the volunteers. It adds time to my day which if you’ve been here would likely have heard me complain about, and if you’re doddling at the end of your shift have likely experienced #GrumpyDave but all in all the role really added to my experience. I get to spend time with most of Euro’s volunteers and as a result have been blessed to experience first hand¬†the awesome hearts and spirits of these people who are truly an exceptional bunch.
  3. Warehouse personnel – I tried to make myself sound¬†fancy but really I just move boxes, and boxes, and boxes, oh and then some pallets ūüėõ Managing clothing is one of EuroReliefs roles on the camp and in the ever continuing efforts to improve processes they have been doing a lot of work wit2017-02-16 11.13.55h organizing the donations they receive. And then in the middle of it all they received 24 pallets of winter gear and have to sort what is worth keeping for next year (as it is spring here now) and what to get rid of. Let me tell ya that was a fun few days haha but with a view like below its tough to complain too much.
  4. Info Staff – Sounds simple… hahaha not so much, this is where daily random adventures begin. Yes it can be slow at times but more often than not the words “I need someone for a job” ring out from the shift leader and you get drafted in for an adventure. Usually, it involves moving people from one housing unit to another or checking some simple information or tracking down a resident, but other times the adventure is much greater. ¬†One of my favourites was the distribution of 120 bunkbeds into the big tents. Prior to this the guys were sleeping on the floor so you would expect that actual beds would be greeted with joy. Not so much though as many of these guys had built quite comfortable quarters for themselves and were not excited to destroy2017-02-15 14.38.58 their current accommodation to make room for the new. Add in some trust issues that the beds were actually coming and the short notice and boom EXCITEMENT haha. Once they saw the beds and we started bringing them in MORE EXCITEMENT as we can only bring in 10 at a time and theres always a bit of concern that not everyone will get one. And then once word has gotten out that the area has beds others who aren’t supposed to be in the tent have come in to try and lay claim to them creating a shortage. MORE EXCITEMENT. But like most things in Moria the excitement is short lived and the next day everything had returned to calm. These men live in a state of limbo so I understand completely why they get upset when things get shaken a bit as they are simply trying to hold on to any resemblance of a normal life.
So thats a brief look at my day to day. I’ll try and post again in the next few days as my processing of this experience continues. I head to Turkey on Wednesday which will allow me some recuperation time as well as an opportunity to dialogue with friends outside the situation which will undoubtedly provide new levels of revelation.
I also NEED to do a post specifically devoted to my Panagiouda Crew! My trip would not have been complete with out these guys they are truly kindred spirits to my adventurous heart and I have been so ABSOLUTELY blessed to have them in my life.
As this chapter closes I definitely do not want to leave though. I have gotten to see a change in Moria over the past few weeks and am proud for my tiny part in it. There is so much brokenness but as things are improving my hope is the men will see the hope ahead as well.
Please continue to pray for Moria, for the hearts of the men inside who fight hopelessness, for our world leaders to see refugees as an opportunity not a penance, for the workers in the field that energy would hold for the ones who are here and more would answer the call to this incredible experience.
Chat Soon
D

Greece – The first impressions

Hey, thanks so much for checking out my blog! 2017 has already been amazing for me, I spent a month in Greece and another month traveling my way back to Canada. I blogged my way through it but they were on my other site, in an effort to keep everything in one spot, I have moved all my posts here! Hope you enjoy!

Three days in!

Well friends and fam, I am three days into my Greek adventure and down with a chest cold/jet lag. I am by no means incapacitated but having a good number of staff today, my scheduler took pity on this poor soul and gave a day of rest. Hopefully, this bonus sleep will do my body good enough that I can hit the ground running again tomorrow. I am not a fan of running on low.
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How’s Camp? I have loved my first experiences here though at times they can be intense. You learn quick and EuroRelief is staffed by an incredible army of volunteers, many of them are young and fairly inexperienced but you would never guess it for a moment when you are on the ground. Countless times I have asked the question to the “veteran” staff, “how long have you been here?” only to be shocked with an¬†answer of “Oh about 2 weeks” WOW Seriously! Anyone who quips a negative about todays generation of young people needs to come check these kids out. Seriously, I am so incredibly impressed with how well they work. They are an organized well oiled machine. The majority of the volunteers are YWAMers on the outreach portion of their program being lead by a determined staff of EuroRelief long termers. It has been honouring as a new comer/outsider to see how they come together to accomplish the tasks they face.
My time so far has been spent working at a security gate which can be intense at times (I get upset when someone stands between me and my ability to go to bed too, so I get it) but it has also been super rewarding, as working the gate gives you the opportunity¬†to interact with pretty much every person who lives on that level. It has been a great reminder of our ability to set the spiritual atmosphere through internal prayer and external love poured out on these guys. The bible says “pray without ceasing” its in moments like these that you truly understand the benefits and importance of this discipline.
Through this I have also had the privilege to meet and seriously converse with a few of the refugees. Too often in North America we hear the word refugee and it conjures up images of war and terrorism and all of those connected fears, which is alarmingly sad as by definition these people are the complete opposite. They were made refugee by fleeing war/terror. They are just men/women/children caught in the middle of a war none of them supports and none of them want any part of. They have given up everything just for the opportunity of peace. And I can with all honesty say, you would never choose to live this life unless given no other option.
The issues faced in Syria and the rest of the middle east are so incredibly complicated, but I was able to find a video that helps describe what is happening give it a look and you will soon understand how unbelievably complex this situation is.
Till next time
David