Harvesting Hope in a Refugee Camp

By Curt Miller

On September 20, Camp Moria was partially destroyed by fire. The fire was likely started after a day of peaceful protests escalated into ethnic rioting. College Church ministry partners and other relief workers are working hard on clean up and resettlement of the refugees. Curt Miller, interim missions pastor, reflects on his firsthand experience at the camp this summer.

Hopelessness flows like a river through that camp. After 25 days, refugees can exit the camp, but where would they go? Who would accept and welcome them? Considering the difficulty of camp life, riots are not surprising, but the burning of about a third of the camp deeply saddens me.  

I remember the morning of July 4, when the STAMP Greece team walked through the tall, barbed wire crested fences of Camp Moria on the Island of Lesbos. Now a detention center, this former prison center has one dominate color--grey, a stark contrast with the rolling hills filled with green olive trees. Cement off-white temporary housing covered the camp’s hilly landscape, with only a few colorful three- to five-person tents speckling the hillside. We thought little of independence that day.

Despite the heroic efforts of NGO volunteers to find housing for these asylum seekers, there was no such thing as “appropriate housing.” Some of our teammates helped new friends scrounge around for cardboard to soften their narrow beds on the small jagged rocks. Others patched tents or gave out tea. Some visited friends in their “homes” to see if they needed a second or perhaps third pair of clothes, even though the clothes were never a good fit.

And it was hot. I grew up under a South Carolina sun that could melt you like butter in a frying pan. It was hot like that. And dusty.

Things get worse--imagine all of your choices eliminated. You get a purple shirt. You get warm milk. You take a shower there. I looked into the faces of a woman and a young child and thought, “This could have been my wife. This could have been my child. What if I was here and could provide absolutely nothing for my family.” Humiliating.

From some news reports you might think that refugees are only from one country (there were refugees from more than twenty countries) and only spoke one language (there were many languages spoken) and had only one intent—to do harm. Not all of the refugees were angels, but the majority were incredibly peaceful, kind and hospitable.

I was shocked to learn that many of these folks were professionals. Attorneys, doctors, journalists. One friend was a medical student who fled to avoid being recruited by enemy forces. But the narrative of these individuals didn’t shock me nearly as much as one other condition: the power of God through the gospel.

Now, I’m a pastor. As the interim missions pastor at a church with over two hundred individuals on the field (100+ units), I get to hear moving stories every single day. I talk with couples about miscarriages and faithful individuals about singleness. I witness people moving from depression to joy. We talk about the gospel. I hear good news every weekend.

But in Camp Moria, I saw it. I saw the power of God at work in the lives of individuals who professed belief in the gospel. The testimony of some new friends was like watching the long arm of God reach down deep into a bottomless pit of filth, grab the bent, broken and tainted lives, resurrect them through the cleansing power and righteousness of Christ, and then set them down into a valley where all they had was their Shepherd.  

One hot afternoon I sat beside a new friend on a cot, listening to his story. At some point he said to me, “I became like a new baby.” With a slight grin, he asked, “Do you know what I am trying to say?” I affirmed that I did, and asked how that happened. He told me his journey to faith in a camp like this one. He confessed, “Even though it is difficult, I know God has sent me here for a reason.” Another friend said, “God will take care of me. I am not afraid of what they can do to me.” When I asked what he needed, he replied without hesitation, “What we need most is someone to listen.”

Then it hit me again. The good news has become a steady hand to hold my friends during times of trouble. They ran from violence and persecution. They fled for lack of security. They have been stripped of dignity. But then, God did an amazing thing. He made the gospel become real. He became their refuge. They sought citizenship and safety and he gave it to them in Jesus Christ.

And God has also done one other thing; He has entrusted these beleaguered believers to the global church.

God is doing an amazing thing among our asylum seeking friends in these refugee camps. They may be stateless or internally displaced, but one thing is sure for our brothers and sisters in Christ—they share the same citizenship that we have in heaven. We all are citizens for that eternal country that will never pass away.

Followers of Jesus Christ ought to be astounded at the power of God working through the gospel in this global crisis. This moment in time is an opportunity for us to pray for and to listen to the stories of our suffering brothers and sisters. This moment is an opportunity for many to rise up in order to joyfully go down into the pit to share the good news to those who need to know that true independence, true freedom and true refuge are found in Jesus Christ alone.