For a vivid account of the refugee crisis, look no further than Kate Kleinsasser. She and her husband, Eric, are two dynamic Christians serving with i58 Greece on the island of Lesvos.
(Condensed from an interview on December 13th, 2017. To read Part 1, click here.)
What does i58 ministry look like?
Two years ago, I and a few friends of mine flew over to help for 6 weeks and we were working in the north part of the island. Emmanuel Esh, (current director of i58) came to Greece during that time, and we ended up scouting out opportunities in Moria
Moria, since it was a prison camp, was guarded by police. We were technically not supposed to work inside. But outside the camp, there was a whole olive grove full of tents and some random volunteers who had set up a food station, a tea station, different clothing distribution points. So we started volunteering out there and we realized that the volunteer base was extremely low – there was very little commitment.
We started by chopping veggies for the soup of a big Spanish cook. He would yell at the top of his lungs in Spanish at us. And so we would just chop the veggies and hope we were doing it right. If we weren’t, he yelled.
At that point, there were still thousands coming into Moria, sometimes thousands per day. There was a lot of fighting. The opportunity was way bigger than the amount of manpower that we had. A few of us got our heads together (Eric came from Thailand), and we realized that God wanted to do a lot more than just having a few of us there. We contacted our connections in the States, formed a board, and started sending in teams.
Over that time, I took soup into the inside camp because they ran out of food. I realized the bathrooms were just awful. That was our first step into Moria: we offered to clean the bathrooms. Some of the young people that came in the next couple weeks – that’s almost all they did. We would smash the end of a metal broom handle to chip away at the human waste that was just caked on the toilet. We used pressure washers and lots of bleach and lots of gloves. One young man put the pressure washer hose right into the toilet, thinking that he could blast it – and it just showered him with human waste!
We were kicked out March 20th when the camp turned into a detention facility, and the police took over. But in the next couple of days, we prayed and prayed and God opened the door again. The police let us in to take care of the people – just giving milk to babies, and getting people calmed down. The refugees were beside themselves because they were locked in behind a gate without knowing why.
Moria is known, by the way, as a living “hell on earth.” Newspaper articles recount stories of tear gas and babies being thrown over the fences. Basically, the refugees were sleeping on floors caked with human waste and it was a nightmare. Many of the refugees would opt to sleep outside the dorms rather than inside because of how bad they were.
At this point, we work in the new arrivals tent where we meet people initially and care for them. From there, volunteers house them – which means trying to find space in a camp that’s completely smashed full. So it’s a very difficult job.
Then there’s Section C, where all the single women and the vulnerable cases sleep. I work primarily stateside with that side of the ministry, recruiting and sending training materials to the girls that will go to work with traumatized women in Section C.
And then there’s also the minors section – we have a few young men that work strictly with the minors. There are kids as young as seven years old traveling alone. Most of the young men are from Afghanistan and it’s unclear whether or not they’re being trafficked for sexual exploitation or simply for labor trafficking. Some of them, for sure, are being sent by their families to send money from Europe back to their countries.
Outside the camp, we run the Oasis hospitality house. During the day, it’s simply a quiet, relaxed base for people to get outside of their environment. Sunday morning, there’s a church service. A lot of conversations and Bible studies happen. There’s around three Bible studies that run every week in French, Arabic, and Farsi, and any of the refugees are welcome to attend those.
I wondered how that language barrier worked…
We tend to think of refugees as these long lines of poor people who are getting handouts. Something that really rocked my world when I got there – many of them have come from lifestyles that are way more well-to-do than mine in the States. They have money (they need money to be able to do the smugglers’ route). A lot of them are rich people and, because of that, have done English classes. The majority of them don’t speak English, but there are quite a few young men especially and some of the young girls too. So the language barrier is a problem, but there’s usually a translator around that speaks a little English.
Obviously, Lesvos is a unique place to share the Gospel. What exactly are the opportunities?
These people are coming from war-torn countries where many are exploited in various ways. So they come to Europe and think they’ve reached Paradise. The fact is, they’ve reached another whole world of trauma. So when there’s gentleness and grace meeting them – even in the presence of one person – the impact is tremendous. We like to just think of practicing the ministry of presence to them, because sometimes we don’t even have practical necessities to give them. They often ask questions: “Why are you here? Why are you volunteering? Why are you not being paid for what you do?” and we’re able to share the Gospel with them.
Hundreds have come to Jesus in the last couple of years. People from extremely dark places of the world have come and felt the beautiful freedom of Jesus. Also, we’ve seen His work in the trafficked women. They’re hungry for the Gospel, hungry for freedom, and of course love, love, love – the way Jesus treats women. And that’s also been an incredible opportunity.
What are some of the challenges i58 has had with the situation as it is – people coming in and moving out again?
One of the larger challenges is simply numbers. When you have new arrivals every day and the camp is cold and it’s raining and you have only a small pop-up tent to give them and there’s no pallet to put under it and somebody’s screaming in your face and he’s a father just trying to protect his children – having to do that day in and day out can bring a perpetual helplessness. Everyone needs something and often you just can’t give what they want. So it’s not necessarily like you have this great feeling of going into chaos and giving out handouts and, you know, saving the world. You walk in and out of camp and you go through the motions, but you can lose the vibrancy of ministering to people through the Holy Spirit. That’s one of the challenges that i58 members need daily prayer for.
Also, there’s an increasing amount of trafficked women coming. Traffickers in Turkey and around the world are seeing their opportunity to get girls in (prostitution is legalized in many countries of Europe). They station some of their people inside camp, outside camp, in Athens – it’s a very organized crime. Our challenge is to know exactly what we can do and what we can’t do. We’ve focused on victim identification, then referring them to an anti-trafficking organization. But finding our way through that has been a tremendous challenge.
In our final segment, Kate tells the story of one trafficked woman in particular and paints a vision for a long-term solution. To read part three, click here.
For more information, go to www.i58greece.org
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