Lifejacket Graveyard & Refugee Camp

To say that this has been an emotional trip would be an understatement. While I am loving my time here and know that these are the moments God has created me for, it is not easy. My days have been an emotional roller coaster and I think I can safely say it has been that way for most of our teams. On Friday all of our teams took a break from what we were doing (and a transition for our teams to switch over) and traveled to Lifejacket Graveyard. Lifejacket Graveyard is basically a dumping ground not far from where refugees first began arriving on boats to Lesvos.

Looking over Lifejacket Graveyard I was so overwhelmed that I wasn’t even able to cry (and those of you who know me, know that is pretty untypical). I cried later on the bus ride home as I processed everything. Every single Lifejacket represents an individual life of someone who was fleeing their country in order to find safety, stability, and (hopefully) a better life. It was a blunt reminder that we often lump groups of people together in our minds rather than remembering that each individual (POCs in this case), has a story and life that is being effected by what is going on around them. Even I struggle not to lump people into groups sometimes, and I was reminded time after time of the thousands of individuals whose lives where uprooted and completely turned upside down. 

In the original plans for our time in Greece, we were not going to be in any refugee camps, but working with POC families in outside locations. After spending time in the camp, I actually wish I had more time in here and I am so glad God changed our plans to allow us to work in the camp. Don’t get me wrong…it probably would have been way easier emotionally to not step foot in the camp and to not actually see the living conditions that these families are living in. But the reality is that I will never truly understand what it is like to be a POC. I probably won’t ever go through even a quarter of the trauma that a lot of the people I met are going through. However, working alongside of these families in the camp gave me a glimpse of what their lives are currently like and some of the visible hardships that they are dealing with. 

Because lets face it…their situation sucks. Even when people were hugging me or smiling at me, I sometimes had to hold back tears. The situation is so complicated it seems completely hopeless that there could be a good outcome. Camp Moria is only designed to hold 2,000 people and there are currently over 7,000…with more people arriving almost everyday. I met families where there were 5 or 6 them LIVING in a 5 person tent meant for a weekend camping trip. I sat inside a ‘home’ (an isobox-medal container, maybe 8feetx16feet) an held a 1 month old baby girl while her mother insisted on making us hot chocolate and we talked to the other people living in there. A total of 3 families each with a mother, father, 1 infant under 2 months, and one family had a two year old…So there were a total of 10 people, 4 of of them being under two living in a box with only blankets to separate into separate rooms!!

I’ll be honest it could be worse…everyone registered there recieves 3 meals a day and I originally thought that it would smell a whole lot worse. It turns out that there is an organization whose sole purpose is to take care of toilets and make sure the sewage is drained properly… But if the funding was pulled for the food and toilet companies things would go downhill quickly. And yes it could be worse, however….how would you feel to travel all that way to escape violence, bombings, or threats upon your life and then be stuck in a camp where you were living in a box with 9 other people? Or to have no choice who your neighbors were and to always need to be prepared to for fights both physical and verbal or have your things stolen? Or to have 3 or 4 children under 10 living in a tent in 100 degree weather? Or only have one diaper a day to clothe your infant in? Or to not be able to get a job or send your children to school even if you had the money? 

Most of you would probably be horrified at the idea…I know that I am. Yet there are thousands of people, who for them, that is their current reality. Despite their circumstances and despite that they have almost nothing…they are still eager to give what little that they have. I was blown away by the hospitality and love that we are shown. Even when we are there to tell them that they need to make space for 3 more people in box that already held twice as many as it should, they still invite us into sit with them. They aren’t happy (understandably) with a lot of the news that we bring them…yet they understood that it isn’t our faults and still invite us to have coffee, chai, hot chocolate, or dinner with them as they try to communicate in broken English. Each family that I encounter breaks  my heart a bit more. 

Working in the camp we have  opportunities to do different jobs, like handing out meals, handing out sleeping bags to just arriving families, setting up and tearing down tents, negotiating with families to relocate them, cleaning up trash, working in the warehouse, or taking census of who is living where. I enjoy having an actual job to do that I know needs to be done for things to go smoothly (as possible). But even more I am  moved by the faces I am growing to know, their individual stories that I am beginning to hear, and see a bit of the lives that they are facing. 

I wish that I had something really happy to share with you…but as I write this, tears poor down my face and I feel so broken for these people. However I cling to hope…the hope of Jesus. He reminds me that even though I am overwhelmed by the amount of people here that I will never know their names. He does know their names…and he knows each story and each need, and each hurt. He loves them in ways that I can’t even imagine and He will continue to use His other children to care and provide for them and speak into their lives. 

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7

Building Community

I look around at the families and the situations that many of the POCs (People of Concern-a term used for refugees and asylum seekers), and I see hearts that are longing for a sense of community and belonging. As human beings, this is something that we all crave (often subconsciously); Because this is how God has wired us, as His children. We are not meant to do life alone. For many of the POCs, their sense of belonging and of community is currently in shambles. I believe that originally the purpose of this trip was to provide an educational camp for these children and assess the educational needs, laying the groundwork for future programs. And while this purpose has not entirely changed, I believe that God has had some other things in mind for this trip, as well. 

Before I arrived, the group that was already here had a birthday party for all of the refugee children living in the building next to us (our neighborhood kids). These families had not had the opportunity to celebrate in community like they used too. They are now living in an area with others around them that could become a community; but they are living in devastation and trauma due to their past and current circumstances. One of mothers shared that us being here has reminded them to laugh and smile, it has reminded them how to play; We have helped them to forget their troubles and pain for a few minutes. My heart was truly touched, but also hurting when I heard this. The pain in their lives has currently made it impossible for them to work on building community (what is typically normal), but God has given us this opportunity to create times for them to do that. He is using us as the vehicle to create that. 

Hebrews 10:24-25 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-all the more as you see the day approaching”

Honestly, it is so hard for me to express my emotions and what is happening in my heart right now, so I am starting with the facts and hope that you can hear my heart behind it. I can already share with you that I know my heart will ache to leave these families and children behind. Almost every day we have had the opportunity to share a park program with them and get to know them better. At first, some of our team was struggling with not being able to do more educational activities, but as I toddler and pre-school teacher I am seeing so much value in what we are doing. Play and group activities can be so educational because we need to learn how to play, how to work with others, and how to relate in community as a foundation for further education. 

Each day we pick up some of the kids and their families and head to the park. Some families meet us there or come later. The second time that we did the park program, one family was already there…Early! Which is not typical in this culture. They ran up to us and the little girl clapped her hands and said “My friends, My friends! My friends are here!” It was enough to bring tears to my eyes. We play with jump ropes, balls, frisbees, and sometimes bubbles. It almost feels like a family get together or a block party as mothers, fathers, and even grandparents join us. Each day I am greeted with hugs and kisses and sincere thank yous from the mouths and eyes of the mothers and grandmothers. 

We have done different art projects like tracing our hands, making superhero masks, and paperplate fish. The kids also have loved singing songs with us. One things the kids have really enjoyed are our STEM projects that we’ve done like making balloon rockets, lighting up a lightbulb with lemons, and teaching them how to make play dough. Their eyes and their faces light up as we work on these projects; but not only the children’s eyes-also the parents. I’m pretty sure we made one of the dad’s entire days when he saw us working on th lemons; in his previous home he was actually an engineer and he was soo excited when he saw what we were doing with the kids. 

Telling the story of “The 10 Best Ways”

Each day we end with a snack and a story. Even the parents gather around to watch the story. Despite the fact that there is quite a large language barrier, the stories still catch their interest. I had the privilege to share the stories in our team each day. It has been SOO amazing to get to use my godly play storytelling experience (the same cirriculum our church happens to use back home!) to share with them the story of Abraham, the exodus, the ten best ways, and the parable of the great pearl.  

Our time at HOME looks much different, but is still a time of building community and giving families from Camp Moria the opportunity to rest and relax before returning home to the chaos of Moria. At HOME we sit outdoors under a porch at tables and set up centers. We typically had playdough, plasticity, coloring books, paper, legos, jump ropes, and sometimes did group singing or taught a game or two. Our original purpose was to be there for the children, but it turns out that adults need to play too 😉 Each day looked different as we had different groups and different amounts of adults and children. Sometimes we would be teaching English, numbers, letters, and colors, other times we would just be coloring with them, and other times we would be listening to stories. 

As many of you know, play can be so therapeutic; especially when working with different art mediums. I found our time at HOME to be a time where people came to rest and to process. Some drawings and colorings didn’t nessarily seem to have deep meaning, yet that isn’t to say they didn’t. I sat across from a 3 year old girl who spent a good 20-30 minutes drawing a picture full of little lines and dots in specific color and places on her paper. I watched her pause multiple times and look upwards to contemplate and then go back to drawing. I have no idea what her picture actually was of; and it hit me hard that maybe no one ever would-but she had drawn it very purposely and with thoughts and emotions behind it. Other drawings and colorings had very raw and open emotions behind them…there were moments that I had to walk away briefly because tears were pouring onto my cheeks. When they say a picture is worth a thousand words, I think they typically mean a photograph. But in this case their drawings were worth a thousand, if not a million. 

This blog has ended up being so much longer than I meant it to be….I know that reading about what is happening here is not the same as experiencing it; I am honestly very impressed if you made it to the end of this blog. But thank you for sticking it out. Maybe this blog was more written for me to process than anything, but maybe if you are still reading this I hope that you at least have a small glimpse into my heart for what is happening here, for God’s heart for these wonderful people, and for the amazing (even if they seem small) works that God is doing here. God really has called us into community and I am so humbled that I has allowed me to be a part of helping to cultivate community and healing in the hearts of the people that we are encountering. 

The view from HOME 

Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ”


Arrival in Greece


I am now coming into my fourth full day here in Lesvos, Greece (I arrived the afternoon of Friday the 13th). We did get some time to rest, but on Saturday we hit the ground running and have not really slowed down. We had orientation, planning, and prayer time on Saturday. And I had an exciting opportunity to go with Liz and some of the leaders to the Lesvos YWAM base! The YWAM base is actually a ship here at the port and people working with YWAM live on the ship. It was so neat to hear and see what they have been doing here in their work with the refugees. 

The YWAM ship here in Lesvos. 

On Sunday we had orientation with a group we are partnering with. They are already established and have been working with the refugees here for the last few years. This training was extremely helpful, but also heavy because we received a lot of information about the refugee situation and how Lesvos has become such a big area for refugees. The situation is very political and very complicated with so many different facets. It hit me how hopeless and dark this situation seems. From the outside looking in there looks like the situation has no hope of getting better. But I was reminded….that God does not ask us to go to places where we can just fix the situation. God asks us to go feed and clothe the hungry, and to share Jesus with others whether or not the situation will change. And God is the ultimate hope and can bring about His will through any situation. 

I had mentioned in my newsletter that this trip was going to be a very flexible trip. A lot of that is because TeachBeyond Borders is a brand new program that is just launching; they are just beginning to form partnerships and bring on full time staff. A few months ago the Borders program began to form partnerships and plans were formed for what this trip would look like. There were different teams coming into working over the summer; a leadership team coming in a few weeks early to stay over a month or so, a groundwork team right before us to get set up, a group of women from Canada to teach a Women’s English camp, a group to do Kids Camp and childcare for the English camps, and a videography crew.  

The place where we are living. I room with 3 other girls.

But then only a few weeks ago, the original partnership fell through. And all the plans for what TeachBeyond Borders would be forming into and what the teams would be doing while they were here seemed to be falling apart. But as we already know, God’s ways are not our ways. And when the Lord wants something He puts it together in His timing. What He creates is so much better than what we can imagine creating on our own. Over the last  few weeks Liz and the team that were already here, brainstormed and met with people in the community. During that time, God has begun to lay the groundwork for amazing partnerships and the future of TeachBeyond borders in Lesvos. 

So much that has been happening here on the ground, has been about building community and making connections. The English team has been able to hold their evening English classes at a building with a partnering organization. And the Kids teams have had a variety of projects that we are working on. We have been split into 2 teams and each team has things that they are doing that they will switch off for next week.

This week team 1 is working at Camp Moria. Camp Moria is a refugee camp here on the island and different organizations work inside the camp doing a variety of things like handing out water and diapers, setting up tents, or working in the warehouse to sort goods. Our teams are working under another organization that Borders may be working with in the future. And are getting to know the camp and families who are living there. 

I am a part of Team 2 and we are currently working on two main things. For part of the day we are working with neighborhood families at the local park. We do a variety of activities, get to know the families, and end with a story. For the other half of the day we partner with an organization called HOME. HOME is an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) that brings refugee families to their property by the water for a few hours to get away from the camp and have a nice meal. 

I am very limited on the photos that I am able to take so will be posting more scenery pictures than anything. Lesvos is so beautiful and anytime I am near the water I feel at peace and closer to God. It is a blessing to be able to see the beauty that God is created after the mental, emotional, and spiritual heaviness that I feel about the situation. There is so much hurt and brokenness here. But in the midst of that I am hopeful. Because it is in the brokenness where we often see Jesus the most. And I take comfort in knowing that as much as I hurt to see what people have been going through, Jesus hurts for them so much more. I know I am here, where I am called and Jesus is also here. 

Speaking to Crosswalk Youth

E505011B-F9BA-4B15-B097-82A5AE18E87AA few people thought Phil and I were crazy for going right into speaking for a group of teenagers right after our marriage (don’t worry…we did take a mini moon to Cape May). But honestly I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. We had an absolutely amazing time and know that it was exactly where God wanted us. It seemed perfect too, since where we spoke is also where Phil and I met. 

Quick recap (incase you don’t know Our Story): Phil’s family is from Illinois, but has been coming out to Sandy Cove Retreat Center in Maryland for the last 8 or so years now. His dad is the family life coach at the first week of family camp and last year they asked Phil to speak for the Crosswalk group (junior and senior high). He spoke on ‘Making your faith your own’ and it must have gone pretty well, since he was asked back to speak again this year. And this year we got to speak as a team.

We were so excited to have this opportunity, especially as God had put the topic on our hearts before we even knew we would be speaking for Crosswalk. We wanted to continue on where Phil had left off last year- After making the decision to make your faith your own and get serious about it, what is next? God led us to talking about calling and what is means to have a ‘Globally Mission-minded Worldview’ (I will talk about our topic more in a different blog…so stay tuned!).

For awhile now I have had the desire to work with teens, but honestly had not had much of an opportunity in the past. When I did a summer internship with Urban Hope and got to work with incoming youth groups there on mission trips I a bsolutely loved it and ever since I’ve desired to work more with teenagers. But I was also nervous because I mostly have worked with younger kids and  also have never spoken like this before so had no idea where it would go. 

Luckily, Phil is a natural and already really good at connecting with teens and working with teenagers and so I just followed his lead. And wow! Was I glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone. We had the opportunity to speak about topics that are very dear to my heart, get deeper in small groups, and just to listen and get to know the teenagers that we were working with. When I was in high school I went through some of the hardest situations in my life (up until this point) and I really struggled with my faith. I do not know what I would have done witho ut the people that spoke into my life, encouraged me, and just listened.

I think for adults it’s sometimes easy to forget what it was like to be a teen. And it is a little different for each generation, but regardless the teenage years of some of the most pivotal in your entire life. You are discovering who you are for yourself, what you believe, and where your part in the world is. I definitely think teenagers aren’t given enough credit for what they have gone through, what they are learning, and what they are becoming. All of the teens we worked with were so wonderful and we discovered that even the ones we thought werent listening walked away telling other people (like parents, or leaders) who in turn told us things they heard and were processing. 

I continue to pray for everyone we worked with, the seeds that were planted, and the dreams and callings that are developing. Phil and I seriously cannot wait to have more opportunities to speak with teens and encourage them in their growth and faith and are currently praying about more ways to have ongoing involvement with them.