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Below are my video updates from my work in the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos Island, Greece.
It’s 90 degrees and still morning as we plug in the coordinates for the Malakasa Refugee Camp and start our drive north of Athens, Greece. I’m not sure what to expect. Billy has been serving for the past 10 days in the Moria camp on Lesbos island and his stories are discouraging and traumatic. I hear that the Malakasa camp has many more children than the Moria camp, many of them unaccompanied minors. I’m trying to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for this day of fact-finding, but I’m also asking God to break my heart for what breaks His and to give me eyes to see what it is that He is bringing me here to see. I don’t believe that anything happens by chance, and I believe that our invitation to come and see Malakasa is for a purpose.
We arrive in the tiny town of Malakasa, Greece – a sleepy little haven with a couple of outdoor cafes and a small corner market store. But where is this sprawling refugee camp? We drive in ever increasing circles until we finally decide to stop and attempt to ask for directions at the store. Sarah and I stay in the car and watch as Billy approaches the two women in the store. After a very animated conversation that included lots of laughing and waving of arms and even a pantomime that consisted of running part way up the street as though the woman was a car and showing the way, Billy returned to the car laughing hysterically and positive that he now had proper directions. The women only spoke Greek and her daughter spoke ‘a little English’ (which totaled up to two words – “sorry” and “yes”).
It turns out that pantomime directions with Greek laughter is a better map than our GPS system, and much more friendly and entertaining to boot!
The Malakasa refugee camp is housed on an old Greek military base, surrounded by high fences and razor wire, gates and guard houses and posted soldiers. There are signs that prohibit the use of cameras on military property. We are met at the gate by two REMAR directors who give us our official vests and usher us in. After a small confrontation with military guards regarding food supplies and a tank of propane that REMAR is trying to deliver to the camp, we are forced to leave the supplies and propane outside the gates and proceed on foot until other officials can come and straighten out the supply issues.
I don’t think we walked 20 feet before the first man approached us, a young adult male from Afghanistan. He was all smiles, stuck out his hand for a handshake, and said, “Hello, My Friends! Good to see you today.” Okay… I can’t lie… THAT was NOT what I expected! This guy was happy, he was friendly, and he spoke perfect English with almost zero accent. This scene was repeated over and over again as people smiled and greeted us while we walked through the camp.
The camp itself is bleak. Rows and rows and rows of tents sitting in the scorching sun, no breeze, little to no shade, and every dumpster is filled to overflowing with the remains of meal containers and other trash. What little shade that exists is completely occupied by women, fully dressed in headscarves and full covering dresses and sitting on blankets in the dirt, trying to take advantage of the small amount of protection the trees offered from the heat. But they appear content, doing what small groups of people do when together… talking, laughing, some are playing cards. Children run around playing with anything they can and inventing games on the fly.
We are ushered past rows and rows of tents, occupied by 6-10 people in each. There are more than 1600 people housed here right now. Then we pass the kitchen area, where the military is providing meals. At each camp there is a different set up. In Moria, Billy and the crew with REMAR were providing meals and helping to feed the refugee population (3500 people in the Moria camp). In this camp, the military is responsible for the feeding and REMAR is providing other services – snacks of crackers and cookies, hot tea, a community room, and a large tent space for providing children’s services. We enter in to the community room that REMAR is running and it is full of people sitting at picnic-style tables, taking advantage of another place out of the heat. There are electrical outlets on the walls and many are taking advantage of this for charging cell phones and trying to keep in touch with relatives who are still in transit as refugees.
That is when I see her. She is captivating. Her face draws me in. Her eyes are so deep and her smile so kind, her face is enchanting. “Hello!” she says to me. “Come and sit.” She slides over on the bench and pats the seat next to her.
For the next hour, I sit with this fascinating young girl and I am forever changed.
Hosai is 14 years old, the oldest child in her family. She wants me to know that her name means “deer” in her language. She is from Afghanistan. I also meet her younger sister, Sidiqa. Sidiqa is 8, but she wishes to be 9, and she keeps telling me that she will soon be 9, so I should just think of her as 9. I smile and say that she looks like a 9 year old to me, and she shakes her head and smiles. They then tell me a very animated story about the youngest brother (6 years old) and how he is wearing a cast on his whole arm because he fell and broke it in 3 places. They are very excited that the doctor says that the cast will be removed in one more week and he will be well again.
I ask about the rest of the family, and Hosai tells me that there are 4 children total (she is the oldest) and their father. She then looks out the door in to the distance and says that her mother ‘is no more’, she died on the journey. So Hosai is now the ‘mother’ for her brothers and sister. They have been traveling for 7 months – 5 months of walking and escape to this point, and two months so far in the refugee camp. They left Afghanistan in January. “I miss the snow. My part of Afghanistan is beautiful, and cooler than here. This is so hot! It can be hot there too, but not like here!”
“What is your favorite thing to do in camp?” I ask.
“There is no favorite thing in camp. It is the same every day. Nothing. Nothing to do. In Afghanistan, I had a lot to do. Too much! (she laughs) Every day was different. It wasn’t a good life, but every day was different. All we do here is get up, eat, sit around, eat, sit around, eat… the same every day. I want to study and to read. I miss my books. I love to study!”
“What do you love to study?”
“Math! Math is my favorite subject. Oh, I wish for a math book, or a class, or a teacher to sit with me! I wish to study again.”
My teacher heart is melting and breaking all at the same time. I want to cry, but I hold it for later. I have already had this conversation with the REMAR directors. They say that one of their biggest issues right now is fighting boredom for the people, especially the women and children. The women would like something to do, hand work or workshops or something to learn. And the children want to study. They have the right to go to school and study, but there is no school close to the camp, no transportation, and no way to provide the school supplies and books that they need. So they cannot go. The volunteers with REMAR are trying to do crafts and play games with the children, but they have limited resources and limited man-power. This is one of the areas that they need help with and are asking us to try to help provide via volunteers and supplies.
Hosai tells me, for the millionth time, that my daughter is so beautiful. She is captivated by her hair. She says so to Sarah and Sarah giggles and says, ‘no, your hair is much more beautiful than mine’, to which they have a discussion regarding hair. I am struck by the fact that my 7th grade daughter who is USA born and Latina/Española raised is sitting here talking about hair with a young girl from Afghanistan. How different and how similar they are! Completely different cultures and backgrounds, yet both immigrants trying to find their place in a different world from their parent’s. And here they sit, being fully and completely girly, discussing hair.
The entire time we are talking, another young woman has been sitting across from us, watching. Her name is Ameneh, 22 years old, and she is holding her baby boy, Ali Azgar. She speaks no English. I have asked her a few questions, and Hosai has been translating for us. Ameneh has been in transit for 10 months. She traveled for 6 months from Afghanistan, mostly walking. She spent 2 months in a refugee camp on the coast before being transferred here to Malakasa 2 months ago. She doesn’t offer any extra information and does not seem eager to carry on conversation. Her face is hauntingly sad and I can’t help but feel that she is surrounded by people, yet she seems completely alone and tiny in this sea of wanderers. Desperately alone.
Another boy has come over to listen in on several occasions, to interject in to the conversation, and to try out his English. He is 13 years old and is carrying the most precious little fairy of a baby girl, his one year old sister, Aisha. He is bubbly and happy and has near-perfect English. He tells me that his favorite thing at camp is the children’s tent. “It is the happy place. It is my favorite place when it is open. Singing and playing and happiness, making drawings, the nice people – it is the best place in camp!” We go over to see the children’s tent, which is closed now and two volunteers are sweeping and picking up stools and papers.
REMAR’s volunteers are almost all Spanish-speakers, with a few Northern Europeans thrown in. Almost all speak English as a second language. Today, the children’s tent is being manned by a Swiss guy and a twenty-year old girl from Argentina. The guy has been here for 2 weeks and will continue to serve for two more. He is trying to decide whether or not to stay in Malakasa or go to Moria for a bit, so he and Billy chat about options and perspective. The Argentine is a bubbly young nurse who has a heart for service and missions. She is constantly surrounded by children. This camp has many unaccompanied minors – children whose parents have died in transit, or parents only had enough money to get one or two people in the family across a border, or children who were literally thrown on to boats or buses or across borders to strangers in the hopes that they could find freedom when the parents could not. These children now have no one but each other and the kindness of strangers and volunteers, so ‘Lucy’ becomes a big sister-figure or a surrogate mom to many. “These kids sit close to me, so close. They can’t get close enough. They just want me to touch them, to caress their arms or their heads.”
There is another presence in the room, always watching, always reaching for someone or trying to engage someone in conversation. It is Mohammed Farhad, a 22 year old in a wheelchair due to some form of cerebral palsy. He does speak English, although difficult to understand. And he has been learning Spanish from the REMAR volunteers. He has a fond place in his heart for Spain and has a Spanish flag attached to his wheelchair with many signatures on it. When he hears that we are from Spain, he shouts “Viva España!” and dissolves in to laughter.
Mohammed did not always have this wheelchair. The wheelchair was a gift from REMAR. His father carried him here on his back from Afghanistan. We met his father, who is not a big man – he is about my height (5’2”) and probably in his late 40s or early 50s. To think of this man physically carrying his son from Afghanistan. I’m instantly in awe of his dedication and love.
Mohammed keeps calling me his sister. He keeps saying that I am a sister to him. I agree to be his sister and his friend. He sits next to me in his wheelchair and holds my hand while Hosai and I continue to talk.
Soon, lunch time rolls around. Refugees leave the common room to go to the dining room to pick up meals and eat with their families and have an afternoon rest time. REMAR volunteers stay in the common room and sweep and clean up and prepare the room for our lunch. A group in the kitchen has prepared spaghetti and salad and juice for us, and the volunteers all sit together, family style. It is a table full of nationalities – Spaniards, Italians, Swiss, Germans, and a few Afghan and Iraqi refugees who volunteer to help REMAR in camp every day. It is a beautiful mix at the table, a family, and I think that this is what the Kingdom of God is supposed to look like. Mohammed has stayed behind when the others left for their families to have lunch, and no one even bats an eyelash, they just wheel him up to the end of the table and he sits with the volunteer family. Billy is asked to pray for the lunch and the group, and he prays over this mix of people and religions and traditions like it’s just any other day.
Mohammed is seated at the end, between Billy on one side and Sarah on the other. A few minutes in to lunch, Billy realizes that Mohammed needs help and offers to help him, to which ‘Lucy’ the Argentine assumes her mother role and scoots Sarah to the side so she can switch places. Effortlessly, like someone who has done this her whole life, she feeds spaghetti to both herself and Mohammed while she carries on a deep conversation with me about places she has served and her call to missions on her life. Her heart and actions speak so much louder than her words and I am convinced that she has a calling. She is destined for great things in the Kingdom!
After more conversations with REMAR directors, more fact-finding, more investigation of needs assessment and the future of this situation, we leave the camp that afternoon with a better understanding and a clearer vision for how our community and the Church in Europe and the world can rise to the occasion and help. We will return soon, with volunteers and help and supplies, and we now better understand how to pray.
As we are leaving, we are blessed with Peace (Salaam) by many, and we are asked when we might return. Hosai sees us just before we leave the military base gate and she comes over to wish us well and say goodbye. She is visibly sad that we are not staying, as are we. We exchange a hug that lasts a little too long for me to be able to contain my tears anymore and I have to smile and turn away before I lose it.
What lies ahead for Hosai? Will she be here when I return? I hope so, and I hope not.
One of the ways we minister in Spain is serving in youth ministry. One role that we did not anticipate when we came to Spain was that of Youth Ministry. One afternoon, while sitting in the garden at the church with the pastor, he approached us with the request of leading the youth Sunday school class for a short period… 3 months. He needed to give the current teacher a break (the teacher had been in the role for several years with no break) and asked us to step in for a bit. I’ll be honest—my initial gut response was fear and trembling. The idea of teaching teens was a bit equivalent to Daniel in the lion’s den… I just kept thinking about how they would eat me alive! But the poor pastor was a little desperate for a sub for those 3 months and we have a hard time saying no or letting others down (basically, we were sitting ducks and he knew it), so we decided that we could do anything for just 3 months. There was an endpoint and we would have an ‘out’, so we said okay.
Well, here we are, 2+ years later… still teaching the youth class and now serving on the youth leadership team… and loving every minute of it!!! The previous teacher did not want his job back, and by that time, we were smitten with these awesome kids! So, we stayed in the position.
Youth Sunday school mostly looks like a group inductive bible study / disciple group. These kids are smart and driven and eager to learn! They are willing to wrestle with Scripture and with ideas and with each other’s opinions. They go deep… often deeper than we expect. They are growing every week. They are amazing! This past Sunday, we started a discipleship study series with them (Life Transformation Studies). During the first session, they made connections and new discoveries like never before. One student shouted out, “Wait! Stop! I can’t handle this. My head is exploding!” Another said, “I’ve learned more today from the bible than I have ever learned in all my years of Religion class! (Religion classes are mandatory in school here.) I always feel like I don’t know how to respond or argue my point in class. I can’t wait till the next time I get to say something! This is amazing! This stuff about Jesus and God and then Adam and humanity… What?! This is awesome!” Then, to top it all off, an adult came to us after class and asked if we would please personally help them to study the bible like that.
Mind blown!!! Guess youth ministry might have been a good thing after all.
We also serve on a youth leadership team with other CCWs Axel and Delilah (Puerto Ricans), and with a college student (Ana –Spaniard) who is passionate about youth ministry. Axel and Delilah lead ‘youth group’ while we are responsible for youth Sunday school. Axel and Delilah are in their 30s and are younger and more gifted than us in many ways!!! Ana keeps us all straight, giving us the Spanish perspective and making sure we are culturally appropriate, as well as giving us the youthful insight of a twenty year old! She is ‘youth leadership in training’, an intern of sorts...an indespensable part of the team. Priceless. A real gem!
Our youth are diverse, to say the least!!! We have many Third-Culture Kids (TCKs). These kids come from Brazil and Nicaragua, Spain and Argentina and the USA. One has a parent from Ukrania, another has a parent from Canada. Three of them are missionary kids who consider themselves to be from several places and not defined by any one place… including Sarah from Texas / Costa Rica / Peru / Spain, another who has lived in Argentina / Peru / USA / Spain, and another who has lived in Mauritania / USA / Canada / Spain. So, to say that these kids make up an incredible mix of cultures and worldviews is an understatement!
This month, the team hosted an overnight youth retreat. The kids were so excited and we had great plans for teambuilding/community building games, debriefs, bible studies, and creativity activities. A crazy weather pattern caused us to scramble for Plan B on several outdoor activities and re-arrange a few things for indoors, but the rains did let up long enough for a midnight campfire and marshmallow roasting.
To say that the retreat was a success would also be an understatement. It far surpassed our expectations! The kids were fantastic! They dug deep when it was time to debrief the community building games. They mined Truth from the bible study times that we never expected them to reach. They self-instigated times of prayer for each other. They played hard, studied hard, and loved deeply.
Because these kids are so diverse and come from a variety of backgrounds, and because many of them are TCKs, they relate to each other in very special ways. During one session in particular, several opened up about how much they missed family members in other parts of the world and about issues in school, at home, and about being in a different culture / language. Impromptu prayers for each other broke out and tears flowed. Youth hugged each other and talked about how much they understood each other and how much they, too, miss their family members or struggle with home issues or school things. It was really beautiful and special. (Okay… I was a little choked up, too!) I think that Billy and I, and Axel and Delilah are in this role for exactly this reason… we ‘get it’. We get what it’s like to leave home, to be immigrants, to leave family behind and to grieve that loss. We understand what it is like to be working and studying in a new culture, a different language, and a completely different set of norms and values. We understand families that are under special pressures as immigrants. It’s hard. It takes work. It is stressful. And we can relate.
The theme of the retreat was No estas sol@ (You are not alone). The kids latched on to it and are now using it in everything they do. We are a family - a new kind of family, a community, a team. It’s fun to hear them remind each other, “No estas solo!”
We’re moving forward with these youth. We continue with Sunday school and bible study time. We will be having a youth event on May 27th with some out-of-town youth ministry folks coming in. There is a region-wide youth event on May 28th in Malaga that many of the youth will also be attending. In June, we will have a youth pool party, as well as we will be having Youth Sunday in our church (pray for this!). A handful of students have bubbled up to the top and want to go deeper and begin some leadership training and mentoring. It’s a lot of fun to watch these kids rise up and get excited and motivated to move forward!
We recently have hosted several weeks of guests from out of country, which always reminds me how different my life is. I forget that it is different. I’m just used to it now. I forget about the things that I don’t have here, or the things that we do differently, or the ways that we do things. They are just ‘normal’ to me now, but I’m always reminded of how different they really are when we have USA guests. So, I thought I would share a few:
We don’t have an oven. That’s right. We don’t have an oven. We have a table-top toaster oven thing that sits on the counter in the corner. It’s big enough to put a 12” pizza in, or a 9x13 pan, barely. It’s kind of a glorified Easy Bake Oven. I think Barbie might have had one in her Barbie townhome (I just showed my age). It’s unpredictable and cranky. Sometimes a cake takes 1 hour to bake, and sometimes it is burned within 20 minutes. Cooking in it is something like babysitting a toddler… don’t leave it alone for a second!
In reference to the above issue… anyone remember the fact that we hosted overnight guests in our home 156 nights last year? Anyone remember that I bake at least two or three cakes or sweet breads a week for bible studies and disciple meetings? Yep… yippie for the Incredible Tiny Wonder Oven!
We don’t have a dryer. Nope. No dryer. We have clotheslines. That makes us dependent upon God and The Weather Channel and the Sahara winds for dry clothes. My own personal nightmare is a week of rain when I have a houseful of guests with sheets and towels and dirty clothes.
We do have a washing machine. It is in the kitchen by the sink. I don’t know why that is always a funny thing to everyone who comes to visit, but it is. Where a dishwasher would be in the States, we have a washing machine. It takes at least 30 minutes to do a load, and that’s the super quicky mode for clothes that haven’t actually seen dirt in their entire lives. A real load takes 59 minutes, minimum. (Why 59 minutes? I don’t know. I would have rounded up that number, if I were a washing machine engineer.)
Foods that don’t exist – at least not unless you make them from scratch: We do not have all the canned goods available to us that are in the USA. That means no cream of mushroom soup and about a gazillion other things. We don’t have a lot of processed foods or pre-mixed foods. Now, this is actually a good thing, because it means that we have little access to a lot of processed stuff and things that are not so healthy. But, it also means that all of those recipes from Mom or grandmothers that call for a can of mushroom soup… those don’t happen without a little thought and preparation. So, thank goodness for the Internet and Pinterest!!! I can usually find out how to make things from scratch without too much trouble.
Air conditioning / heat… debatable as to whether we have it or not. Yes, there is a small air unit in our living room (like those in a motel room under the window). However, it does not work near as good as those hotel ones! And there is only the one, for the whole house. It won’t even cool off the living room, much less the kitchen and bedrooms! And, electricity is really expensive, so it costs a lot to run an air unit that isn’t really doing much. Luckily, we have high ceilings and big windows and we live in the country where we can almost always catch a breeze. But, July and August and September are brutal. Over 100F every day with no air conditioning. Do you know why Spain is big on the siesta??? Because it’s too dang hot to do anything else at mid-day! You just lie real still in front of a window and pray for a slight breeze. Last year, we had some USA visitors in July. I think they thought that they might die of heat stroke. Then they went on to find out that MOST of EUROPE does not have air conditioning. (Right now, go kiss your thermostat in your central air / heat home and give God a little shout out thank you that you live in a place of luxury!!! ‘Cuz the rest of the world is NOT living life at a perfect temperature!)
Heat is almost the same story. We have a cast iron wood burning fireplace in the corner of the main room. That's the heat for the house, unless you count the little brasero heater that goes under the table to heat frozen toes. In the winter, we get down to freezing every night, with frost or ice every morning. The fireplace burns pretty much non-stop in the winter months, except at night. At night, we dress in our finest polar fleece lingerie and curl up under three layers of blankets and down comforters. We never have visitors in the winter! (Again… never take your heater for granted! Send your HVAC man a card of gratitude TODAY!!!)
Other things we don’t have… closets, a bathtub, a dishwasher, coconut oil, sloppy joes, cool whip, cute little craft supplies, awesome office supply stores, lovely bookstores with coffee shops and real live books, fast food, etc. I can’t lie… some of those things are just luxury items to me now. Oh, how I dream of the date nights Billy and I used to spend at Barnes & Nobel, drinking coffee and perusing the aisles of books and magazines. Oh how I have longed for a Chic-fil-a drive thru on those days when I’m dog-tired and have zero ideas for what to cook. Oh how my thoughts dance at the idea of a Michael’s or a Hobby Lobby or an Office Depot. And the thought of sitting in a real tub taking a real bath, complete with bubbles and a real book… surely that will exist in heaven!
Yes, our life is different. I truly forget that it is so different. I really am just used to it, now. I don’t think about these things until visitors come – really, I don’t. But as soon as they walk in the kitchen and say, “Um, hey… is that a washing machine by your sink?”, then I remember – that’s not normal back home. Last week, some visitors brought me a book as a hostess gift… a REAL book, with paper pages, in English! Or last month when my best friend and my mom both sent me recipes for some great new dish, and I realized that half the ingredients are not available. That’s when I think about it.
But I wouldn’t trade my life here. Nor would I have traded my life in rural Peru. It’s home to me now. I’m proud to know how to make so many things from scratch. I’m okay with being a little inconvenienced some times. My life here comes at a price, yes. I have fewer modern conveniences. I have fewer items available to me that are fast and easy. Yet, I also have things in my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I have the best farmer neighbors I could ever ask for (I had great farmer neighbors in Peru, too.) I have a pretty simple life. I have good friends who choose to sit for hours over conversation and coffee, or who will choose a long walk together over watching TV or chatting on Facebook. I live a life that is centered on relationships and ‘living life together’, not on schedules and to-do lists and efficiency. It’s beautiful, and I love it. Give me a few less modern conveniences any day!
Okay… well, maybe I would really love to have a real oven. ;)
Billy sings in a gospel choir in Spain! Our town has a municipal music school and offers this choir as a class and performance group. This has proven to be a fun activity for Billy (he misses the days of singing with his buddies in the choir in Navasota).
It has also proven to be a great opportunity to share about Christ. The choir sings gospel songs in English. The choir is made up of Spaniards. So, as a
native English speaker, Billy helps teach pronunciation, as well as translating the lyrics so everyone can understand what they are singing. On many occasions, the gospel message has been heard and received in choir as a new word to listening ears! Most of the choir members are not believers or are unchurched. Some are Catholic by birth, but do not associate with any congregation. This has been a fun way to build relationships within the community and to share his faith in a natural and non-threatening way.
1. (of body tissue or an organ) waste away, especially as a result of the degeneration of cells, or injury "the calf muscles will atrophy"
synonyms: waste away, waste, become emaciated, wither, shrivel, shrivel up, shrink, become shrunken, dry up, decay, wilt;
2. gradual decline in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect.
synonyms: peter out, taper off, tail off, dwindle, deteriorate, decline, wane, fade, fade away, fade out, give in, give up, give way, crumble, disintegrate, collapse, slump, go downhill, draw to a close, subside
the process of atrophying or state of having atrophied.
synonyms: wasting, wasting away, emaciation, withering, shriveling, shriveling up, shrinking, drying up, wilting, decaying, decay;
I remember back to several years ago. I remember the fear that I had when my leg was not responding. I had a long-troubling back issue that became a major problem when I sneezed. Okay – no jokes here… it’s true, a sneeze caused me to rupture a disc in my back and sent me in to severe pain. It was a pain like no other, like fire was searing my whole body. In the emergency room, they gave me the maximum amount of morphine they could give me, and I continued to feel like I was on fire. The problem was a nerve that had been compromised in the injury. When I was seen by my doctor and referred for surgery, my leg was already not responding. The signals to the nerve in my leg had been blocked and I could not make my calf respond. I had surgery a couple of weeks later to deal with the disc, but the damage was already done to my calf. In such a short period of time, the muscle had begun to atrophy – lack of use and lack of nerve signals had already caused it to begin the process of decline, of shutting down and giving up.
It took time, many months, but once my back was repaired and I began to work on using the leg again, I slowly regained what was lost.
I was reminded of this scenario recently when I heard a Spanish pastor discussing atrophy with regard to our faith...
“For a while" is a phrase whose length can't be measured. At least by the person who's waiting.
― Haruki Murakami
Our involvement with refugees is at a standstill right now, sadly. It is painful to be in a state of waiting.
In October, we were asked by the local government - via the NGO we work with - to be on-call to work with 200 refugee families who would be resettled in our town of Antequera, Spain. In Spain, no one has access to refugees except through invitation of officials and that only occurs via an officially recognized NGO. We are fortunate that Billy sits on the board of a local NGO and, therefore, was able to be poised to help. They would be a handful of the 15,000+ who were to be resettled in Spain by the end of December. As of today, that still has not occurred. New vetting procedures were implemented which all but halted the resettlement process. The backlog of refugees and asylum seekers vying for resettlement in Europe astounding, and Spain has only agreed to take a few. In January, we were told to continue to stand on-call and we would be notified when resettlement occurred. Still... nothing today and we are well into March.
“Waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon one's thoughts.”
― Elisabeth Elliot
The sad truth of the matter is that Spain was extremely hesitant to take refugees in the first place. The government all but refused. However, that was a very unpopular stance with the public and petitions and public uprising caused the government to change their decision and agree to accept 15,000 refugees. That being said, Amnesty International just put Spain on their list of worst countries for human rights infractions... partially because of the government's poor treatment of immigrants and refugees over the past year.
Spain has seen their share of immigrants and refugees, for sure. But these do not come to us via legal channels. Not unlike our home state of Texas, Spain is the southern-most border of European nations. We are a country of first entry. Most immigrants and refugees cross the Mediterranean from Morocco, coming up to us from West African nations, or crossing to us from Syria and Middle Eastern countries by crossing North Africa and coming up across the tiny 8 mile stretch of sea at The Strait of Gibraltar.
The Spanish population as a whole is very considerate of and compassionate toward the current plight of refugees. They remember that they, too, were once refugees fleeing a horrible civil war and a terrible dictator in the 1930s and 40s... a cruel dictatorship that lasted until 1978. The refugee cause is not far removed from the Spanish population. I have seen family photos of local families as they were fleeing Spain and heading for France and Morocco. We recently met a woman who was a baby when her family fled to Morocco, chased by the dictator's army. Her father had a price on his head. He was one of the original writers of the Spanish constitution in the early 1930s and this made him a dangerous political figure. They fled to Morocco, then crossed the Atlantic by ship to Mexico, where she lived most of her life. So, she has lived her entire life as a refugee from Spain. The refugee situation is close to the hearts of Spanish population, to say the least. I have talked with many who say, “We were cared for. We were taken in. We must return this kindness to humanity.” However, current Spanish government has had their own ideas.
“One of the greatest strains in life is the strain of waiting for God.”
― Oswald Chambers
We are sad that the current situation is that we are still in a holding pattern. There are currently talks between EU countries may change some things, but we fear not for the better. It now appears that instead of resettling refugees in Spain and other EU countries, those countries have decided to attempt to pay other countries to take their share of refugees off their hands. Sadly, the ‘least of these’ have become bargaining chips. It appears that these precious lives are worth about 3 billion Euros... that is what they want to pay Turkey in order for them to not allow refugees out of Turkey and into other EU countries. This makes me so sad.
People are trying to be creative and figure out ways around the situation. Just this week, NGOs and private entities have made inroads in what appears to be a way to skip the government backlog and contract to bring numbers of refugees directly in to municipalities in Spain that wish to take refugees now and are prepared with infrastructure and resources. Tired of red tape, they are taking the situation in to their own hands.
I wish I could write about how we are currently ministering to refugees in Antequera. Instead, we continue wait. We are ready to help. We pray for solutions. I'm sure that God's heart is sad, too. Scripture has so much to say about this situation. It is difficult to know that people – children of God – people whom God loves and adores - are standing at the door knocking and we cannot open the door. People are in need, people are ready to help, yet our hands are tied with red tape.
Patience is power.
Patience is not an absence of action;
rather it is "timing"
it waits on the right time to act,
for the right principles
and in the right way.
― Fulton J. Sheen
** Please note that this situation changes daily. Two days ago, the situation with the Spanish parliment and their vote in the EU discussions was completely 180 degree difference from what is is today in the latest news. By the time you read this, it could be different still.
Antonio* was the first friend we had when we moved to Antequera. We had met a couple of other people in those first few days, but Antonio was the guy who just enveloped us in happiness and hugs. He embraced us, quite literally with his giant bear hugs, and with his easy and quick friendship. We had been told, “Spaniards are a tough lot. You’ll never get close to them. You might become friendly acquaintances, but never true friends.” But we were having a tough time believing that with Antonio in our lives.
Antonio is this big teddy bear of a guy, a walking talking Santa Claus-type. Always smiling and joking around. Best friend to the world.
Billy quickly fell right in with Antonio. They met several times a week for coffee or to do things in town. Antonio invited Billy in to his home (another thing we were told would never occur in Spain) to share stories and to help each other with language. Antonio became Billy’s language helper for Spanish, and Billy helped Antonio learn some English. Antonio has been a huge help to us in cultural matters – he is a trusted friend who will always tell us the truth, always tell us when we might be stepping in too deep, or alert us to cultural landmines that we could never have known without guidance. He introduces us to people, he invites us to picnics and cookouts, and he helps us get connected to opportunities to serve in our town.
In our disciple group, Antonio is very attentive to the stories about Jesus’ treatment of the marginalized. He is highly participatory in our story discussions when it comes to lepers and the unclean and the unjust treatment of others. I have always been touched by his keen sense of understanding and compassion, and I have loved him for his tender heart during these studies.
One week, as we studied another story about the unclean, specifically as it pertained to death, Antonio reminded the group of the modern day treatment in Spain of undertakers. Because our class is almost exclusively native Spaniards, this story was commonplace for them. They all knowingly shook their heads like it was just another story. But for me, it was new knowledge that rocked my world.
Undertakers or morticians are considered unclean, still in this day and age. Those who deal with death are marginalized. When the undertaker goes in to a restaurant or café, there is a specific place for him to sit. He has a special set of dishes that are set aside for only his use. Because this is a small town, everyone knows the undertaker. When he arrives, he knows where to sit and the staff know to go and get the dishes that are reserved for only him. Even his glass and his silverware is set apart from the general public.
This is 2016! This is a European nation, a ‘first world’ country! This was a huge shock to me. I kept my ‘learner face’ on and stayed in my cultural anthropological stance, but I was just dying inside. How could this be true today, in 2016? This is the kind of treatment that I know happens in developing nations and ‘3rd world countries’… but this is SPAIN!
I worried on this story for a few weeks. I just couldn’t get over it. And my heart broke for Antonio… you see, my friend Antonio is an undertaker. For years, he has been the one who arrives at the hospital or at private homes to pick up the deceased and care for the body. He has been the one who has compassion in the darkest moments. He has been the one who goes to the funeral home, who does all that needs to be done in those hours between death and burial, and who sees to the final moments before loved ones say their last goodbyes. It is a tough job on even the best of days. Sadly, Antonio has been out of work since just before we moved here - a downsizing of funeral home staff in the middle of a major economic crisis put Antonio on the unemployment rolls, where he has been for 3 years now. It seems that it’s also difficult for a former undertaker to find a new job. Antonio never talks about that. He just continues to look for work.
This past week, I asked Antonio if he would revisit that story with me – the story about the dishes and the marginalization of undertakers. Although he had not told the story in first person, I wondered. I asked him if that had applied to him, if he had lived that reality.
“Yes. Yes, that story is my story,” he said. “That is the reality for undertakers.”
A new wave of pain and compassion came over me. This is my friend, we are talking about. This is a part of his story that had never dawned on me. I could never have known to ask about it because it is so far from my culture and understanding that I would never have thought of it.
I pushed on, “Antonio, what does that do to your heart?”
A deep breath, then he softened and his body changed. He smiled a little, the smile of realizing that someone just saw through to your soul. He answered, “You have to make your heart hard. Hard so it won’t hurt.” His eyes brimmed with tears.
“Obviously, it hurts, Antonio. Your heart is not hard.”
“Yes, sometimes it hurts. People make jokes about me, off-handed things that are funny to them. Even friends tell jokes about me. I laugh and try to let it roll off. I try. But my wife – it is terrible for her. It hurts her deeply. She has never recovered from hearing people’s jokes and how people treat me.” Antonio’s wife has suffered years of debilitating clinical depression. Many days, she cannot leave the house. Antonio, too, suffers from depression and several related health issues. I’m seeing a much bigger picture of my friend and his heart.
He goes on to tell me about other indignities of being the undertaker. Gas station attendants refused to wait on him or pump the gas at the full service pumps. They wouldn’t go near the hearse. The public shunned him and turned away when he was with the car.
Even the dead merit more dignity than the living, breathing man who attends to them.
My heart is so heavy for my friend. Jovial, peaceful, compassionate Antonio. To know the pain that he has felt, that he still feels. To now understand, to be able to see the mask that he wears with the world. To know that this precious man has been marginalized. Now I know why he is passionate about the Jesus who reached out to the unclean, the Jesus who touched lepers and had compassion for those who were shunned and cast out. Antonio is intimately and passionately in love with the Jesus who entered in to death, who had compassion for Lazarus, who touched the dead, who Himself was dead and experienced the tomb… and is now Alive.
I’m honored to call the undertaker my friend.
*Antonio’s name has been changed.
Tychicus. Aren’t you glad you didn’t have his name growing up?! No one would ever pronounce it correctly, nor spell it right on any Starbucks cup. Tychicus (tik-i-kus) is one of those Bible characters who isn’t well known, who most people have never paid any attention to, and who doesn’t receive the accolades or the love. There aren’t any Bible studies about him, no Beth Moore or Priscilla Shirer books or videos. Tychicus is only mentioned a handful of times in the New Testament, but the ministry he provided was enormously important.
Tychicus’ ministry included:
This information has been updated. The original trip scheduled for April 2016 has been CHANGED to April 2017. Several interested people contacted us and requested a change to allow more time for planning and training. Since there were no confirmations or deposits paid for April 2016, we have agreed to run this trip in 2017. Be forewarned -- there are already SEVERAL who have verbally expressed interest in the 2017 date! If you want in, you need to contact us ASAP to reserve your spot.
We’re breaking the mold for mission trips! No building projects, no vacation bible school, no feeding programs or street evangelism. No painting. No hammers. No crafts. No sleeping under a mosquito net or corralling chickens. It’s all changing and YOU can be a part of it… You’re invited!
Come to Spain for a different mission experience. Come learn about Spain. Learn about her history and her culture. Learn about how that history impacts the current state of religion, beliefs, and the church. See and experience what is going on today through different ministries and outreaches.
“What will we do?”
Come prepared to learn. During your time in Spain, you will visit several very important historical sights. Expect to learn a lot of history and see so many historical sites that your camera card won’t hold enough images and your brain will be on overload. Visit Roman ruins, Moorish palaces, castles of kings and queens, unique historic synagogues, a famous mosque, and incredible cathedrals...all of these have a special significance in the religious history and current religious climate in Spain. We will visit Sevilla, Cordoba, and Granada, as well as many pueblos and lesser-known historical sites. We will visit local church congregations, as well.
Come prepared to listen. You will also meet local believers and pastors and have special times to interact with them. You will have an opportunity to listen to their stories of what it means to be a believer in Spain, to hear about the history of the protestant church in Southern Spain - a history that is VERY young and fresh on the minds of the people who actually MADE history here (and continue to make it each day). Come prepared to encourage local pastors and ministry workers. Come prepared to pray for Spain and the local church.
Come prepared to share. We will have a special time of discussion each day, with a focus and emphasis on sharing what you are learning about Spain, how you see God moving in Spain, and how we can help the Church in the USA to learn more about that Kingdom movement. Each person on this trip comes with special gifts and talents. Come prepared to share and be creative and to help us communicate what is “Spain” back to the North American church.
“So, what’s the mission?”
To learn, to listen, to encourage, to pray, and to share… that’s the mission while you are in Spain. But then you will go back home…then the real mission begins! The real mission is to take what you learn, take what you hear, take the stories and the history and the sights – take them back and share it with others. Share the vision of Spain. Share the struggles. Share the prayer needs and concerns of the people. Share your photos and your video and your love for Spain… because when you finish this trip, you are going to be in LOVE with Spain and have a passion to join God in His Kingdom work here!!! Help others fall in love with Spain, too. That’s your mission. To share God’s heart for His people in Spain.
When: April 2017 - arrive in Spain on Monday, April 17 and depart p.m. on Sunday the 23rd or early a.m. 24th. (at this time, dates are still flexible)
For more information or to sign up for this awesome opportunity, contact Laurie & Billy Drum: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 979-985-5238
Cost: $1000 + airfare (cost includes lodging, meals, ground transportation, and entrance fees)
Trip limited to 10 participants.
Who am I? In my USA life, I was a teacher for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a Southern Living / Martha Stewart wannabe, a soccer mom, and a short term mission team coordinator / intern director for missions in Mexico... you name it, I probably tried it!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural witnesses (CCWs) with The Mission Society. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! We have three incredible children... two adult boys who live in Texas, and the princess Sarah (12) lives with us in whatever country we are serving. I'm still teaching, still taking photos, still leading mission teams and working with interns, I just do it all in full-time mission service now! And I'm working hard at giving Southern Living and Martha Stewart a run for their money! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in el campo in Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers and immigrant peoples, writing, and trying to figure out what life looks like for a Texas girl serving Christ in Southern Europe. Life in His service is AWESOME! I'm happy to share it with you here... Enjoy!