Over the past month, the situation on Lesvos has reached the boiling point. The result has been an increase in threats, violence, vandalism, and the evacuation of our Winter team, as well as most NGO workers. Our hearts are heavy for our Greek friends and for the more than 20,000 men, women, and children seeking asylum on Lesvos.
In January and February locals and refugees came out in large numbers to demonstrate and demand solutions for the horrific conditions inside Moria Camp. Specifically, locals rejected the federal government plan to build new, closed detainment processing centers on Lesvos. On Jan 30th, in driving rain, refugee mothers and children took to the streets in Mytilini. Marching peacefully, they carried signs saying, “We escaped war and insecurity, but here they kill us from the cold.”
In February extremist groups from the mainland arrived on the island. Cars were smashed, property destroyed, volunteers harmed and threatened, and one NGO’s center was set on fire.
February 24-25th saw an unprecedented fight between the locals and the government authorities. Locals came together at the Mytilini harbor to blockade the ferry terminal. Throughout the night, protesters battled with riot police along the coastal road near Karava, just south of Mantamados, the site of the new detainment facility. They wanted to stop the arrival of construction workers. By the next day Lesvos and other islands called for a general strike in protest of the police brutality.
We commend our winter staff and the leadership of Aubrey McQuade, as they showed incredible resilience, courage, love and flexibility in these difficult times. They worked hard to provide stability for their students in these conditions, including finding a new space immediately, so that the children could continue classes.
A special thanks to Christos, Dimitri and Savvas for their incredible leadership and support, and to our partners, A Drop in the Ocean, I-58, Euro Relief and Hellenic Ministries, who helped safeguard and evacuate our staff. We ask that you pray for these dear friends and partners who remain on Lesvos.
When Turkey opened its border and announced it would not uphold the EU Accord, the arrival of a new wave of refugees proved too much for an already breaking situation. Greeks came out in large numbers to stop boats from arriving on shore. March 1 was a heartbreaking day, as our team watched from their hotel windows as a rubber boat with a broken motor and filled with men, women, and children was refused landing in the town of Thermi.
That locals are angry is understandable. They have felt the direct impact of this crisis in a way Europeans and North Americans can’t understand. They never wanted their island to become a prison for those seeking safety in Europe. Most people on the island have shown incredible solidarity with the refugees but feel abandoned. In this climate it is easy for groups to spread hate. The new Greek government has closed its borders to asylum seekers and will be moving rapidly to process asylum applications, deport those rejected, and will offer little support to those who have been given temporary asylum.
Combined with these political changes and tensions, the Coronavirus has also impacted our work on Lesvos. Greece has taken active measures to contain the spread. The Greek government has decided to shut down commercial stores in addition to schools, cinemas, bars and restaurants, in response to the escalating outbreak. It has also announced that people who enter the Greek territory will be put in a 14-day quarantine. We are deeply concerned for the health of refugees, especially the nearly 20,000 being held in horrible conditions in Camp Moria. MSF has urged the evacuation of Camp Moria at this time.
These many factors mean that we must suspend our current activities on Lesvos indefinitely.
This does not mean our work is finished. Rather, we know that in all things God is working out the good for those who love Him. We know that He loves His children on Lesvos. We will take this time to pause, pray, reflect, evaluate, and lay very strong foundations for the years of ministry that God has in store for us. This will be a season of lament and prayer. It allows us to focus on program, training and organizational development. We believe God will do beyond what we can imagine during this season. We will continually be assessing the political situation to see how we can best serve those displaced in Greece, Ethiopia, Serbia, Jordan, and France.
We ask that you continue to stay actively involved and passionately committed to the work of Beyond Borders. Our unity and resolve are more important than ever.
We close with a poem written in 1979 by Kenneth Untener, Bishop of the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan. May we rest in the knowledge that this is God’s work and we are called to be workers and ministers, not the Messiah or the Master Builder. Our Master Builder is good, and His love endures forever. We put our hope and our trust in you, Lord.
Prophets of a Future Not Our Own
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom of God is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about:
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.