Lesvos, Greece

I’ve been on this island for close to 3 months. It feels like I’ve only just arrived but at the same time have been here for an eternity. Nothing is ever what you expect it to be, and this was no exception. Things I thought would be easy are rough and other things I thought would bring me to my breaking point didn’t phase me. I wish I would have done a better job at updates, but to be honest I’ve been fighting with myself on this one in trying to figure out how to be completely ethical while also advocating. I’m working on it, but for now, this is what I’ve seen.

 

Moria is where I spend most of my time these days. It’s a bleak place. A former prison compound turned refugee camp of now over 3,000 with more new arrivals every day. It’s run by the army, and looks like it. Barbed wire and concrete everywhere you turn with drinking water being rationed at a liter per day. Cardboard litters the ground as there is nothing else to sit on and garbage is everywhere. The camp is split up by zones. Families, unaccompanied minors, the prison zone, single men, etc.

Many have been in Moria for more than a year, waiting on the status of their asylum with nothing to do in the meantime. My team and I start a garden and since we don’t have the greenest of thumbs, we’re thankful when some men watching our attempts step in. One of them is from Bangladesh and has been in Moria for almost 2 years. He explained that he used to do interpreting for one of the clinics when more people from his country were here. But then most were deported and his help for interpreting isn’t needed anymore. He thanks us for giving him something to do while he tells us he is worried about becoming lazy with nothing to do while he’s waiting. He used to own a rice farm and the garden is in good hands.

 

People in Moria are frustrated and rightfully so. They’ve been waiting sometimes years in poor living conditions with poor treatment while hearing nothing about their asylum status. The irritation of many sometimes turns into rioting as people protest their rights and express their discontentment. The police don’t do much in the way of deescalating the situations and tear gas and violence is almost always used. In the video I linked you see an officer beating a resident during a protest. A few weeks ago there was a riot that caused the shelter new arrivals stay in to be burnt down. Those who had just arrived lost what few belongings they had. We set up triage a ways down the road and driving towards the camp was surreal. In the distance smoke billowed from the camp while a sea of people carrying bags, children, and pets poured down the dirt road away from the chaos. Many people landed in the shade of a warehouse waiting for the all clear to go back. A doctor and I walked up and down the lines of people scouting out anyone who needed medical assistance. A woman 9 months pregnant was having back pain and an ambulance was called. The planes that drop water on the forest fires zoomed by overhead and the Doctor looked up and muttered “Now comes the PTSD.” The kids teach me games and I tell people to put out their cigarettes in case of another fire. I used the little Arabic and Farsi I know to yell at the kids stealing fruit from the farmer, which seemed unfair considering they’re just hungry kids. Many people came up to me and asked when they could go back and if there was going to be anything left. I don’t know, I told them, I know just as much as you. We hand out water and wait. Hours go by and eventually the fires are out and the rioting has calmed. We load our jeep and head back home as the camp residents wearily wake their children, pick up their belongings, and trek back to what’s left of the only home they have.

“How will we heal if they keep doing this to us?”

You don’t see much of this on the news anymore, but don’t be fooled. It’s still happening. People are still without help, without homes, without hope. Please don’t look away. Please pay attention.

I promise you that amidst all of this injustice there are stories of hope for the future. I will tell them soon. But for now, I am sad. Sad for all of the amazing people I have met who don’t deserve these continual hardships.

“I see all people as good. Some governments are no good, but people are good. Syria, Congo, America, doesn’t matter. We’re all good people.” – A young man in Moria

For Those Who Shout

On a global level, love, speak for equality, show kindness.
On an individual level, love, speak for equality, show kindness.

You want to give up. I know this because I do too.

You think of how easy it would be throw in the towel and err on the side of hate, inequality, and privilege.

Or, just as bad, become complacent like the ones who tell you that you’re overreacting, that this isn’t the right time to talk about “this sort of thing”, or they “get that this matters but do we have to talk about it all the time?”

It’s exhausting.

It really is.

You think about how easy it would be to talk about the new whatever or post cat videos or not be thinking about the injustice in this world ALL THE TIME.

You think about how easy it was when you were ignorant and didn’t feel like the weight of the world was sitting on your chest.

It feels like an endless cycle. But it will be worth it. Maybe not for you individually, but for the greater good, for the future of the world, and for those who will come after you.

You feel crazy.

Like no one else understands. Like you’re the one who just doesn’t get it. Like their way is actually right.

It’s not.

Complacency is never right.
Inequality is never right.
Injustice is never right.

You have been told you are too loud.
You have been told to be less opinionated.
You have been told to stop being dramatic.
You have been told that this isn’t as bad as you’re making it out to be.

You have also looked at history. This is what everyone who changed the screwed up social norms had been told.

You may feel like they’re right at times, but you know which one of those things to believe.

You want change. That’s what you are fighting for. Don’t forget that.

To the highly educated, who are spending their time and brain cells not on making money or personal gain, but who are devoting much energy to eradicating these issues and bringing justice: Thank you.

To the younger ones, who feel the weight of the world they are growing up in and are doing their best to educate themselves to hold their own in what they believe: Thank you.

To the parents who are teaching their kids to love all people. Who may not feel like they’re doing much, but they are changing the world, by raising at least one little person who will have love and show compassion: Thank you.

To those who feel like too much: Thank you. I know. But you are not. Keep being more than it seems like this world can handle. We need more of you.

You’ve got this. I’ve got your back. When you grow hoarse, I will shout for you. When I feel hopeless, you will show me a tale of hope.

You are a revolutionary. Even though you feel insignificant. Keep shouting.

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a  Birmingham Jail

The scariest thing to the oppressor is the moderate, comfortable people becoming less complacent.  

Our Generations

Stop telling Millennials we need to grow up. That we need to get our heads out of the clouds and get a real job. 

Stop telling us to stop being so sensitive. We are sensitive because in a (past) world of “man-up” and “stop being a baby”, we need some tenderness. Honestly, we are tough. We pushed through all of the inequality that your generation held so tightly to, and are fighting relentlessly to make everyone’s voices heard. This fight isn’t for the weak.

Stop with the blog posts and Facebook articles about how millennials need to step up and stop being so lazy. We have our flaws, but so did/do you and your generation.

Stop with the clickbait that’s titled something along the lines of, “An Open Letter to Millennials” You don’t have to write about how we have failed, or that you’re sorry you’ve failed us. We didn’t. You didn’t.

We are different, that’s all.

Stop telling us to get a job that pays well even if we hate it and “do good” on the side, instead of devoting our entire lives to a cause we believe in. Millennials are trying their best to bridge the gap between making a living and caring about the world and others.

Let us.

We are not (always) blaming you. If you watch parents raise a child, they will do things much differently than how their parents raised them. In turn, when their child gets older and has children of their own, that child will do things differently than their parents. We are wired to try and correct things–to try new things and see if the outcome can be better.

Let us.

We saw how your generation did life, we admire your love and commitment to family and we try to model your strong work ethic. But it is our turn, and we are going to do things a little differently. We see corruption and feel the injustice.

We may be too overzealous, and, more times than not, we might be effecting change in the wrong ways. But we want change. We are trying in all the ways we know how and some ways we don’t. We want a just society. We are trying.

We’re not into big business. We love startups. We are trying to integrate fair trade and sustainability into our for-profits. We love non-profits. We are trying to make “charity” a way of life rather than a volunteer commitment on Saturdays. We want everyone to feel loved. We don’t care that you think we are wusses. We want to stop using terms like “you hit like a girl” in a negative light. We want to races to be equal, our brothers and sisters of color to feel safe. We want Native Americans to be honored. We want people in the LGBTQ community to feel welcome.

So we protest and we rally.

We blow up social media.

We revolt.

We do things differently than you did.

We prioritize different things than you do.

And it’s ok. We’re going to be fine. We see this as our time. To rise up and change the world. Don’t diminish that. Don’t blow out our fire. We need some world-changers.

To you, we are shallow kids who are posing as do-gooders to get more followers on instagram. Sometimes that’s true. But a lot of times, to us, we are using social media as a means to change the world. We have technology, and while we often get caught up in it, we are using it to effect change in this world. We are trying.

Rather than bashing our sometimes misguided passion, teach us how to channel our passions and show us what you know while encouraging us all along the way.

In turn, millennials, learn from your parents and your grandparents. They have experience, and skills that would take years for us to learn on our own. We may not see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues, but we can learn from each other.

We can learn from each other.

We know you don’t approve of a lot of things we do, but instead of writing blog posts about how our generation is pathetic, join alongside us. Teach us and learn from us. This isn’t a one way street, it doesn’t have to be. This is an open invitation to exact change in the world. It’s not just an invitation to join our way of doing things, it’s an invitation to conversation and togetherness. What we can do together is immeasurably greater than what we can do apart.

We are the future. Will you join us? 

The Oregon Coast

A few pictures from the past week along the Oregon Coast.

As my time with Serve Seattle is coming to an end, I took some time this past week to reflect on the last two years, in the ways I have grown and the individuals that have impacted my life. I am so grateful to all of the people who have led by example, shown me how to love, challenged me to see things differently, and made me really think for myself.

I will always be grateful to Serve Seattle for giving me the people I call friends and family, and to Seattle for giving me a place to call home.

In The City I Love

Yesterday I marched for women. It was peaceful, it was beautiful, and at some points it brought me to tears. Before the march they estimated 50,000 people to attend. It ended up being around 100,000 people taking over downtown Seattle to stand for themselves and each other. Across the world, men and women, young and old, marched to stand against oppression in all forms. Some were there for reproductive rights, some for people of color, some for refugees, some for the LGBTQ community, all for each other. It was humbling to see people stand for what they are passionate about. We are so blessed to be able to march for ourselves and those who cannot in their country simply because they were born a woman. Regardless of your stance on our current political situation, we must be for each other, willing to speak out against all forms of injustice.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” – Marin Luther King Jr.

For The Sake of Humanity

Currently, there are 65 million forcibly displaced people in the world with 21.3 million of those people being refugees. Refugees are those who have fled their country for fear of their safety because of war, threats of persecution, or natural disasters. While refugees come from all over the world, fleeing their country for one reason or another, 51% of refugees come from Somalia, Syria, and Afghanistan combined. Most refugees flee to collar countries that are in equally fragile states. Turkey has taken on the hosting of the most refugees with a whopping 2.9 million people. Turkey wasn’t in that great of shape in the first place and Syrians and the Turks don’t usually get along that well. But nonetheless, they saw a need and they are filling it. Lebanon does not have one community that isn’t dealing with the refugee crisis, and most of the Middle East is in fragments as it deals with all of the displaced people and the war. With Europe being relatively close to the Middle East, they have taken on quite a chunk of the people fleeing their countries, as well. The UNHCR weekly report of Europe reported that in the week of December 12 alone, Italy received 4,225 refugees and the Greek island had 478 displaced people arrive by boats.  

Now, the war in Syria is in its sixth year and things are changing very quickly, but on top of that, the average refugee will remain displaced for 17 years before they find a permanent residence. So even if there is suddenly a peaceful resolution to the war that is going on in the Middle East, there are still going to be millions of displaced people 17 years from now. Regardless of how involved we are in this war, or who is doing what, if the fighting miraculously stopped, there would still be a lot to do.

It pains me to hear conversations about refugees among American Christians be centered around the question of if we should let “them” into our country. This is not where a divide should be. This shouldn’t even be brought up as an issue. Conversations about refugees should start with “So how are we going to help? How many people can you take?” Not, “What are your thoughts on letting refugees into our country?”

We are acting on this crisis out of fear and not out of love. If we were acting out of love, this situation would be tremendously different. Lives would be changed, people would be saved, the world would see Christians in an entirely different light. Can you imagine what we would look like to the rest of the world if we just jumped right in without apprehension? If the rest of the world saw us diving in and helping without fear or reservations, they would see us as the hands and feet of Jesus, as we should be. They would look at us and go, “ I want to be part of that.” My friend Cody said the other day, “Christianity is so hard to sell with words. If I just knew about it from what people said, I would not be a Christian. You can’t sell Christ with words.” Damn straight. Let’s look at the church as a triage center and see how many people we can serve. I love what Gandhi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Christ would handle this out of love.

Instead, the majority of us are dealing with this out of fear. First of all, fear is a sin. To quote the chaplain of Serve Seattle, Kyle Reynolds, “We judge the sins we are likely to commit less harshly than those we would never make.”  So if we’re going to go on about how your neighbor is having an affair or how my coworker has been lying on their work hours, we may want to take a look at how we feel about refugees entering our country. We are scared to let refugees into our country because we are scared of what would happen.  When debating whether welcome the refugees or not, the latter usually argues terrorism. This a fear most have, but I don’t think we are quite addressing the true fear that is there.

 

The fear of the unknown. The fear of having to give up some of our comforts, like our million dollar church buildings being set up as encampments, for the sake of other people. The fear of seeing things in real life we would rather just watch through our tv screen. Fears surrounding financial stability and cultural clashing. Prejudice; Having to figure out how to live alongside people who are not like ourselves. Heaven forbid we may not speak the same language as each other and will have to do the best we can to understand one another.

I think a lot of times the argument of terrorism is used as a cop-out. If we didn’t have terrorism to blame for this moral failing, we would certainly find another reason to not help them. We are using our fears of terrorism as an excuse, and it’s unacceptable. We have dehumanized people who are stuck in this crisis by screaming terrorist when anyone brings up the issue of refugees.

The U.S. has taken on 10,000 Syrian refugees in total since this whole thing began. The vetting process for each refugee is extensive – a 2 ½ year process. “The most rigorous screening of any traveler in the U.S.”  There have been no acts of terrorism by Syrian refugees in the United States. Since 9/11, there have been 784,000 refugee resettlements in the U.S. and only 3 people have been charged with plotting acts of terrorism.

 

I was listening to talk by a man who works for World Vision a few weeks ago. He had some great insight to the “issue” of radicalizing refugee children. He brought up the point that the 50% of refugees are children. Right now these kids are deciding what they believe about life. What are they going to believe? Who are they going to follow? They’re going to follow whoever gives them food. Whoever gives them shelter and clothes and shows them love. Shouldn’t that be the church? Shouldn’t we be using this opportunity and showing these children what Jesus looks like? By the church, I mean not just the people who meet in the building on Sunday morning. I mean us as individuals, every day.

My heart hurts. It hurts for the refugees that have lost their homes, their livelihood, their family members. It breaks for the 33 million children who have nothing right now. The kids who see the world as a dark place because that is all they know and all they will know for the next 17 years. The children who are going to have to grow up in this – without education, without food or shelter most of the time, without even a country to call home.

My heart hurts for all of those things and all of those people, but it also hurts for the church. For the people who love Jesus but do not act on that love. When I look at western Christianity, I can’t believe this is what we are considering acceptable. This dry, shallow version of this amazing thing we have in front of us. If faith, without works, is dead, then what do we even have? I am baffled by the fact that this could even be a touchy subject among us, that we are not bringing this up every Sunday. We should be looking at this as an opportunity, with an urgent attitude. Not something we read about and say a quick prayer for, but look at it for what it is – a crisis. We should be in a panic over this, searching for where we can help and what we can do. Our brothers and sisters are dying. They don’t have a home. They don’t have a country. Wouldn’t you look to your fellow humans if this was you? If the U.S. was in this sort of crisis, wouldn’t we be looking to other countries? If nothing else, wouldn’t we turn to other Christians who so clearly have more?

 

Please, consider this a test of your humanness. Don’t let this become something that we look back and are ashamed of because we did nothing. Lay down your protesting signs, step off of your soapbox, and grab a shovel and maybe some MREs. We have a lot of work to do.

 

Your safety is less at risk than your humanity.