World

He Shall Wipe Away Every Tear

September 17, 2020 by

Moria refugee camp

Moria. I’m not sure what you think when you hear that name; perhaps a picture you saw in the news, or maybe just unimaginable filth. But for me the mental images are not filtered through a media lens and cannot be found online. They are seared into my heart and soul, not forgotten even though it has been almost five years since I walked out of the camp. Last week as I sipped a glass of wine with friends and heard that Moria had burned almost to the ground the memories came flooding back. Moria has burned before, perhaps not to this extent, and I remember my reflections at that time, one year after my return. Now it has burned again, leaving some twelve thousand people homeless.

In 2015 I spent three weeks working in Moria during one of the first waves of refugees landing on the Greek island of Lésvos. They poured onto the island in overcrowded rubber dinghies; many lost their lives on the way when their boats capsized. At that time the population of Moria was a transient one: most people stayed one or two days and then moved on, making their way into Europe. The camp is the largest refugee camp in Greece and was designed to hold 2,200 people. In the years since it has become a holding pen for almost ten times that number. At the time of the fire just days ago it housed an estimated twelve thousand. Since 2015, over a million migrants have arrived at Moria, with the majority coming from Afghanistan and Syria by sea. Eighty-five percent of people living in the camp are refugees; the others are classified as migrants. A third of the camp’s population are children under the age of twelve, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Statistics turn me off, though, and what I think about is what I saw, smelled, heard, and felt all those years ago. The reports I wrote at the time tell it best (see here) but as the years have passed the memories have remained, and so have the unanswered questions about why so much suffering is allowed. I still don’t think there is an answer in politics – in fact I don’t see an end to the refugee crisis ever coming in my lifetime. But I am also still astounded when I think about the resiliency of people, especially children, and how they make the best of even the darkest moments. It might be a strange comparison, but you and I have seen glimpses of this in our world today as children learn to live with masks on, adjusting their ways of relating to each other within the confines of social distancing requirements and the fears and worries of the adults around them. They still know how to play, how to be naughty, how to slay us with their smiles.

We found the same spark in the children we met in the squalor of Moria, as described by Ed, one of my co-workers at the time:

I would never have guessed I’d be fending off an attack from a child at Moria. But today I find myself the victim of two determined kids wielding markers and sporting mischievous grins. Their object? Covering my face with blue and red marker and whatever other colors they can find. I can’t keep away from them. Not to worry – I am grinning right back at them and all three of us are laughing because coloring someone else’s face is hilarious and probably a lot of fun.

Seeing Moria blazing puts things into perspective, though, helping me remember that even when things seem restricted and difficult in my life in the face of the pandemic, I still have so much.But it’s also kind of absurd because it is taking place in a smelly refugee camp in a makeshift play area for children. And it’s ironic that the instigator of the marker battle is a girl of about eight, scraggly hair, killer smile, with a name that means flower in Arabic. Not the kind of flower I would imagine before coming here, but when you are a child and have only a little time before your family moves on you have to make do with what you’ve got – and you can’t be picky about your color. This flower stuck with blue. By the time she grew tired (or did I tire first?) my hands and face were transformed.

An hour or two later I wave good-bye and watch her run back to her family. Like as not I will never see her again, but I will never forget my little flower. A blue marker is my reminder.

I have no idea where this little flower is now. Perhaps she, too, is learning to navigate the world of COVID somewhere in Europe as you and I are doing here. Seeing Moria blazing puts things into perspective, though, helping me remember that even when things seem restricted and difficult in my life in the face of the pandemic, I still have so much. I can picture those twelve thousand people huddled under olive trees with no shelter, their babies wrapped in garbage bags, their stomachs empty, their eyes pleading for help. The eyes say it all. Eyes full of tears that no one can wipe away until God himself takes each one into his arms and dries them. And I am reminded of one of the passages that meant the most to me during those weeks on the island, from Revelation 21:3-4:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,for the old order of things has passed away.”

Vivian Warren lives at Maple Ridge, a Bruderhof in Ulster Park, New York.

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Vivian Warren

Vivian Warren

Vivian Warren lives at Maple Ridge, where she cares for the elderly and works in the factory.

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