“There is no way refugees will come to camp tonight,” I think to myself as I pull my sweatpants on over two pairs of leggings, and add another pair of socks. “It’s too windy, too cold, and too dangerous to make the crossing tonight.”
But then I learn 42 people had arrived earlier in the evening.
When Shadrach and I take our turn at the back gate somewhere around three AM, a man is sitting on the cement. He is wearing a stocking cap, and is wrapped in one of the grey UNHCR blankets that Samaritan’s Purse hands out as refugees walk through the camp. He is too afraid to close his eyes.
“If I sleep I remember the situation in Afghanistan…mother, father, sister, brother,” he says.
He tells us that in Turkey, the smugglers have sticks and weapons and threaten them as they get in the boats. Then it’s a dangerous journey across a choppy stretch of sea.
“In the boat, the waves were like mountains,” he says.
The boat started to sink.
“We called police. Would not help. Nobody would help.”
There is one child in the group tonight.
“When I think of her, I want to cry,” he says.
Shadrach and I are just standing there. The man asks if we speak English.
“Why are you not saying anything?”
“We are listening,” Shadrach says.
It’s true. But also, I don’t know what to say. I’m praying desperately for wisdom.
The man asks if he can shine his flashlight to see my face. I say yes, and wonder if he thinks I look funny as I scrunch up my face in the brightness.
“Thank you,” he says. And then a little later, “Your friends say it is safe here. They have good hearts.”
I tell him yes, this is a place of peace. And we’re glad he made it safely here.
Eventually he goes back into the big tent with the other guests. I can hear people talking inside. They’re too traumatized to sleep, and too cold. I’m worried about them, and wish the tent had a heater, or several. At least it shields them from the wind.
In the morning we make rice with cream soups and canned peas. I see the man with the grey blanket and stocking hat. I hand him his breakfast and he smiles, and I tell him it’s good to see him in the daytime.
The view from Turkey is exceptionally clear today. The dawn deceives me by making everything seem better, even as a helicopter patrols the water, searching for missing people… for bodies.
I’m trying to cling to something one of my teammates told me on one of our first shifts: “what we get to do here is a joyful thing.” Because this bus stop is here, the man in the grey blanket and stocking cap did not have to sleep in the ditch. He got a hot supper that night, and a hot breakfast in the morning. He’ll get to take a bus to the next camp, instead of walking for two days like the refugees used to do. And most importantly, he and the others were prayed over, though silently, all night.
And yet I can’t forget that the helicopter searches for bodies.
And I can’t forget the man who was too afraid to sleep.
So I search for help to cope with things I cannot understand, in the One Thing I know for sure:
O Lord God of hosts,
who is mighty as you are, O Lord,
with your faithfulness all around you?
You rule the raging of the sea;
when its waves rise, you still them.
And I pray.
Please Lord, keep them safe.