Church bells call to us from down the hill on New Year’s Day, and a few of us climb in the van to attend the service. I feel guilty about leaving camp, but my teammates who are staying behind say it’s okay, because nothing is happening here anyway.
As we drive toward the village, we see a refugee boat and rescue boats on the water. So instead of turning left toward town we turn right to go to the beach. I’m planning to watch at a distance…this isn’t our role here and I don’t like to get in the way of the beach rescue workers. These wetsuit-clad men and women walk through the whitecaps on either side of the rubber boat to steady it as it reaches the shore. Then they start taking the kids and babies off of the boat. “Baby!” one of the rescuers shouts, and I hold out my arms. Suddenly I’m cradling a soaking wet, freezing cold little sweetheart in my arms.
The baby is barely moving, barely responding. I walk over to the man with the rescue blankets so my kiddo can get a tin-foil like wrapping to hold in what little heat he has.
And then I wait.
I pray hard as I hold this little one in my arms. I plead with God to make this baby okay. To get him warm. To protect him.
Stephanie is standing next to me holding and singing to a crying toddler. The baby in my arms has been spitting up, and Stephanie cleans him up with her scarf. There are cameras in our faces. Even as a journalist this makes me uncomfortable. “Go find a baby to hold!” I want to say to these photographers. But maybe all of the babies are already being held, I don’ t know.
A woman comes and frantically looks at the baby I’m holding, then Stephanie’s baby. She’s very distraught. I realize later these are her two kiddos and she’s searching for the third.
Stephanie understands and says to me, “we have these two.” She later explains this was a message to me that we should stick together, to keep the kids together. In that moment, however, God uses those words as a lifeline to me as if to say, yes the beach is full of wet, freezing refugees. But you’ve got these two. Your job in this moment is to have these two.
The beach seems chaotic, even though these rescue workers know what they’re doing. The momma finds her third kiddo, and her babies are placed in a car with her.
Stephanie and I walk back to our van, and I start to cry, which is something I rarely do.
But I’m worried about that baby.
And I’m sad about the world.
And I’m annoyed with myself for not being more of everything that I feel would be useful. More calm, more together, wiser, more knowledgeable about what to do.
And I’m upset that any of this is even a thing. That the world is so bad in some places that a mother is willing to put her three children on a raft in January in the hopes that they will travel the waves to a better future.
The world feels like a miserable place and there’s nothing I can do about it. I feel as helpless here as I did on my couch at home.
Ben has us gather in a circle before getting back into the van. Stephanie squeezes my hand. Yiannis prays in Farsi. Then we go back to c amp.
We get out of the van and start helping the refugees who’ve just arrived. I take another baby and help its pregnant mother to the clothing tent so that she can get some dry clothes.
There are so many wet babies today. Everybody is working to take care of them. Shadrach puts the propane heaters in the big tent. The women who normally do the cleaning in camp are searching for dry baby clothes. I grab some blankets for the babies and go into the tent to find my kiddo.
He’s there in the corner, on a cot, with several people looking after him. Ben, I think, and Gabriel with Samaritan’s Purse, the women who clean, and one of the beach rescue workers. She turns to me and says she has to get back to the beach. Then she gives me a hug. We’re family now, this stranger and I, brought together by a shared desire to make this kiddo okay again, and both, I think, a bit overwhelmed by the difficult things that happen in this world.
Most of the volunteers have shiny eyes, which tells me that they’re trying to hold it together too.
I want to stay here with this sweet baby, but I’m needed in the clothing tent. Everybody is needed in the clothing tent. I just helped re-stock this place yesterday and now it seems to be out of everything that I actually need. We need shoes for the adults and socks and pants for the men, and I need pants for babies. Tracy and I go to the storage containers to try to find the things we need. We’re praying that God will multiply our supplies and provide us with clothing miracles.
On my way back in from one of my trips to the storage containers I see Gabriel, a Greek man with Samaritan’s Purse, and ask him for a hug. He’s my parents’ age and sometimes you just want a hug from a dad-like person. He gives me a hug and reminds me that what these people need now is smiling, welcoming faces. “Tonight, around the campfire, then we cry,” he says.
I see Ben who tells me the baby is doing fine. The doctors have looked him over, and he’s warm and dry now. “And he’s going to live happily ever after?” I ask. Ben tells me he doesn’t know, but building sometimes unrealistic futures for these people in my mind is one of the ways I cope. I want so badly for them all to be safe and warm and happy.
During a slow moment I walk back into the big white tent and have the great privilege of holding this sweet baby boy for a few minutes. I learn that his name is either Zachariah or Zechariah, and he’s Syrian. I pray over him as I rock him in my arms. “You are so loved,” I say, and he smiles.
Meanwhile, his older sibling, the toddler Stephanie was holding earlier is now sitting by the heater with an orange balloon and a chocolate-smudged face.
Everybody is fine.
Praise the Lord.
So I go back into the clothing tent and spend the rest of the day helping to organize that and the storage container. And eventually my body remembers that I have a nasty chest cold and I become quite exhausted, so when I get home I go to sleep.
And that’s where I’m at.
No fancy bow, no big revelations about life in this one. God is good, of course, as always. He protected and provided and equipped today. And I’m thankful that He placed us on the beach this morning, so that we could lend our arms. But I haven’t thought much beyond that.
So I will simply go to bed now, and, as always, say my prayers.