Discovering Jesus in a Refugee Camp
By Jennifer Wallace
10pm. It has been raining for a while and it is surely too cold for Southern Europe. Charlotte is smiling at the soaked crowd in front of her, occasionally leaning forward to ask one of the refugees to repeat their name as they stretch to pass ID papers up into the Portacabin.
Tonight she is calmly running the new arrivals procedure at the Moria Reception Centre of the refugee camp in Lesbos. Some 18–year–olds might be at home watching disaster movies, but Charlotte is thousands of miles from her family in the USA – taking part in an actual international catastrophe.
We stand behind her, ready to take orders from her or the other teenagers, passing nappies and hot water bottles out to the families below, as she registers names on the laptop. Charlotte turns to ask why we are there. The longer story is one of travelling with GAiN to put up tents with a team from Birmingham. The shorter answer is the same as hers – we are following Jesus.
And He is there.
When I prayed about the wisdom of going to a holiday island in February at my own expense to somehow care for ‘foreigners and strangers’ (Ephesians 2:19), I saw a picture in my mind of Jesus standing in a breach in a wire fence, with His arms out wide and people gathered in front of Him and behind Him, standing by their broken down tents. It was as if He was saying, “Well… I’m already here…”. As my husband later said, “I realised ‘Of course’… Of course He is there. That’s just like Him, to be there.”
The whole week we were in the Camp we knew it was true. The peace and joy in the atmosphere and in those who spend months volunteering there could only be supernatural given the darkness of the situation – as we prayed and sang our way round tent–fixing and toilet–cleaning we could feel the presence of God.
11pm. The new crowd is beginning to settle into the arrivals tent, so I go to sit at the Women’s Gate – on duty till midnight in the Vulnerable Women’s Section, making sure no men enter the area. A young woman next to me is speaking French into her mobile phone, so when she hangs up I wade in with my 1988 GCSE French skills. It goes pretty well – I show her a bit of the Jesus film on my phone and she is glued to it, saying she too is a Christian. So not just foreigners and strangers here then, brothers and sisters in Christ are here too. What a joy to connect with them – another way we were discovering Jesus in the Camp. I invite her to a church that meets nearby that offers worship and passionate teaching in French, Farsi and Arabic.
Back home at my day job, I work with Eastern Europeans sleeping rough in Birmingham city centre. Reflecting on this work, I say to a colleague that I wish we could share the gospel with them more effectively – if only my Polish wasn’t so poor, or my school had offered Czech as well as French! Don’t worry, he says, you are BEING the gospel out there.
It sounds good for a minute and then I disagree. I’m representing Jesus and loving people because He loves them, and me. But they need more than that.
The gospel of new life in Jesus is transformational. Those that discover Jesus have access to all the promises and provision of their inheritance in Christ. Forever. The three men I saw come off the streets, walk away from addiction and find jobs were the three that discovered Jesus for themselves.
When we go, wherever the Lord is calling us, let us be filled with joy and hope – we will discover Him there in person, in other Christians, and powerfully available to transform anyone we meet.