Yesterday I had lunch at Sisters Thai in Fairfax, VA. The Red Curry Chicken is generally gold as long as they make it Thai spicy. For some reason the staff sometimes doubts my ability to handle Thai spicy. I ate alone (kinda) pondering my trip last week to Greece, attempting to collect my thoughts in order to update my friends here at home while honoring my new ones. The seating at Sisters Thai is pretty tight so I was basically sitting in the middle of the conversation going on to my right. I had a good chuckle when the man next to me suddenly realized that he had been talking for a good while without shutting up. He quickly apologized only to continue talking for the remainder of the time. The woman’s words during her lunch might have filled one tweet but not much more. I felt sorry for the woman but was partly amused as well. Amused because if I am not intentional, I am just as susceptible to dominating a conversation like the one I witnessed. It is rare that I have little or nothing to say. As a child, I was told many times that I have the “gift of gab.” And this has held true most of my life. So it comes as a surprise, even to myself, when I can’t find the words to say something. Spending seven days with refugees from Syria and Afghanistan has apparently stolen my “gift of gab.” I have been left speechless.
How was it? What do you think? Was it hard? Was it overwhelming? These are the types of questions I’ve received since returning from Greece. They are quite normal and definitely the types of questions I would have asked you had you gone and I stayed back. I have been processing the experience a lot since the plane landed back home this past Friday. Yet for some reason I’m struggling to come up with words to adequately describe my thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
Maybe it was overwhelming. There are a lot of refugees. Their stories are tragic, their present is unstable, and their future is unknown. But “overwhelming” seems like a false description in describing the refugees I encountered. They were amazing and in the midst of their struggle, they have found a way to smile and be at relative peace. The perseverance and resiliency they have shown in the midst of a nightmare is worthy of all admiration. If anything, I am motivated. Don’t hear more wrong, they are frustrated but overwhelmed just does not seem to fit.
Maybe I am fearful, knowing now that Trump has won the election and that the border will likely be closed to refugees, especially from war torn Syria and Afghanistan. The life of the refugee is pretty mundane. They often sit awaiting interviews with the hope of resettlement. They are stuck in between worlds grasping hold of their phones (yes, they have phones) not knowing when or if their new world will ever call. Until last Wednesday morning (late Tuesday for you) the response building within me was saying we must advocate hard on behalf of these pleasant new friends of mine. My home, my people need to welcome them into our amazing land of opportunity. And then the election results came in and I was lost with them again.
Maybe I have been humbled. The laborers are few but the work is plenty in Greece. Yet the laborers who are there serving and working with and for the refugees are giants. I have always admired the person who puts their life on the line for another. But when you meet people who put their entire life on hold for another, you’re left speechless. These women and men are giants among heroes. Many have worked for weeks and even months on end without a day off. All involved have my deepest and most sincere respect.
Maybe I am searching for a new story line, or a new way of bringing this tragedy to life for all of us. People have lost their home, family business, savings account,and most treasured possessions. They have lost their careers and professions. And when I asked how we could best help, their response was so simple. Visit us. Sit with us. Enjoy our tea and tell us about your family. In the midst of such tragedy, they want friendship. “By coming you have shown us that you care and we are not forgotten.” We want to rescue them while they want us to remember them. Yes, to remember is to rescue but it is much more than a physical rescue. To be remembered is to be known, to be visited.
Maybe I am just not sure how to start the conversation. It is certainly multi-layered and complex. Over the next coming days and weeks I will elaborate on many of these ramblings and more. I have certainly been challenged and inspired by this trip. I have been on many short term mission/service trips over the years and know very well the emotional attachment that can take place in just a few days. The one thing that was different about this trip is the lack of support the refugees in Greece have. Don’t get me wrong, the Greek government and the volunteers are working hard and doing a phenomenal job. Unfortunately there is just a lot of work to do and few workers to do it. But more on this later.
For now, I leave you with a picture of Akropolis. I spent my first and last night staring at it while reflecting on my time in Greece. So maybe it’s fitting that I leave it with you here.