Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing many stories of refugees and the Christian workers who are walking alongside them. This week, as we lament with millions of refugees around the world, one worker shares the struggle many refugees face when even their most basic decisions — like what to have for dinner — are out of their control.
Lines. Being a fan of amusement parks, I’ve been in some long lines. Once, I waited three hours for a 45-second ride. The 3,200 refugees we served at a camp in Lesbos, Greece last night waited longer than that just for dinner, and it was my job to keep the peace by making sure no one cut in line.
I’m convinced that some of those men, as bored as they were, had made a sport of line jumping. Fortunately, I had help in the form of the other men in line who were also justice-minded.
“No line! No line!” they’d say, pointing to the offender. “Go back! Go back!” Thankfully, this was mostly good-natured. Had it been otherwise, I would have been more worried.
Things took a bad turn when the food finally arrived. It was a piece of bread; an orange; a plastic box containing a cup of mashed potatoes, covered in tasteless tomato sauce; and a very salty piece of strong-smelling cheese.
Instantly, the mood changed and the men started getting angry. “What’s this? This isn’t food that we want to eat!”
In my fair-minded and fatherly mindset, I was thinking to myself, “You’re acting like children that have just been served brussels sprouts.” However, when dinner is the highlight of your boring day and you’ve been waiting for it in the hot sun for three or four hours, I can understand a little childishness. Most of the people that actually received the food only ate the bread and orange. The boxes were stacked like Legos all over the camp, unopened.
When I thought dinner had been served, I left for my own dinner. I wasn’t prepared for the scene that confronted me when I returned 30 minutes later. The line had rebuilt itself and the police and military had stepped into to my role as line monitor. The crowd was surging and pressing toward the front.
What I didn’t know was that there was an emergency stash of canned beans that was about to be served. These were meant for the off-chance that the camp hadn’t received enough of the normal meal to feed all the people. So many people complained about the quality of the meal that the workers agreed to serve the emergency rations.
The crowd’s panic level started to rise. All during the day up to this point, even in the midst of managing all the crowds, I had been singing a new song of peace over the camp. I hope that makes sense.
Psalm 40:3 says, “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.” Under my breath and in my heart I was singing a new song of praise to God over these people. Inviting His Spirit to come and flood that place with His peace.
When the tensions mounted, and the people started pushing, and the police started to lose their cool, I stepped in. I didn’t have a plan or training for mob-control, but I believe God gave me the words to say and the things to do to help bring peace to that tense situation. God gets all the glory that not even a punch was thrown that night.
Please pray with me as I continue to pray and sing songs of peace over the tens of thousands of people fleeing war, persecution and starvation in the Middle East and Africa.
Jesus, You are the Prince of Peace. Bring Your peace, real and lasting peace, to this world. Let us be Your ambassadors and representatives in the here and now, and, please Lord, come quickly!
By Jeff Gage, GEM