Life Jacket Graveyard
People who are desperate to escape war, political crisis, religious extremism, and/or economic crisis often turn to extreme measures. They choose to flee from their homeland, family, friends, and all they own in hopes of finding a place offering peace, safety, and jobs. They travel across multiple countries, pay smugglers to get them to Europe, where they dream of a new life. Many come to the shore of Turkey, where smugglers receive payment, toss them a life vest, put them in a rubber raft overloaded with others, and point them to a Greek Island, telling them, “There is Europe.” Their fears propel them to risk their lives and those of their families to cross the Aegean Sea. Many lose their lives in the journey, or lose children, family members. From the point of leaving their homeland to crossing the Aegean Seas, it is a treacherous and terrifying journey. Upon arriving at the shore of a Greek Island, those that survive the journey toss aside their life jackets, and meet representatives of aid organizations who offer them blankets and transportation to a refugee camp, where the processing begins. And where they wait …
Life jackets are gathered by volunteers and transported to a dump, known as the life jacket graveyard on Lesvos. It is a sobering experience to walk through this landscape … torn and tattered life vests piled all around, shoes, clothes, and more mixed among the piles. Each vest represents a person, a soul, an individual pressed forward by fear and clinging to hope. Most survived the journey … many didn’t. Those that survived are ushered to a refugee camp. In the last 18 months, nearly 900,000 people have passed through the Greeks islands.
On a recent trip to Greece, our team was deeply impacted in viewing the life jackets on the island of Lesvos, trying to imagine the desperation, the anxiety, the fear, and most profoundly, the loss. Even more moving was watching two of our team members, refugees, who had arrived on one of these islands on a raft wearing a life jacket just like one of these. Seeing the pain, the sorrow, the tears on the faces of our new friends made this situation all the more real. Our awareness is that the global refugee crisis is far more than a political situation, it is a human tragedy. And it draws us to help, to serve, to share God’s love and hope with real people facing real devastation. Yes, it’s a life jacket graveyard … hopefully not the graveyard of dreams.
“For every ounce of pain I feel for the injustice of it all and for these people, He (God) feels it so much more. These refugees are His children, and He hears their cries. While He loves them so much more than we ever could, we can still be those vessels of love. Through Him we can still be a hope in a dark place. I may not see the bigger picture yet, but I know that there is one. There is a reason that He is unfathomable, that His greatness is beyond anything we can even understand.” –Julia Bird
This Life Jacket Graveyard does not have to the be the burial place of dreams … it can be the beginning of hope. As desperate a situation as this is, when you and I begin to love others in tangible ways, to care about people who come from different backgrounds, and when we reach out to meet needs and to share the hope that God gives us … then the love that sparks in our souls as God intended begins a fire of caring, loving, meeting needs – and hope rises from the ashes.
Let us begin to love one another together and give rise to hope – hope for a better future here, and hope for eternity.
~~ Pam Apffel, TerraMica Director of Operations