Refugee ministry in Greece, a guest post by Kendra Hanson

One of the joys of getting older is seeing kids grow into adulthood. Great joy accompanies those who do well. Kendra Hanson is one of those.

I first met Kendra before she was Hanson. Her mom, Gina, was in a ministry I worked in. Gina, Kendra, and Kendra’s younger brother were regulars. When we changed churches I lost track of them for some time.

I don’t remember when or where, but Kendra and my paths crossed at some event, I think. It was one of those, “Wait. What? Who? Huh?” moments when someone you last saw as a teen is now an adult.

Recently Kendra traveled to Thessaloniki, Greece to minister to refugees coming from various places in the Middle East. If you are familiar with the New Testament in the Bible Thessaloniki should ring a bell. Today and tomorrow you can read Kendra’s story at Kingdom in the Midst. All photos are hers.

doctors without borders refugees greece

Credit: Kendra Hanson

It’s not often that I come face to face with the international news cycle. As a communications/operations nonprofit worker and a former high school English teacher, it’s not a frequent occurrence for me. However, my husband and I are exceedingly interested in the refugee crisis and its epicenter in the Middle East.

He heard about the trip opportunity through an organization looking for volunteers to help with the sheer volume of refugees.  After we talked about it, I knew we needed to go.

Idomeni is a stop on the refugee highway about an hour outside of Thessaloniki, Greece, on the border with Macedonia.

refugees middle east greece

Credit: Kendra Hanson

When we arrive there in late December, it feels like a ghost town—there are a couple of workers here and there, some tents scattered about, and no refugees. We notice a clear line-up of organizations and their logos on the white tents. What we also notice is that there is a full camp area with vacuous winterized tents available for the taking, only no one is allowed to enter them. That part of the camp is closed.

This empty camp sits deserted, an outcome of the recent refugee restrictions. When Macedonia put up a fence and decided that it was no longer taking refugees from any country in peril; it was only taking refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, the camp became the end of the road for many. Refugees from other countries staged a sit in and threw rocks.  Many who were desperate resorted to stealing other peoples’ immigration papers. The remnants of this tumultuous time are left, with, “Open the borders” spray painted around the camp.

refugees middle east greece

Credit: Kendra Hanson

What is left is a camp that is waiting for refugees.

The cold wind brushed the dust around us, and at our feet were traces of people’s lives. Small bits of tattered, half-filled water bottles, price tags of the gloves that we were handing out, and left over pieces of burned cardboard and wood burned for warmth. These pieces reveal the “hurry up and wait” life of the refugees.

They travel from their home countries to try to get to Turkey. From Turkey, they pay up to 1,500 Euros to travel only a few miles to reach the Greek islands of Lesvos or others. Many do not make this harrowing boat ride alive. On the Greek islands they wait for papers and authentication. They then wait for the ferry to take them to Athens, for another fee. In Athens they wait for a bus to take them to Idomeni. Sometimes this six hour bus ride from Athens turns into a two day event, sleeping at the gas station, as you can see in the pictures. This gas station is only about ten miles from the empty, well-equipped camp, and yet they’re making fires at the gas station.

refugees middle east greece

Credit: Kendra Hanson

Because the Macedonians usually open the border at night, we typically see the refugees in shades and shimmers of lights. There are two or three lights which dimly illuminate the path to the border crossing, and we guide them to the line that forms as the Macedonian officials check their papers.

As the refugees unload from the buses one at a time, they are welcomed by Doctors Without Borders meeting medical needs, the United Nations giving out warm blankets, Save the Children looking out for small children in need, a Greek NGO distributing food and hot tea, and then us, handing out warm clothes, hats, gloves, and scarves. As I attempt to put kid-sized gloves on three-year-olds and five-year-olds at 11:00 at night in the cold dark corridor, thoughts of inadequacy and overwhelming need flash into my mind. Right then I’m reminded of the verse, “The King will reply, ‘Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did for me” Matthew 25:40.

This little guy with scratched nose and boot on wrong foot captured my heart. ~MD

This little guy with scratched nose and boot on wrong foot captured my heart immediately. ~MD (Credit: Kendra Hanson)

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Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

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