I watched as the pile of yellow wildflowers on the distribution table grew. Gabie, a Macedonian-Greek Samaritan’s Purse distribution staff member at Souda Refugee Camp, bent down to take each new bouquet carried over to her. She admired the fistfuls of flowers and exclaimed her thanks. The refugee children would giggle and smile and then run off to pick more bouquets from the mess of flowers growing along the chain-link fence separating the row of white Ikea-designed refugee housing units from the ninth century Chios Castle.
“This is my day every day,” Gabie told me.
Souda, where Gabie works, is one of several camps on the Greek island of Chios. It sits four miles off the coast of Turkey and has served as one of the main points of entry into Europe for refugees escaping ongoing conflict in the Middle East. In February, the average number of refugees arriving on Chios each day was 480.
Samaritan’s Purse began operating on the island this past October, but for Gabie and others who call Chios home, the reality of the refugee crisis started long before October and long before transit centers and camps were in place.
“In the start, I didn’t know anything about this [refugee response],” Gabie said. “I’d never heard of Samaritan’s Purse.”
Like the rest of the islanders, though, Gabie was aware of the refugee crisis. Chios residents have watched for months as refugees have come flooding to the island on their way to safety. Some islanders have had refugees literally land in their front yards. They’ve seen firsthand the devastation and fear that turns to relief when a refugee finally reaches the shore of Chios after a dangerous crossing of the Aegean Sea.
“I was here since the beginning, even when we didn’t know what to do because so many people were coming,” Gabie said. “When I came across Samaritan’s Purse for the first time and saw people wanting to help, I said, ‘I’m in!’”
As we sat talking, the steady stream of flowers into the distribution area continued. Another group of children sat nearby playing with puppies that a Samaritan’s Purse staff member found and adopted as the Souda Camp therapy dogs. After experiencing immense amounts of hardship and hostility along the journey from their home countries to the safety of Europe, it’s a relief for kids to have the freedom to be kids again.
“It’s pretty good when you can see the smiles on people’s faces,” Gabie said. “It just melts your heart! Like her. See? She’s just a cutie!”
Gabie nodded her head toward a small girl with wisps of hair flying. The girl stood leaning over the metal railing into the distribution area holding yet another bunch of flowers. She waited, arm outstretched, until Gabie came to collect the flowers. There seemed to be no end to the flow of bouquets into the distribution area. Gabie had the special talent of making each child feel like the bouquet they brought her was truly valued and beautiful. To her, that is what they were.
Showing Kindness, Sharing Heartache
When Gabie was done admiring the flowers from her little friend, she turned back to me.
“Today I saw a special case,” she said, her voice suddenly taking on a serious tone. “A woman, like 50 years old, she was shot in her chest and she has a big hole. She showed it to me today and … To be honest, I was scared. The woman lived, and her husband didn’t. And that was because she wanted to be a Christian.”
The woman had chosen to remain true to God and had made the decision that if she and her young daughter were going to survive, they had no choice but to leave the country she’d called home her whole life. The woman had made it to the safety of Chios Island along with her daughter and several nephews.
“When I saw the hole, it broke me,” Gabie said. “I will have that image in my head for a long time.”
The reality is, working on the front lines to aid the most vulnerable refugees is full of joy and laughter and flowers, but it’s also difficult. Choosing to show kindness and share heartache and joy is almost always a risk. You risk being affected by others’ pain. You risk giving of yourself and receiving nothing in return except maybe a few small fistfuls of wildflowers, a thank you, or a hug.
As refugees continue to stream to Europe escaping the tangle of conflict in the Middle East, the choice to bend low each day and remind people of their value is a daily one. It’s a choice to choose laughter and hope in the face of pain and heartache.
For Gabie, despite the risk, the essence of who she is as a Christian motivates her to show kindness to the refugees landing on her island. She chooses sacrificial love. She chooses to see refugees not as problems but as people in need of a smile and a welcome face.
“[Spending time with these refugee kids] is not what I have to do,” Gabie said. “This is what I feel to do!”
During their journey, many refugees have only been greeted with hostility—sharpshooters at borders, gruff smugglers, and people that would rather exploit them than see them find safety. The smiling faces, respect, and kindness shown to refugees by people like Gabie are a contrast to everything they’ve just experienced. Samaritan’s Purse staff members on the frontline have been working hard in the face of uncertainties and heartbreaking situations to bring kindness and hope to vulnerable refugees in need.
Please pray for the refugees as they continue to face hostility and uncertain futures and for our staff on the ground as they bring aid and love to people stuck in tough situations.