“Welcome to Prison” Encountering the Gospel at Moria Refugee Camp

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  • June 04, 2018

The following post is written by Sarah Stubbs as she reflects on her mission trip in Lesvos Greece. Sarah is a student at Cairn university studying youth ministry and counseling.


This past March I had the opportunity to take a trip to the Greek island of Lesvos. Over the past three years, this small island has quickly become the dwelling place of hundreds of thousands of desperate and vulnerable individuals who are fleeing persecution and war. Lesvos is the place that smugglers call the “promised land” when convincing families to pay 1000€ per person to reach Europe, and yet the first sign of embrace to these sojourners who have risked their own lives, as well as their families, is a large spray-painted sign on the side of a concrete wall that reads, “Welcome to Prison.” And yet sadly enough, that’s exactly what Moria refugee camp is- an old military prison and a seemingly God-forsaken place full of poverty, grief, injured women, abandoned children, trash, sickness, fires, and violence.

On my first day in Moria, I met a little 7-year-old Syrian boy named Muhammad who wrapped his arms around my waist and didn’t let go until my nine-hour shift in the camp was over that day. Muhammad waited for me to arrive each morning at the information desk and insisted on following me everywhere I went so that he could “protect me”. Through his own broken English and other EuroRelief workers who were there when he arrived at the camp, I was able to learn this sweet boy’s story. Muhammad is a refugee whose family attempted to flee from the war in Syria. His school was bombed and his two siblings didn’t make it out. That same night, Muhammad and his parents and aunts and uncles left with nothing but the clothes on their back. Some of his family was caught and beaten by the police while the few who were able to escape continued running in search of a safe place. Eventually they got to Turkey where they paid smugglers to send them over to Europe in a boat in the middle of the night, but as they were crossing the Aegean Sea, the boat capsized leaving Muhammad and his aunt as the only survivors.

When I met Muhammad in March, he had been living in Moria with his aunt for two months. He told me his aunt made him feel hurt and proceeded to show me the marks across his face and arms. My heart was completely broken as I learned about his story, even writing these words I am struck by their emptiness and inadequacy to describe the deep pain of a young boy having to experience such heart wrenching pain, loss, and abuse…of unanswered questions and unspoken horror…of the utter brokenness of Moria and the rest of the world.

Muhammad is just one of so many who has dealt with an unfair amount of tragedy. And yet, is not God our Father? Does He not know the depths of sorrow and loss through the death of his beloved son? Has he not experienced the tearing separation of a family broken by tragedy?

“For it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family.” (Heb 2:10)

What are we as Christians to think in the face of such evil and suffering? We can remember Joseph, who despite all of the evil he experienced unjustly at the hands of others remarks “you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good…to save many people alive” (Gen 50:20). Despite the utter wickedness that continues driving refugees from their homes, God is working in Moria Camp and is drawing people to hear of the Gospel and good news of Jesus – the very same Jesus who declares:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18).

Our Sovereign God may have directed these refugee’s steps to prison, but He is also the same, loving Jesus who sets the prisoner free.

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About Jimmy Hettinger

Jimmy is a member of Seven Mile Road where he serves as story team coordinator and a bassist on the music worship team. Jimmy works as a pediatric critical care nurse while he studies to become a nurse practitioner.

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