January 2, 2019

After a long day in the Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos, our group went for dinner at a restaurant in Mytilene. It’s owned by a Syrian refugee who spent time in the Moria Camp. After months, he was able to travel in Greece, and ultimately could have gone to France. He chose to stay on Lesvos and open his Syrian restaurant, the first on the island. He was a doctor in Syria, and his wife and children are still there.

After dinner, we were joined by two young men in their early twenties who met during a boat crossing to Greece from Turkey. They became brothers during the trip and while at Moria Camp. With the help of an organization called Movement on the Ground, they have been working through the asylum process, now free to travel in Greece. They work and volunteer, and live in Mytilene. They shared their stories with us, smiling and laughing, and beaming with pride about how they teach values to young refugees while coaching soccer. They filled the room.

After dinner, the young men invited us to their home, a basement apartment just a block away. The outside door was wrapped like a Christmas present. Their small living room was adorned with a Christmas tree, and with stockings on the wall. They served delicious homemade Harissa.

After a day in the camp talking with residents from Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, and witnessing camp conditions, resignation, helplessness and hopelessness, the stories of the restaurant owner and these two young men lifted us all. From darkness can come incredible light.

December 31, 2019

We don’t think much about the seasons of branches. But we see their leaves in some areas of the world giving us colorful autumn displays, and we smell their beautiful summer flowers.

When we arrived at the Kara Tepe refugee camp, a young girl immediately came to our group, going to our team member Dalia. She latched on, grabbing Dalia around the waist, and then folded into her embrace.

The girl’s name translates into English as Branch. She has big dark eyes that look up when her head tilts down. Her face is framed by hair cut in straight bangs across her forehead, and cut level again at her chin.

As we walked, Branch walked, awkwardly, never leaving Dalia’s embrace.

We came to learn that this Branch has survived a terrible storm. The death of her mother and a gunshot wound to her leg, both the horrific actions of ISIS.

But seeing her caught in the embrace, and with those eyes, was seeing a budding branch glisten with a spring rain, or a bare branch covered in snow softening the harshest of winter’s days.

Branches have seasons, we can only hope that this precious Branch finds her way to someday enjoy them all.