I figured out how to connect my phone to the rental car’s Bluetooth. The only appropriate song to play when approaching camp in our white Nissan Micra was “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” by The Clash.
“Should I stay or should I go?” is not a choice available to the 5500 People of Concern living in tents, iso-boxes, and homemade structures in the confined space of camp. People from Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and others too numerous to name—are all dependent on others making choices for them. In a very real sense, for the POCs, the appropriate Clash song would be “Straight to Hell”—”There ain’t no need for ya/There ain’t no need for ya/go straight to hell, boys (men, women, children, young and old)/go straight to hell.”
You might think hell is too strong a word; It is not. There is death and dying all around. There is physical death but there is the death of hope, dreams, and even love. The desperation, smell, and noise would make the fire and gnashing of teeth seem like a cozy library. Children wearing flip-flops in the freezing rain. Mothers making 20 diapers last a week. Eating the same meal of rice, beans, and pita bread, every single day. The constant shivering in the winter and the suffocating heat of the summer. Husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons from cultures dominated by male strength, completely emasculated because all they can do is wait and depend on others. Hell seems almost soft compared to the uncertain future awaiting the residence of camp. The darkness is palpable every single moment of every single day.
Yet in the midst of it all there is a focused beam of light dividing and driving out the darkness. They too are men, women, and—when I look at them and see the faces of my own—children, who are choosing to stay. People choosing to put on the sacred mantle of the orange safety vest and provide food, clothes, shelter, a smile, a hug, and be the very presence of God. These people who choose to stay where angels fear to tread, are shining the light of heaven in the midst of hell. They are, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, “carving a tunnel of hope through the great mountain of despair.” They come from Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, Canada, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, California, Michigan, Illinois, and yes, even Ohio. Every morning they drag themselves out of bed and put on clothes that stink of sweat and smoke, tie shoes that have walked through puddles of human waste, and step into a small trailer to hear the rules of camp repeated every morning and raise their hands to willingly serve in jobs that put them in harm’s way. They choose to stay when they could easily go, to be a light of hope in the midst of hellish despair.
Since that first full day in camp, Isaiah 40:1-4 kept coming to me in a way it never had before. “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
These people, who’s orange safety vests are priestly vestments in disguise, are fulfilling prophecy. They are comforting Jerusalem and preparing the way of the Lord. With every meal given, every hand offered, every cup of tea shared, every tear shed, and every hug given, are revealing the glory of the Lord to all people. By choosing to stay, they are revealing the truth that this camp might look and smell and feel like hell but is in reality, the first stop of the highway of God.
And for a few days, I was given the honor, privilege, and opportunity to serve with them. You will never see what I did because we are not allowed to take photos inside camp. My name isn’t written anywhere in camp and there is a real possibility that the blankets I handed out and tarps I helped hang will be discarded and gone by the end of the week. But for a few days, I got to help carve a tunnel of hope. I got to help make straight a highway through a desert. I joined a select group of brothers and sisters from around the globe who lived out the prophetic message of providing comfort and revealing the glory of the Lord to people desperate to see it.
At the same time, the tunnel of hope was also being carved in my life. Hope grew as I watched Steve, Carmen, Katie, Harry, Raquel, Kim, Wil, Tatiana, and Madi serving in camp. The tunnel of hope was being carved in me with every meal, every conversation, and every tear. The tunnel of hope was being carved in me when I heard people call out, “My friend! My friend!” to invite me in for tea and conversations over mimed Farsi and English. The tunnel of hope was being carved seeing Steve with his friend Wyatt and Harry with his friend Abdullah. The tunnel of hope was being carved in hearing the stories of refugees and workers. The desert has been prepared in my heart and the mountains and hills made low because the glory of the Lord was revealed to me in a refugee camp in Greece.