Throughout Holy Week, the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Coordinator of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, is making the European path of Syrian Migration with colleagues from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the PCUSA Moderator Heath Rada. For the published version with visual media from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, click here. This post was republished with the author’s permission.
Easter Sunday, March 27: Samos Island, Greece
Today you shall be with me in paradise
The word is a rare one– used only 3 times in the New Testament, it might instead be translated “garden.” Paradise as God’s garden — a place where the scent of orange blossom is in the air, trees are heavy with fruit, the ground brings forth abundance, both in produce and beauty.
Such was my first impression of the island of Samos, where we flew yesterday to meet with relief workers who are supporting asylum seekers at their first stop after the sometimes perilous crossing across the Adriatic from Turkey. The scent of orange blossoms was heavy on the light breeze, and everywhere we looked, even so early in the season, trees were laden with olives, oranges, lemons. The sea was beautiful, with just a hint of the violence in the waves that has endangered so many on their crossings. Samos is a beautiful place…for some.
Our conversations were with representatives and relief workers from the IOCC and Apostoli, the response and development agency of the Greek Orthodox Church; with the team leader of the UN High Commission on Refugees office, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. At the camp– now a locked detention center–on the rocky hill above Samos town, several hundred asylum seekers from many countries, are no longer able to leave the camp for sundries, SIM cards or a cup of coffee in town. All time is measured here by two dates: March 20, when the EU approved its refugee return policy with Turkey, and April 4, when the deportations are set to begin. Many have already spent time in camps in Turkey, where conditions are rumored to be difficult, and they do not wish to have come so far on hope only to be returned. The aid workers describe a heaviness of depression settling over the camp as hope of a successful passage to Europe dims and their conditions worsen.
That heaviness was mirrored in the voices and stance of the Doctors Without Borders Staff and the UNHCR, who, according to the practice mandated by international human rights standards, they may no longer work for relief within the camp’s locked fences. “We do not support those who imprison refugees,” explained one of the physicians there.
At the port, small IKEA prefab houses wait for the continuation of migration– more numbers are expected even in the face of such small odds for success. It is hard to silence hope. On this Easter Sunday, we celebrate the triumph of hope over despair, life out of death. Let us also bind ourselves to the Love that death could not conquer, and in the name of the Stranger who on this holy day long ago greeted his friends by name in the Garden, believe and act as though no one, especially no refugee, will be condemned as a stranger among us, or refused welcome in our midst.
My favorite Easter hymn was written by a Reformed Church of Hungary pastor at the end of the 16th century:
There in God’s Garden stands the tree of wisdom, whose leaves hold forth the healing of the nations.
Tree of all wisdom, tree of all compassion, tree of all beauty.
Its name is Jesus, name that means “our Savior,” there on its branches see the scars of suffering.
See there the tendrils of our human selfhood feed on its lifeblood.
Thorns not its own are tangled in its foliage, our greed has starved it, our despite has choked it.
Yet look!, it lives, it’s grief has not destroyed it, nor fire consumed it.
See how its branches reach to us in welcome,
Hear what the Voice says: “come to me, you weary
Give me your sickness, give me all your sorrow, I will give blessing.”
This is my ending, this my resurrection;
Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit
This I have searched for, now I can possess its, this ground is holy.