In the spring of 2016, I spent three months coordinating relief efforts for Adventures short term teams and World Race Squads in Greece. During that time, God challenged me in ways I never could have imagined.
The thing about any kind of disaster response is that you’re dealing with people who are hurting. They are the most broken they might ever be. They are in desperate situations. You see the greatest need and the deepest hurts, and you’d have to be heartless for it not affect you.
In Greece, we were dealing with people who lost everything. They had family members literally blown up, hunted down, tortured, and murdered. They had to make the choice of: Do we stay and risk our lives every day, or do we give everything up, put our lives into a backpack, and walk for a month into the unknown?
There were times my faith in God’s goodness, His power, presence, sovereignty, and love were challenged. How can I tell a man who is being hunted because he was a Christian in a Muslim country, a man who had to leave his wife and children and flee for his life, that God is good, when I have never experienced anything remotely close to his pain?
And these are people our society actively tells us to hate and to fear, telling us that they don’t belong with us and we don’t belong with them. The lines are clearly drawn: East versus West, Christian versus Muslim. It’s Jihad and Islam and ISIS versus Christianity and Western mentality.
But the truth is, we are so much more alike than we are different.
The story of the Refugee Crisis isn’t the story of the refugees themselves, the volunteers, or the countries involved. It’s the story of humanity, of the basic needs of food, water, shelter, and relationships that we all have, and how we have more in common with each other than we have differences.
While in Greece, I saw walls of division come down between refugees and Westerners. And I saw this through Christians walking out their own brokenness.
These are people who have had everything about their identities stripped away from them. So when Racers and short term teams walked out their own brokenness in the midst of these hurting people, God began to work through them.
There were many times where Adventures teams were the first Christians these people had ever met. In many cases, we were the first Americans they’ve ever met too. It was an opportunity for us to show truly what Jesus and Christianity is really like to these Muslim refugees, because they have a lot of cultural myths about Americans and Christians—just as we have of them.
Refugees were visibly affected and confused by our teams because we were so loving, so generous, and so present. They literally didn’t know what to do with us. God’s love challenged everything they believed to be true about Christians.
You could tell the difference between our teams and secular volunteers and how they approached refugees—and you could tell refugees noticed. They sought out our teams before looking for a secular volunteer, because we were willing to do things other volunteers couldn’t: step into their brokenness and see them—really see them—for who they are as people, instead of a number.
As I watched this all around me, I realized that if these people hadn’t have left their homes because of the persecution and the war, these relationships never would have happened. Salvations happened at these camps because they had to flee the war.
God is redeeming the horror of the Refugee Crisis, one life at a time.
Sometimes, in the midst of the pain and the mess of brokenness, we miss its greatest power: the power to change a life.
The thing is, we need to be willing to go there, to meet people in their brokenness and minister out of our own. Sometimes that is extremely difficult, because it can leave us with more questions than answers. It will challenge our faith—but in the end, it is always worth it.
Sometimes, the life that is ultimately changed is our own. I came back from Greece broken, looking for answers that honestly, I’m still searching for.
That’s okay too, because God is there to meet me in my brokenness.
We can trust God, that no matter where He sends us, what we see and experience, He will be there to meet us. Being broken isn’t failure, it isn’t something to be ashamed of; it’s a starting point, a place to meet with God and experience His great power and love.
Reid Mason is an alum of World Race 2014 D squad, and has worked in disaster relief in Joplin, Greece, and Baton Rouge.