Beautiful hazel green eyes gazed out from under long curled lashes. Startling clear, her big round eyes were framed by a petite face carved with delicate features and capped with long unruly black hair, frizzy in the heat. Her smile unashamedly friendly and playful reminded me of my niece Charlottes teasing grin. In the chaos of a sea port suddenly converted to a makeshift tent city filled with desperate people, she was smiling and mischievous. Having arrived only moments before to help distribute supplies to these new refugees I had been focused on what was happening in front of me when I felt a gentle tap on my left shoulder. Turning around I saw no one in-particular and was just beginning to turn back to my original position when I felt another tap, this time on my right shoulder. Suddenly wise to the game being played, I whirled around fast enough to catch her impish smile as she ducked low behind my back. Unable to communicate in words, we just smiled at each other enjoying a moment of connection. She looked to be about 8 years old, slender and wiry with those strikingly beautiful eyes. Her clothes a telling mix of boys and girls pieces patched together for function not style. People pushed and crowded around her streaming in to see what supplies were being given away, but she stood her ground looking at me. I started an impromptu game of high-fives seeing if she was fast enough to catch my offered hands before I pulled them away. She was quick and landed a good slap after only the third try. Soon it was time for me to start working so I gave her a hug and watched as she dashed off weaving in and around people until she disappeared into the crowd at Gate E2, Piraues Port in Athens Greece.
The lines were long. Women and children on this side, men lined up on the other side. Without prompting they had self-selected these groups even going as far as to break off into separate lines by nationality. Afghanistan line 1, Syria line 2, Iraq line 3… My job was simple — keep the lines in order. Don’t let people cut-in, don’t let them push up against the volunteers checking papers, don’t let them grab at backpacks, keep them calm and moving along orderly. Simple in theory, not in reality. Honestly I felt like a small object floating at the top of a great tidal wave, unable to control its movement I was along for the ride. Feeling a little useless in my job as gatekeeper, I was glad for one distinct advantage — perspective. Instead of looking at them, I was suddenly among them. Shoulder to shoulder I was mingling with the women and children. Most of them young women, rare the sight of an aged face. It was a sea of mothers trying to shepherd wiggling, energetic children through a painfully long line, enduring the entire process for a few promised goods at the end. They looked strong and battle tested. They also looked tired. Amazingly they all looked thankful. At every turn I was given a small nod or smile, even as they pressed up against me to get just a little closer to that pile of supplies. Strong and proud these women found themselves in an unexpectedly desperate situation but hadn’t forgotten to appreciate help. Appreciation for what, I thought? For a backpack of items that would be gone in a few days or less? For the blanket that would provide only limited protection from the elements?
Hours later I’m back at the conference center with a belly full of wonderful food. I sit on the balcony in the theater as group after group of missionaries come forward to share what is happening in the country of their service. I listen to stories of loss and heartbreak. I hear testimonies of healing and miracles. Every person sharing pieces of their story, opening tiny windows for us to glimpse the inner workings of their lives. The night ends with one mans quite voice, choked with tears, he tells us of his friend, a brother in christ, who died in service to Jesus a few months ago. As he tries to reconcile the pain of such a loss he speaks of an alter he built with stones that carry names such as the power of God, the grace of God and the love of God. He tells how he cast these stones together so that they could handle the burden of such a precious sacrifice. The sacrifice of life and health and dreams. He speaks of this and other such sacrifices, telling us that though they are bathed in buckets of tears, dripping wet and saturated, these sacrifices are at last consumed by the fire of Almighty God. In the silence of the theater, he ends the night by reminding us that in the consuming fire that descends the awesome presence of our King is known.
Wiping tears off my cheeks, I stand and file out of the theater walking back to my room glad for the feeling of coolness that the nighttime brings. Looking up at the starry sky above I let the privilege of today sink deep into my heart. Today I was honored to be a witness to life. I was witness to God’s creative genius in the face of a playful young girl who stood out amidst a crowd of hurting people. I saw and bore testimony to the God given strength and love of mothers as so many stood in sun-baked lines for hours just to get a few simple supplies that would help their families survive. And at the end of the day, I bore witness to the quiet majesty of lives deeply changed by the journey through the dark shadows of sacrifice. Today I sat in witness and I was changed.
"Also now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high." - Job 16:19