I clutched slips of paper containing the names and ID numbers of four people whose applications for asylum had been processed to the next stage.
I needed to find them, quickly.
My first task on day two of working in the refugee camp on the island of Lesvos had to be completed by 9:00 am.
I checked the time: 8:45 am.
I shot out of the office into the courtyard milling with men, a few women, and numerous small children running around.
One man, who I recognized from the day before, caught my eye.
“Move,” he said to me.
“That’s great,” I replied with a big smile. He didn’t smile back. I felt confused.
I looked at his wife, standing behind him. Again, the beauty of her high cheekbones and olive skin struck me. A simple black scarf covered her hair. Her growing stomach protruded delicately from her long black dress.
The woman stared at me. No smile. A vacant, sad expression on her face told me more was going on than not being able to understand English.
I had no time to think about these young, soon-to-be parents.
The sun burning my neck, I climbed the steep hill that took me to Level 2 where I would find the first person I needed to inform about the next step—Athens.
And, yet, throughout the day, the woman and her husband kept returning to my thoughts. It troubled me.
By mid-afternoon, I realized why.
The couple had not come to give me good news, that they were moving to the secure accommodation for vulnerable families. Instead, the man had come to plead with me again on behalf of his wife. He and his eight-month pregnant wife shared a tent with other people. It was no place to raise a baby.
I had learned these details the day before during my first few hours of working on camp, through the help of a refugee volunteering as a Farsi translator.
I spoke to the more experienced volunteers in the office who made decisions about housing. We discussed the situation.
“Did she look very pregnant?” “It is hard to tell,” I said, “she’s behind the counter.” We poured over the scans and notes from the doctor. In the pictures the baby seemed barely visible – not the size of an eight-month unborn child you would expect to see.
Their names were added to the list of other people with similar requests.
I realized I had let this couple down.
I know what it’s like to move country with a newborn. Our baby was four weeks old when we moved out of our house and lived with friends for a week, then family for another week before we boarded a plane to the USA. On arriving in America, we stayed in a hotel. Those weeks were hard.
However, I had a comfortable bed, not a mattress in a makeshift tent. My child slept in a travel cot. This couple had nowhere to lay their baby. I had running water in which to wash my child, and a constant supply of diapers and baby wipes from the supermarket. This woman would have to go to a communal washroom and line-up each morning to receive a few diapers and wipes, barely enough to last the day and night.
My heart sank.
Like any new parents, they were desperate to prepare well for the birth of their child.
Their faces haunted me.
I wondered how long this couple had been in the camp. Had she conceived there? Had she recently arrived and made the journey already with child?
What situation had been so bad they had risked everything to take the perilous journey to Greece? What had given them no other choice but to be in this refugee camp?
They will struggle those first few days, weeks, and months to nurture their child in conditions barely fit for adults let alone a newborn baby.
I prayed: “Lord, forgive me for not seeing their dire need on that first morning. Step in and bring them to the attention of another volunteer.”
I know we have a Savior who cares. He experienced a similar bleak beginning in this world. Yet, we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
When we help people who are in need it is as if we are doing it for Jesus.
And, when we neglect to follow through Jesus said:
Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.
Matthew 25:45 (NIV)
I will never know what happens to this couple.
I an not returning to Lesvos any time soon, but it doesn’t mean I can’t do anything.
From a distance, I can provide for them and their baby born into the wretched world of a refugee camp. When diapers and baby wipes are handed out each morning, I can help ensure each parent has enough for the day.