Lindsay Heaton is a member of the Quantico Ward of the Woodbridge Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the past six months she traveled twice to Greece to volunteer with organizations helping refugees. In November she worked with an organization called Mercy Worldwide, a U.K. based organization run at the time by a friend of hers. In January she returned, this time volunteering with We Are You, an organization begun by an inspiring Swedish musician and former refugee. Lindsay was willing to share her story, which is best told in her own words as answers to my questions.
Here’s one of the teams I worked with. (Three of us are LDS.)
CK: What led you to the decision to go over to Greece?
LH: Growing up in Egypt, I’ve had friends who’ve experienced life as refugees and others who claim as home the regions of the world where many of the wars and refugees are now coming from. Thus, when I read about the escalating crisis last summer I yearned to be of help. So I studied, pondered, and prayed, and on the way to the temple one day I received the strong impression that I needed to go to Greece with a friend’s organization and help the people crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey. This prompting was reconfirmed a couple of Sundays later during the Primary program. As the children sang about being wrapped in the arms of their Savior’s love, I felt the Spirit whisper that my purpose in Greece was to help these beloved children of our Heavenly Father to feel of His love. So I went.
A little boy in the refugee camp
Getting ready to stand in the registration line (usually for four days or more) so they can go to Athens.
CK: Could you share what some of the specific things are that you do when you are there?
LH: First and foremost, I try to convey God’s love. If not in word, at least through the way I interact with people: with compassion and respect. Most of the tasks consist of things anyone could do: handing out food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, and clothes, blankets, and tents to the cold. Occasionally I assist medical personnel in treating refugees for shock, hypothermia, and other medical conditions. Finally, I tend to those who have recently lost children, parents, siblings, or friends to the conflict at home or in the dangerous water crossing from Turkey.
People sleeping outside the camp.
Inside the refugee camp. The lit room behind the trash is where the makeshift doctor’s office was for a time.
CK: Could you tell of some of the conditions you have seen?
LH: I have seen some truly heart-breaking scenes: husbands sobbing for wives, mothers weeping for children, children wailing for parents and siblings. I’ve seen the devastation brought on families and civilizations by war and hate and greed. However, I have also seen God-given hope in the eyes of a child as he extends his arms to me from a rubber raft.
Boat rescue (heading for the little one in back)
I’ve seen angels of mercy safely reuniting families assumed lost in the capsizing of a boat. I’ve seen the spirit of peace descend on people from traditionally warring factions as they have helped each other escape the perilous sea or joined in an impromptu game of soccer. I’ve heard the grateful prayers of people reaching shore and immediately praising God for His goodness. Finally, through it all, I’ve felt the love of God as I’ve wept, prayed, served, and even sang with these humble people. I have gained a true testimony that “all are alike unto God” and that He cares for each and every one of us.
Refugees leaving the camp
CK: Do you have a particular story you would like to share about anyone you have helped?
LH: I had one tender experience at the port in Mitilini, where other volunteers and I played some games and handed out lollipops and balloons to families waiting to board a ferry that would take them from Lesbos to Athens. In this group I noticed one quiet girl hanging back from the rest and I went out of my way to give her attention and make her smile. After an hour or so, she and her father walked away. I presumed it was to board the ferry.
Later on that evening, however, I was surprised to see her again elsewhere, sitting in the grimy corner of a rundown shop with her father and two other men. They were covered in dust and I realized that while they’d made it this far from their bombed out home in Syria, they had no money for the ferry crossing. They were truly homeless. As I watched, feeling distraught, this young girl looked up, saw me, and ran up, giving me an enormous hug around my waist. I had already given my money away, so I had nothing much to offer besides more lollipops. I gave her all I had. Then her father took our picture and I reluctantly left to find my group.
As I turned away, I remember my heart feeling especially heavy. I thought, “How is this young girl to have any chance in such a tumultuous world?” I still ponder that question. But I also I think of her big smile when I pulled out those brightly colored lollipops for her in front of that dirty, broken down shop. It is then that I remember that she is a daughter of a Heavenly Father who loves her very, very much and feel grateful that I could help share some of that love with her, if only for a few small moments.
To be honest, I have done very few things in Greece that someone else couldn’t have easily stepped in and done in my place. But, I’m glad that I could do them. For as a member of this church I truly believe that we are all children of God, of infinite worth because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, and thus bearers of both the responsibility and the privilege of helping each other in whatever way we can.
The single light we were allowed to use to attract boats safely to shore at night.