By Ashlyn Thompson Lariat Reporter
The mass migration of Syrian refugees escaping the terror they face from the Islamic State group back home has prompted aid responses across the globe. Among those, 34 Baylor graduates and current students took time off during the winter break to serve Syrian refugees fleeing through the Greek island of Lesvos.
The Antioch Community Church movement Engage the Crisis was born out of a need to serve those in the midst of true crisis. In October 2015, three Antioch staff leaders took a 10-day “exploratory trip” to mimic exactly what a Syrian’s journey to safety would look like.
“They didn’t have many plans, just wanted to find out what was going on there. They landed in Lesvos, which is called ‘the gateway to Europe,’ because so many refugees are passing through,” said Micaela Fox, a Mustang, Okla., junior and member of the Engage the Crisis trip that would follow.
What they found in Lesvos was a mix of chaos and community. It prompted them to bring the story back home. More than 1 million refugees have fled Syria, and approximately 500,000 have made their journey through the island of Lesvos. Upon the group’s return, one member of the original exploratory trip, Maddie Phenix, preached on the impact of their trip and desire to continue efforts in Lesvos.
Dannielle Perez, a San Antonio junior, recalled on when she knew she was interested in the trip. “Since my freshman year I’ve known I had a heart for the Muslim people,” Perez said. “Once Maddie came back and told the story, not just the facts but the human story behind it, I knew I had to go. These are my people.”
Friendswood junior Maggie Geiler said she had also been praying specifically for the Muslim people for almost a year. Geiler said she had been following the story since March 2015. She got connected with The Syrian Circle, an interactive prayer circle connecting those praying for the Syrian refugee crisis from all over world. From there, she heard about Antioch’s exploratory trip in October and knew she needed to be a part of the follow-up trip.
“I think when people picture the Muslim culture they immediately go to ISIS, but these people aren’t ISIS. They’re the people who are being victimized by ISIS,” Geiler said. “These are the people scared of the same things we’re scared of.”
The group of 34 was split into two teams of 17 and spent nine days in Lesvos with Antioch staff, caring for the Syrian refugees in ways both practical and spiritual. They rotated between camps, working jobs as needed, Fox said. This included everything from assisting children as they got off the boat to cleaning the restrooms at the end of the day.
Ultimately, the team said they found the Syrian people welcoming and open. Students were surprised to find the refugees being pulled off the boats and immediately looking for phone chargers so they could FaceTime their parents, letting them know they made it safely.
“Unfortunately, the minority affects the majority, and my perception before going was that they were all needy, they were all poor, they were all begging for attention and food,” Perez said. “But they’re just like us — middle class people looking to make a better life.”
After her trip to Lesvos, Perez has some advice for anyone wishing to help out.
“The thing I would tell people is just to go,” Perez said. “In college we have that freedom to go and do, and I didn’t want to be someone who let that opportunity pass by.”