Clare visits Greece  

Ruth & Naomi – A contemporary re-telling?


In the days when the EU and Nation States ruled there was a war raging in the land and a certain woman, Naomi and her family lived in Aleppo. But the husband of Naomi was killed when a bomb destroyed the family’s business. Her eldest son had married a woman called Orpah but was shot dead in a sniper attack. Her youngest son had married a woman called Ruth but was forced to flee to Germany to avoid being conscripted into the army. So the woman was left without her two sons or her husband.Ruth and Naomi 1
Naomi decided that she would leave the country of Syria and head for the country of Germany for she had heard in the country of Germany that God had had consideration for refugees and had given them food and shelter. So she set out from the place that had been her home, she and her two daughters-in-law. But she stopped and told her two daughters-in-law to return to their mother and father’s houses saying may God grant you security and a new future, each of you. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her saying,
“Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge,
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
where you die, I will die –
there will I be buried.” (Ruth 1: 16 – 17 NRSV)
Naomi saw that Ruth had set her mind to go with her so she said no more. So the two of them travelled by bus and on foot through Turkey and were smuggled across the Aegean sea in a small fishing boat until they reached the island of Samos in Greece. They came to the island of Samos just as many thousands of refugees were arriving and the Greek people welcomed them with a smile, a hot meal, some clean clothes and a place on the quayside to sleep for the night.
Then an official asked them which country they had come from and where they were going and told them that the borders had been closed and they could travel no further. The official offered them a place in an official camp with doctors, food and sleeping bags provided. The women had no choice but to go with the official. Once inside the camp surrounded by fences and razor wire they were told that they would be detained there for up to 28 days while their paperwork was processed.
Inside the camp there was a man Boaz, also from their home town, who befriended them and made sure they got enough food and drink and that none of the younger men took advantage of them.
Ruth and Naomi 2Naomi, her mother-in-law, said to Ruth, “My daughter I need to seek some security for you so that all may be well with you. “Now here is our countryman Boaz who has been looking out for us. Now wash and tidy yourself and go to the place where he sleeps at night.”
“When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” She said to her, “All that you tell me I will do.” (Ruth 3: 4 – 5 NRSV)
So Ruth lay with Boaz who ensured that Ruth and Naomi’s applications for re-unification with their husband/son in Germany went to the top of the priority list. But as the 28 days detention came and went and Ruth’s belly begun to grow large with the child growing inside her, Ruth and Naomi are still on the island of Samos waiting for their application to go to Germany to be reviewed.
And unlike the seemingly happy ending in the Biblical story of Ruth and Naomi where at least their future is secured, our story of a contemporary Ruth and Naomi stops abruptly here waiting for the EU and its Nation States to process papers and to decide what will happen next.
So why did I choose to retell the story of Ruth and Naomi for this contemporary context? Because of the numbers of Ruths and Naomis we met in and around the refugee camps in Greece. Because of the number of pregnant women we met. Because of the number of young and very vulnerable women who were travelling on their own. Because of the stories we heard of women deliberately getting pregnant in a desperate attempt to have their paperwork processed more quickly. Because of the stories we heard of women being trafficked for sex or organ donation and of babies simply disappearing.
In honour of these women I am retelling the story of Ruth and Naomi, two courageous women who leave everything behind in order to survive and who are willing to do whatever it takes to seek a new future and some security for themselves.

For is not life more than bread?

 (This reflection is based on a conversation with Voula who runs the “Bridges Project” in Athens
and in the port of Piraeus working with refugees from Syria.)

We heard from many Christian organisations, churches and non-governmental organisations about the sheer scale of the humanitarian response that has been needed and continues to be needed in Greece. From stories of cooking over 1,000 hot meals a day in tented kitchens to the challenges of cooking with hundreds of packets of donated pasta all in different shapes and sizes.
But what struck me about all of the people we met and from all the different agencies was that yes the scale is huge but that the real blessing of serving God and the refugees in this kind of way was through the relationships that were built with individuals and families. And this echoed with our brief experiences of visiting the camps. People wanted to know who we were and why we were there. And they wanted to share their stories and their tears with us.Life is more conversation
For life is more than just food or physical needs or medical or legal services.
In other words we met at a very human level. There is a need for people to give as well as to receive, to be able to host us in their tents and make us coffee. Yes there are needs for food and for shelter. But there is also a need for people who will listen, listen to stories of pain and loss and to listen to stories of aspirations and hopes. And I was struck by how pastoral this is – this two way encounter and sharing.
And when we meet people and engage person to person in this way, we learn so much more – about culture, about language, about faith. I didn’t know, for example, that Arabic is a very precise language. I didn’t know that in Syrian culture it is not appropriate simply to be given hot food to take away and eat. Instead hot food can only be received if the giver and receiver sit down and eat together so it is more appropriate to give out ingredients and gas stoves so families can cook and share for themselves.
For life is more than just food or physical needs or medical or legal services.
Life is more gardenThese are matters of dignity and respect but also that show the importance of eating together and of creating and celebrating community. And we learned about the psychological and spiritual needs of people who have been massively traumatised and the amount of time it takes to build up trust and respect particularly in a culture that is so family and relationship orientated.
And maybe this is why the “Bridges Project” attracts many people and families to its open Bible studies, over 90% of them Muslim. It attracts people because they see the service and love of Christians lived out and because Christians pastorally understand the huge spiritual need to understand the experiences of being first in a war torn country and then as a refugee in the light of faith, be it Christian or Muslim. When all you have left is your faith and your culture – how do we make sense of these?
For life is more than just food or physical needs or medical or legal services.
The Bible study does not discuss Christianity or Islam but focuses on Jesus and the stories and writings in both the Old and New Testament. It introduces Muslims to a different concept of God, not a distant God to be feared but a God who desires a relationship with us, a God who above all else can forgive whatever we feel we may have done wrong. For forgiveness brings spiritual healing.
As Voula, co-director of the “Bridges Project” reflected with us – “in Idomeni you can't have a relationship with 10,000 people but volunteers walk between tents and meet people”. In other words we may feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge but we are called to follow the model of Jesus who met people individually and where they were at – who saw and met their physical but also their spiritual needs. “You are forgiven, peace be with you”.
For life is more than just food or physical needs or medical or legal services.
For me this has been a kind of Kairos moment. A bridge between the age old tension between evangelism and social action. Christian faith is about truly encountering God and other people, on an individual, very human level. As Jesus did. And it is about so much more than food. It is about making sense of our experiences in the light of our faith and it is about belonging to a community, sharing our dreams and our aspirations of who we might become in Christ.
One of the things we heard during our time in Greece is that refugees don’t want to stay in Greece because Greece doesn’t offer anything in terms of accommodation or money to help resettlement. From what we saw, it offers so much more. It offers peace, hope and faith.
Do we?


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